Home > Mac News > Panther Review

Panther Review

September 26th, 2003

UPDATE: Okay, the madness has died down, a little. For two days, traffic was at about 4,000 unique IP visitors per day, putting quite a spike in my stats. Yesterday, the traffic went down to “only” about 800, so the photos come back up. Enjoy.

I was able to use Panther recently, and am very impressed with this OS. Panther is the code name for Mac OS X, version 10.3. Even though it sounds like a small, incremental update (like Jaguar [10.2] before), there are big improvements to be found here.

First, speed. One of the main complaints about OS X is that it feels sluggish, especially on older machines. I have a Powerbook G4 running at 800 MHz–no slouch, but hardly top of the line–and OS X has always lagged a bit, with graphics not always drawing in as fast as I’d like. Fast enough, to be sure, but you lose some of the fast, snappy feel to it. Panther fixes that, more than Jaguar did. Things seem snappier, scrolling is better, everything looks and feels faster than before. My software opens faster as well.

Second, the biggest snazzy update is something called Expose (“Exposé” for those of you with browsers that can decode the accented “e”). Expose is a big addition. Have you ever had a ton of windows open, and want to switch more easily between them? Had ten images open in Photoshop and wanted to choose clearly which one to bring to the top? Or maybe you wanted to attach a document to email, but the icon on the Desktop was hidden behind a window and you had to move stuff out of the way? Expose fixes that by allowing all windows to reduce in size and present themselves so you can pick and choose which one to put on top–or clear them all off the Desktop momentarily so you can snap up that Desktop document and drop it in the window you choose. See the image (top) of the screen as it looks normally, and (bottom) when Expose spreads out the same windows:

The bottom image shows all the open windows retracting from each other, like spreading out papers on a desk to find the one you want. Very intuitive! And the graphics are pretty as well–the windows shrink and spread very smoothly, it’s a neat effect.

Along with Expose, another tweak is the application switch. Before, one could hold down Command-Tab, and could cycle through open apps in the dock. Hold down the shift key too, and you could reverse-cycle. Panther switches the cycling to an image in the middle of the screen, allowing for a click-choice as well:

The Finder has received many tweaks as well. Below is an image of the new window design. Note the quick-access panel at left; touted as a big plus, I am less sure of its usefulness. But a big plus for me is the upgraded search dialog in the upper right corner. Though it looks the same as in Jaguar, it is much improved. Before, Jaguar made searching easy–type in a search term and hit “Return,” and it would search the volume/folder for the term, including all subfolders within. Panther made two big improvements: first, you don’t even have to hit the “Return” key, it just searches as you type, a la iTunes. Second, the search itself goes by much faster. Jaguar made a Windows PC search seem glacial; Panther makes even Jaguar seem plodding. My Windows PC has a 1.8 GHz Celeron chip; despite having twice the apparent (in hertz) chip speed as my G4, a C: drive search on that computer takes up to five minutes; with Panther, the same search lasts only a dozen or so seconds.

One more nice touch is networking: it is now much easier to connect to a PC or PC network. Just click the “Network” icon in any Finder window (top left), and the connected machines are instantly visible as folders or volumes, with shortcuts that can easily be dragged to the Dock or Desktop for permanent open display. After the initial login is saved by the Keychain, connecting to a PC network is no different from browsing local Mac disks.

Another new Finder tweak is a long-missed feature from OS 9 and before, you can now assign a color to any icon. Instead of color-shading the entire icon, the filename instead takes on a colored button-like appearance. Sorting by color is now available as well. And in the contextual (right-click pop-up) menu, you have the added options of compressing (by using zip) the item, or “Toasting” the item–archiving to a CD-R using Toast.

Another cool feature is user switching (see images above left, and below). If you have more than one user account, you can run both at the same time. A small text menu at the top right of the screen drops down and allows you to quickly switch between users without having to log out first (you can also choose to have no password in secondary accounts, allowing for faster switching). The switch uses a very nice 3-D rotating-block transition effect straight out of Keynote, Apple’s new Presentation software.

Also, the speech technology seems very much improved. Before, I had a lot of trouble getting my Mac to understand me. In Panther, it hardly missed a word I said. Much smoother than before. There are new things you can do with it as well, such as display phone numbers from the Address Book on the screen–but it had a lot more trouble understanding which name I was saying, and often got the name and number wrong.

Those are the main changes that I’ve found immediately useful. I’ve quickly looked at improvements in the PDF-reading Preview app (better search, display and scrolling than before), Font Book (allows you to group and switch fonts used by the system), and found them mildly interesting so far. A lot of other stuff is here–Apple touts a hundred or so improvements–but many of them appeal to people with technically specific needs.

I only noticed one bug–I use the zoom feature (in the “Universal Access” control panel) quite a bit in the Computer class I teach; it helps a great deal to show my students the details of what I’m doing on my computer. (Throw in Virtual PC, and it’s even better–I don’t even have to use a PC to teach the PC!). But Panther has a small bug there–if I hold down the zoom keys (Command-Option-Plus) continuously, the zoom sticks at one point, and will not un-zoom; one has to visit the control panel and switch zooming off to get it unstuck. No biggie–you just have to tap the plus key instead of holding it down steadily, then the bug doesn’t happen. But that’s the only bug I found after prolonged use and testing. Not bad at all, for a pre-release OS–and no kernel panics or software crashes either.

All in all, a very nice set of improvements for the Mac. Pricing, alas, will likely be same as with Jaguar–$70 for education, $130 or so for others, and again, may have no breaks for upgrade as opposed to straight purchase. But then again, it is way cooler than Windows Home version, and costs about what Microsoft charges for an XP upgrade (while giving much more), so one cannot complain too much. Sure, you have to pay more if you buy every upgrade, but as I explain in a post a few stories upstream, you’re not forced to buy every upgrade, and even if you do, it’s worth the value you get. The official release was supposed to be this month, and now is “before the end of the year.”

Categories: Mac News Tags: by
  1. D. Keller
    September 26th, 2003 at 02:04 | #1

    Did you send an e-mail telling Apple about the Zoom
    feature “key hold down” bug. I use this feature from
    time to time and have found this very useful. Apple
    should be told about this before Panther is GM (Golden
    Master). Thanks for the writeup.

  2. Richard
    September 26th, 2003 at 02:30 | #2

    Apple never said Panther would ship before the end of the year. Rumors suggested it would be released in September, but Apple never did.

  3. Luis
    September 26th, 2003 at 02:46 | #3


    You’re right about the September release date being a rumor, but multiple reports, such as this one, this one, and that other one, to name just a few, have Jobs in Paris saying that Panther will ship “before the end of the year” for $130.

  4. Luis
    September 26th, 2003 at 02:56 | #4

    By the way, I forgot to add something: If the Expose graphics fly by too fast for you, holding down the shift key while executing an Expose move will slow down the graphics, allowing you to catch the moves in much more detail. This is the same “easter egg” (so to speak) found in Jaguar, when you minimize a window using the Genie effect. If I’m not mistaken, it was originally created to “wow” the audience when Jobs first demonstrated Jaguar, and was left in–and now has been expanded.

  5. M. Hunt
    September 26th, 2003 at 03:10 | #5

    >A new option allows you to have the item information display right
    >below the title. In the case of volumes, it displays capacity and free
    >space; for folders, it shows how many items are inside; for documents,
    >it shows vital information, such as the size of a photo, or the length of
    >a music file.

    You can do this in the Jaguar Finder.

  6. Steve
    September 26th, 2003 at 04:03 | #6

    Many thanks for the overview. For me Panther doesn’t offer enough for its price tag. An upgrade pricing scheme is a must. Of course I won’t upgrade without proper upgrade pricing and that could cause inconvenience as the iApps (and surely dot mac will surely be upgraded to ‘require’ Panther or be ‘greatly enhanced’ by it.

    My other objection to Panther will probably be international support.

    Voice recognition is the future of interaction with computers. Now that multi-processor setups are not uncommon to us and the G5 is actually shipping you would think that Apple would show signs of making non-English voice recognition a reality.

    I’m afraid that anything non-English or non-US is of little interest to Apple. I am not renewing my dot mac account because of its non existent international support (apart from Japanese that is).

    In spite of the promises, the Sherlock channels and iPhoto hard print services are nowhere to be found for foreign users.

    Service and support is too bad to be true and even with the euro trouncing the dollar Apple software prices are still too high.

    It also remains to be seen just how much software Panther will break. I’ll pass on ‘upgrading’ (which is a misnomer if ever there was one) and hope someone at Apple starts making noises that indicate the OS truly international or at least there plans to correct what is currently not working.

    With over 4 billion US dollars sitting in the bank you’d think that the external markets would see some of it. How about an ad on TV. I’ve only seen one in the last 10 years.

  7. Paul Thurrott
    September 26th, 2003 at 05:47 | #7

    Apple has charged its users $129 twice, for two OS X upgrades (Jaguar and Panther), since the first version shipped; Microsoft has charged for XP just once, and XP Home costs less than OS X. So it’s safe to say it’s far more expensive to stay up to date with OS X than it is with XP, which has seen only free or low-cost (Plus! Digital Media Edition for Windows XP, $20) enhancements since it was first released. Apple, still playing catch-up, is charging a lot of money for the privilege.

    Nice write-up though.


  8. Henry Stukenborg
    September 26th, 2003 at 06:10 | #8

    Now Paul…

    “Apple has charged its users $129 twice, for two OS X upgrades (Jaguar and Panther), since the first version shipped; Microsoft has charged for XP just once, and XP Home costs less than OS X. ”

    This is a bit of a misrepresentation (and I would expect a bit better from you). Microsoft’s updates to XP are just that – updates to the current version. Apple doesn’t charge for updates to the current version either – they’re free via either SoftwareUpdate or from their web site. (Apple does charge $20 to get a CD). As you say the last few releases of OS X, 10.1, 10.2, and now 10.3, are full upgrades with improvements in speed and additional features. Microsoft’s Plus! & DME are just focused add-ons and don’t really play into it. So you’re doing an Apple to Orange comparision (wha wha music plays…).

    Let me ask you this…if MS released yearly versions of Windows do you honestly think they wouldn’t charge for ’em? (That’s right…they’d just make you get a subscription!)


  9. September 26th, 2003 at 06:17 | #9

    If you like the Universal Access Zoom… take a look at my tip here:


    It requires a microsoft mouse as far as I know… Last time I tried USB overdrive with this trick, it didnt work…but maybe USB Overdrive has been upgraded since then.

  10. Weston
    September 26th, 2003 at 06:41 | #10

    In the article you said that a NEW tweak to the Finder is the ability to show the item info underr the icon??hate to burst your bubble, but Jaguar has had that for a while now? click on the desktop and hit command-j (View:Show View Options?) > click the box to show item info? Done!

  11. HAL
    September 26th, 2003 at 07:42 | #11

    Being in germany and seeing the tight integration with other apple services which are not available outside the US I don’t see 130 being worth it for me. Yet they will manae to extort the money by means of “this application requires the lates OS X version”. Bastards.

  12. mark
    September 26th, 2003 at 07:52 | #12

    A comment on Win file searching…when I was using Win2k before OSX, I used Filetracer which made file searching bearable [fast], http://filetracer.com/. Otherwise file searching was a joke on windoz. Can’t wait for Panther.

  13. Luis
    September 26th, 2003 at 08:39 | #13

    Boy, them Mac articles really draw in the comments…

    Two people corrected me on the “Show item info” being included in Jaguar–I never noticed that before, my error. I have deleted the comment from the post.

    Paul is partly correct about my pricing comments–I had thought that XP Home was $300, but in fact it is $200 (was it always that price?). But my statement is still true if you can get the academic pricing for OS X. I also agree with Henry in that the upgrades you mention are similar to free Mac upgrades that come more often. And Windows upgrades are usually a barrage of “security updates” which patch holes that shouldn’t even be in the OS, and which provide no extra features.

    I’d like to comment on a few other points as to why the Mac OS is still a better value–but I figure they are worth an actual post, and as sire author, I figure I’ll take the privelege–see the newer post.

  14. Anonymous
    September 26th, 2003 at 16:33 | #14

    Why the screenshots ? They are to small to see anything interresting at all. Useless. Please provide full size screenshots.

  15. Ptitboul
    September 26th, 2003 at 19:00 | #15

    Here are a few questions.
    – How does FileVault work? Is there somewhere a specification of the details of how encryption is implemented?
    – When you print a file, and then choose “Preview” instead of sending it to the printer, is there a world-readable pdf file in private/tmp/printing.xxx like in Jaguar? This is a confidentiality problem, and I would like to know if Apple corrected this bug.
    – How does the new Mail.app choose which applications to use to open an attachement? Currently, if the mime-type and the suffix disagree, the suffix is used. I prefer the other way. It would even be better if a warning was issued.

  16. drewb2b
    September 26th, 2003 at 21:53 | #16

    Just noticed a small error in your story. Mac OS X Panther does not have the option built into it’s contexual menu’s to Toast a file/folder with Roxio’s Toast. The “Toast It” contexual menu is only apparent if the user has installed the new Toast Titanium 6. That’s one of the new features in Toast 6…


    (See the bottom of the page for a description of the new feature).

    Other than that – great article!

    – drewb2b
    St. Paul, Minnesota.

  17. Luis
    September 26th, 2003 at 23:15 | #17

    Drew: Thanks for the pointer! I do have Titanium 6, but haven’t tried out the “Toast It” feature yet.

    By the way, HTML is activated in these comments, and anonymous commenting is possible.

  18. September 27th, 2003 at 00:00 | #18


    10.3 is a _new_ version of Mac OS X. 10.2 was a _new_ version of Mac OS X. NEW versions with more than 150 features each, many _very_ important and apparent to the user (almost worth the upgrade price by itself -like Quartz Extreme in Shaguar, Expos? in Panzer or the optimizations of code and _speed_ in _both_ versions-). Some other features are _very_ important and mostly under the hood (architectural improvements, integration), not apparent to the normal user but very important for everyone. Other features are minor, details, but together, they are _good_ stuff.

    10.2.x are upgrades. They are free. So are the .x releases of iApps (and most X.x as well, btw).


    Some people compare prices to XP Home Edition. Could XP Home Edition run an entire ISP and application provider operation, with no limits on any service whatsoever? Mac OS X can. We do. It’s a full fledge operating system for home, professional and industrial use. One that one could easily extend with no limits. The user is in no way limited. With XP Home Edition, well, the name says it all.


    Does Windows XP Home (or not) come with software as good as iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes, iSync, etc.? Last time I checked, their equivalents (if there were any) weren’t there. OS X has them and Panzer comes with updated versions of many of these apps.

    10.3 is worth every single penny for a couple of features alone (some people doesn’t realize the addictive power of Expos? until they don’t try it for a day). Heck, forget the flashy stuff. Even forget about the new BSD and all the new services. Just fire it up and experience the speed improvement.

    It’s simply not an option. It’s a must for anyone serious about their Mac.

  19. lanternlad
    September 27th, 2003 at 02:09 | #19

    Found on ‘Net somewhere…

    Amazon Germany offers Panther 10.3 already for pre-order ..

    Amazon Germany offers Panther 10.3 already for pre-order , see here :

    The page offers Apples next big Update to Mac OS X code named Panther with a release date of
    December 2003
    With the current speed of development and new features poping up in the latest build 7B21
    a september release could be a bit to close and early december maybe not far off the chart .

  20. Luis
    September 27th, 2003 at 02:21 | #20

    Lantern Lad:

    “With the current speed of development and new features poping up in the latest build 7B21 a september release could be a bit to close and early december maybe not far off the chart.”

    Actually, 7B21 was the build released at WWDC. The latest build I’ve heard of was announced at Think Secret, which was 7B74 (Sept. 21).

    Also, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying Panther is due “before the end of the year,” but no official time has been announced and it is doubtful they have given anything more specific to retailers. The German store is likely just guessing at dates. All they’re doing is taking pre-orders, it doesn’t mean that they have any special deal from Apple or anything.

    It is interesting, though, that they have it priced–must be pretty confident in what Jobs said in Paris. Also interesting that the U.S. Amazon site has nothing up yet.

  21. Aphex
    October 11th, 2003 at 03:29 | #21

    And its released on Oct. 24.

  22. emj
    October 16th, 2004 at 14:39 | #22

    Thanks for the info about the zoom glitch – that’s the one and only less-than-satisfying aspect of my powerbook. ^_^

Comments are closed.