Leopard apps and system tools offer subtle, yet powerful, changes

Mail, iCal and Parental Controls offer greater productivity, protection

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Although there are a lot of really cool features in Mail, the coolest might be the "data detectors." If you get an e-mail with a signature or a date included, you can mouse over it and see a bit of Apple magic: A triangle will appear, offering a drop-down menu that indicates information that can be imported into Address Book contact or iCal.

Mail can detect a date in an e-mail message and quickly make a To Do out of it
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Mail can detect a date in an e-mail message and quickly make a To Do out of it.

While the feature isn't 100% perfect, it really cuts down on data entry time and works so intuitively that, within days, you will automatically be looking for data detectors within your messages. The amount of extra information that you can easily gather from your e-mails will skyrocket.

Apple has truly taken e-mail to a higher level with Leopard Mail. While the list of new features is impressive, the implementation is what blows my socks off. Everything is so intuitive that it barely takes any learning, yet I am using Mail in a completely different, more productive and fun way. Kudos, Apple.

iCal

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iCal gets a big design overhaul, but like a lot of other things in Leopard, there's nothing that will confuse or distract people from the task at hand.

The first thing you'll notice is that it's done away with the brushed metal look and adopted the smooth gray look and feel that characterizes Leopard. The bottom of the left nav bar now has a more legible monthly calendar with much bigger numbers. The Day/Week/Month View buttons as well as the search window have moved from the bottom to the top in Leopard, making them more visible and useful.

The left nav bar still lists your Calendars, but now also includes the IMAP e-mail accounts where you store your To Dos. The pushpin button brings up your To Do list, as it did in the previous version, but now the To Dos created in Mail are part of the list.

iCal lists the e-mail accounts where you store your To Dos along with your other Calendars
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iCal lists the e-mail accounts where you store your To Dos along with your other Calendars. (Click for larger view.)

You can reprioritize them and close them from here, or move them into other calendars. In the publishing field, you can now also publish your To Dos to your .Mac or other Webdav calendar.

Events can be created in much more interesting and robust ways. You are now able to change the details of an Event directly in the Calendar pane, instead of needing to open the Info drawer as in Tiger. You can also now insert just about any type of media file into Events. Attaching a music file or movie to help explain the purpose of an Event could certainly be a nice way to send a meeting invitation.

You can send notice of the Event via e-mail to colleagues or friends, who can view the media content in the (sometimes huge) .ics file. Note to Evite: Watch out!

Apple is also pushing the CalDAV back-end calendaring protocol (which is supported in Leopard Server). It allows calendar sharing with a lot of the same functionality as Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes.

One such feature is setting up meeting rooms and assigning equipment -- think cameras and projectors -- their own calendars. That way, people can look up their availability and check them out when needed. People can also advertise their work hours to others so their colleagues know when they have free time. (This may not always be a good thing!).

Apple's Leopard Server back end will allow application developers to add more robust features that work with iCal down the road. I would expect to see the iCal-Server combination move toward being a strong option for business project management.

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