I've had a couple of days of living with Panther now, and I'm almost totally impressed. My few quibbles so far are to do with Apple not quite going far enough along the line they seem to be pursuing. I still don't think that I've found all the new features and enhancements, but here are the highlights:
- Interface changes — Many people have complained about the changes to widgets and the apple on the login screen, but I think that they are mostly an improvement. The new — slightly greyer — windows and menus seem to make aqua and metal windows sit together rather more harmoniously. Controls which are grouped together now sit in slightly inset boxes with rounded corners, which are quite pretty, and make the groupings more obvious. The flatter, less ribbed texture to the windows looks better on LCD screens, too.
- Menu navigation — At last, keyboard navigation works properly. You can move around in windows, dialogue boxes, menus and even Exposè minimized windows with the keyboard. Even navigating around the Finder and in open and save dialogue boxes now works properly.
- Command-tab — There's a new application switching graphic which is light years away from the Dock switching method which they used before. But Proteron, who had a lovely little utility called LiteSwitch (which I used to use) are understandably not happy about the similarities between their product and the Panther switcher. I personally think that they deserve some acknowledgement from Apple, but I imagine that if LiteSwitch didn't exist, Apple would have built their switcher in exactly the same way. After all, the semi-transparent background was theirs in the first place.
- Preview — This is exactly what I wanted; a quick, no-nonsense PDF viewer. It's very fast, even with big files, and searching the text is very nippy. I've had to put up with the slow amd clunky Adobe Reader for too long now, so it was with some glee that I set Preview as the default app for PDFs.
- Image Capture — I have an Epson scanner, and was about to try and trudge through the Epson site looking for the latest drivers. Before I did so, I decided — as an experiment — to just try plugging the scanner in. Bingo! Image capture opened, and it did a preview scan. It may not have all the features of the built in scanning software, but it's just fine for me, and very simple to use. Even better, you can share a scanner between two computers, so you don't even have to switch the USB cable between machines. Perfect!
- Finder — I really like the new Finder, and the sidebar is certainly going in the right direction. But I wish that they had gone further. The sidebar looks so much like the playlist window in iTunes, that I wonder why they didn't implement similar functionality. Imagine if you could make a file 'playlist' which would dynamically contain files matching a query — you could have all files modified today in my Documents folder, all files with the label "Urgent", or all movies with the word "holiday" in the file name. Now that would really be cool. I'm even wondering if it might not be possible to implement something similar with Perl or Applescript. I might have to do some work on that.
Overall, the general speed increase probably makes the most difference. All applications and operations are so much more responsive, which makes Panther a joy to use. The upgrade was very painless, and almost all of my applications (except some of those which are in the form of Preference Panes, like GeekTool) work fine. If you haven't upgraded to Panther yet, it's certainly worth the money.