FOREWORD: As a Mac Genius, at the Apple Store Chestnut Hill, I had many responsibilities. Some of them came by choice, others came with the job. One of my least favorite responsibilities was babysitting a fat little greek kid named Gregory, who frequented the Apple Store on weekends. Gregory's parents used to drop him off at the Mall every Saturday, and drive away. Gregory had many things going against him. For one he was easily distracted. It was hard for him to hold down a conversation. But when his attention steadied itself long enough for him to concentrate on a single subject, that subject was usually Apple. Gregory was unnaturally excited about everything Apple. He was our biggest fan.
When it came to new product releases, Gregory always made an appearance. He was heard outside the Mall long before coming into the Store. When Mac OS X 10.3 Panther was released on October 24th, 2003, he could he heard skipping through the Mall, yelling at the top of his lungs, "PANFER, I WANT PANFER!!!" His excitement and unique pronunciation for the forth major version of Apple's next generation operating system was not easily forgotten. To this day I can't think about Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, without smiling and remembering Gregory.
So here's to you Gregory, this post is dedicated in your honor. I doubt you are reading this, but if you are, I just wanted to thank you for your enthusiasm, and share he fact that you are now old enough to drive sends shivers down my spine.
The release of Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, on August 23rd, 2002, showed that Apple had something good going with Mac OS X. Released a year after the much needed Mac OS X 10.1 update, many considered Jaguar the first usable version of Apple's next generation operating system, even though the responsiveness of its user interface still trailed behind Mac OS 9. By the time Mac OS X 10.3 Panther was ready to roar on October 24th, 2003, Apple's strategy of yearly Mac OS X updates was clear. Mac OS 9 was no longer a bootable option on new Macs. Mac OS X was the future.
According to Apple, 10.3 Panther brought over 150 new Features to Mac OS X.
Inspired by iTunes, the Finder was updated with a brushed-metal interface, live search, and customizable sidebar. For the first time users could securely delete, extract, or compress files straight from the Finder. One of the Finder's most controversial new features was the return of Finder Labels. A feature that had been missing from the Finder since the arrival of Mac OS X. Using metadata stored on disk, Finder Labels preserved labels set in the Classic Macintosh operating system, but little else.
Fast User Switching made its first appearance on the Mac with the release of 10.3 Panther. For the first time additional users could log in without the current users logging out. The transition between switching was presented with a rotating cube animation taken straight out of Steve Job's latest Keynote address. Fast User Switching was an important upgrade for home users and corporate users alike, thanks to Panther's interoperability improvements, including out-of-the-box support for Active Directory. Unfortunately not all applications worked seamlessly while being utilized by multiple users, and app crashes were common.
Apple not only made strides on the speed of switching between users, it also made improvements to the briskness of moving between multiple apps and windows. Exposé was Apple's answer to the clutter of windows, toolbars, and palettes that have multiplied on modern resource rich Macs. Accessed by a hot corner, keyboard shortcut, or mouse click, Exposé allowed users to quickly locate an open window, by minimizing all available windows to clickable thumbnails displayed across the screen. There was even the option to hide all windows, displaying only the desktop, or hide all windows not associated with a specific application. Exposé along with Spring-loaded Folders, are two of the features I miss most when I am not using a Mac.
As the Mac moved into a position of greater market share, it needed better document interoperability with the modern world. This meant improvements in Preview for the faster rendering of PDF documents, and Microsoft Word .doc compatibility for TextEdit. Safari replaced Internet Explorer as the default browser in Mac OS X Panther, ensuring standards compatible page rendering on Macs for years to come. And although many would call it a step back, Panther introduced the ability to send faxes over the included 56k modem from any print dialog box. X11, needed to display GUI based Unix applications, was also included by default.
Mac OS X Panther introduced a number of new applications like, Font Book for the installing, previewing, and organizing of fonts. FileVault for the on the fly encryption, and decryption of a user's Home folder. iChat AV for the audio/video conferencing between small groups. And Xcode, Apple's new way of building and compiling Mac applications faster using gcc 3.3.
Thanks to the efficiency of the gcc 3.3 compiler, 10.3 Panther ran faster than previous versions of Mac OS X, while still demanding the same system requirements as 10.2 Jaguar. Mac OS X 10.3 Panther ran on all but the oldest Jobsian era Macs. Beige Power Mac G3s, and Wallstreet PowerBooks with Old World ROMs that lacked integrated USB.
Looking back, many people consider 10.3 to be an uninspiring evolutionary update to Mac OS X, but as an ex Apple Store employee working the sales floor at the time, I can tell you the release of Mac OS X Panther was an exciting time to be a Mac fan. iTunes, and the iPod were just taking off, giving additional interest in Macs. iChat AV, and the invitation to video conference with family members all over the world brought more people into the store than ever before. The Power Mac G5 was the world's fastest desktop computer at the time, and its allure along with the Apple's new line of Cinema Displays was the perfect platform to present Mac OS X Panther. The death of Mac OS 9 spelled out the future of Macintosh, and after over three years of development many long time Mac users were finally ready to upgrade to Mac OS X.
No, Mac OS X Panther wasn't a substantial release in terms, of features. It wasn't the first to introduce Aqua. It won't be remembered for transitioning the Macintosh platform to Intel, or bringing iOS features back to the Mac. Instead Panther was the release that showed Apple was moving forward with no signs of slowing down. Some say it was the introduction of Mac OS X in March 2001 that saved Apple, and those people might be right. But it was the release of Panther in October 2003 that proved Apple was on the right track, and the best was yet to come.