The Practical Mac

Jaguar Revisited

- 2003.02.11 - Tip Jar

It has been over three months since I converted to Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" as my everyday operating system. On the whole, it has been a positive experience. There are many improvements over 10.1.x, but there are still a few rough edges that need to be smoothed.

Jaguar is faster. On the same hardware as any incarnation of 10.1.x, Jaguar will yield a noticeable speed improvement. It boots faster. I upgraded two Macs to Jaguar. Boot time improved approximately 30% on one and a whopping 50% on the other. The biggest improvement was on an older G3 iMac; a PowerBook G4 improved its bootup speed, though not as significantly.

Jaguar runs faster, especially on a G4 and especially on Quartz Extreme-capable video adapters. Launch speeds increased noticeably - on the one Mac that had video supported by Quartz Extreme there was also a perceptible increase in the speed of screen scrolling and redraw.

One improvement that I consider major is the fact that if you attempt to overwrite a file with another file of the same name, the Finder will tell you whether the file you are overwriting is older or newer. This is an improvement that I called for early on in this column.

We keep our household finances on Quicken, which resides on my wife's PowerBook G4. I regularly copy the Quicken data file to my iMac for a backup. I took great care to be sure I was copying from and to the correct Mac. Still, my heart began racing a bit anytime I did this copy. All the Finder asked me was if I wanted to replace a file of the same name. I never knew if the file I was replacing was older (which is as it should have been) or newer (meaning I was about to make a grave mistake).

This problem has now been cured, and I am sure this new capability (new to OS X; the Classic Mac OS has had this feature for a long time) will mean a lot fewer "oh-oh's" for everyone.

I have not explored most of the new Jaguar-only iApps in detail. However, from my initial tinkering I can say I am very excited about the future of iCal, iSync, and Backup.

The new juiced-up Address Book is nice, too. The promise of all applications on your Mac being able to draw on this single source of contact information is powerful. Let's hope developers write programs to tap this feature.

Although Address Book is nice, it could use a few improvements. First, let us import from more applications, Entourage in particular. In my upgrade, I had to export my Entourage contacts to a text file and then import into Address Book. This was far from smooth, as I had to do extensive manual remapping of the fields before I could import.

When I upgraded to Jaguar, I decided to dive right in to the greatest possible extent, and this included leaving Entourage behind in favor of Apple's Mail application. This area is where I have encountered the greatest disappointment. While Mail has some features that elevate it above anything else on the market, it also has some glaring weaknesses.

I have several different email addresses. One of these is checked via IP address when I am home and via URL when I am on the road. Mail (and every other email application I have ever used, for that matter) needs a tight integration with a full-featured Location Manager so you can tell it how to check email - and even which accounts to check depending on where you are. Ditto for SMTP servers. When I am on the road, I use Juno as my ISP. Juno requires you to use their SMTP server for sending email. This should integrate with the Location Manager so that the server is automatically set properly depending on where you are.

Mail does not allow you to designate different "from" and "reply to" addresses. Entourage allows this, although it requires manually adding a header in the setup. If this is possible in Mail, I have not found it. This is a serious problem for me, as this means I have to use the Juno address to send email when I am away from home, and I never give that address out or even check it regularly. Every email I have sent the last two days has my Juno return address on it. Now I have had to start checking that account. "Reply to" is a necessity, and I hope Apple includes this in the next Mail revision.

In the category of "nitpicky," I don't like the way Mail sticks attachments in the body of the email message. Entourage and other programs have a second, smaller window immediately beneath the message body. They put attachments in this area. It just looks cleaner to me.

Messages are marked as "read" the second you highlight them. I would like a feature where you can choose whether this happens and even set a delay so that it is only marked as read if you linger on it for more than say five seconds. Keeping messages marked as "unread" is one method I use to keep track of what I have to follow up on. With Mail, I find myself having to go back and manually mark messages as unread all too often.

On the positive side, Mail has a spam filter that is the most amazing I have ever encountered. After an initial training period, it decides when the time is right to turn on the junk mail filter. A dialog box pops up and asks you if you want to do this now, wait a while longer, or not do it at all. I get over 100 emails in a typical day, approximately 85% of which are junk. After about 30 days of training, Mail correctly identified about 97% of the junk mail.

I should also point out that it correctly identified about 90% of the spam correctly right out of the box before any training took place. During this time, it has incorrectly identified only about 5 bona fide email messages as junk, a number far less than 1%. That is tremendous accuracy.

Mail also has what is, as far as I can tell, an unique feature that allows you to "bounce" an email to the sender so it appears that the email was sent to a bad address. When a message is bounced to a spammer, the address is marked "bad" and may be removed from their database. By using this feature on junk mail you may end up receiving fewer unwanted messages.

Apple has always been synonymous with innovation, and this is a prime example of it.

I have noticed one bug that developed after installing Jaguar. Virtual PC version 5 does not like Jaguar, and the feeling is mutual. Connectix tells you as much on their website and highly advises upgrading to Virtual PC 6. However, they have posted a patch that will help version 5 play a little nicer with Jaguar.

Since I only use Virtual PC to run a single program, I did not want to buy an upgrade. When I shut down the virtual PC (the Windows PC) and try to exit the Virtual PC program immediately thereafter, my Mac locks up. Tight. No mouse, no keyboard, and even the clock stops.

I tried leaving a terminal window open so I could manually relaunch Aqua, but I could not get back to the terminal due to 100% freeze up. The only way to recover is to power off the Mac.

If I wait for at least five seconds after the Windows virtual PC has shut down before I try to exit Virtual PC, the problem does not occur. This is a bug that is 100% reproducible. It is irritating, to say the least. Now that I have recognized the issue and know how to avoid it, I have not had any further problems. At this point, I don't deem this worth the price of a Virtual PC upgrade, although I could change my mind in the future.

Like any upgrade, I have experienced some bumps along the way. However, my move to Jaguar has been a mainly positive experience.

How does my experience compare to yours? Let me know. If response warrants, I will publish a follow-up "reader feedback" column in a future article. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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