Ten overlooked Mac OS X Leopard gems

It's easy to focus on the big stuff in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard -- Time Machine, Spaces, Stacks, Cover Flow, the changes to the Desktop's look-and-feel -- but what interests me most about any major OS X update are the little things. These are the enhancements and additions that will increase OS X's usability and make me more productive long after the hype over the marquee features has died down.

After walking through Apple's Guided Tour, and the 300-plus New Features page, and playing with the release version for a few days, I've come up with a list of 10 lesser-known gems to look for after you've installed Leopard.

Quick Look
I know that Quick Look has been given prominence in some of the Leopard presentations, but its role has mostly been as an aide de camp to Cover Flow. I'm withholding judgement on Cover Flow's utility until I've had a chance to live with it for a while, but Quick Look is already one of my new best friends.

To get a full preview of a file or a group of files, without having to launch multiple applications, all I will need to do is select them and press the space bar. And this works in the Finder, Time Machine, and Mail, among other places. How simple and elegant can something be? I love this above everything else.

Add attachments to iCal

There's a lot to love in the new version of iCal, including support for the CalDAV networked calendar standard. I'm particularly interested in the Event Dropbox feature, which lets you add multiple attachments to meetings, and then share those files when you e-mail invites to attendees. And you can use the Quick Look feature to preview those documents right in iCal. Even if you're only managing your own events, attaching related documents (with things like Google maps, for example) means you'll have less searching to do when the event arrives.

Resizable partitions
In Leopard, you can create and resize hard disk partitions on the fly, without having to erase your drive and start over. For people looking to create temporary workspaces for projects, or to boost productivity in Photoshop, this will be huge.

Smarter dismounts
In the same vein, Leopard is smarter about ejecting partitions. In the past, if you ejected a volume from a partitioned drive from your desktop, Mac OS X assumed you wanted to unmount all the partitions on that drive. With Leopard, you'll get the option of only unmounting the volume you selected, or you can eject the whole disk. And, if you hold down the Control key when you eject a partition, it will only unmount that partition, bypassing the dialog box.

Integrated sharing
The new Finder makes it easier to connect to Macs on your network, either via file sharing (to look at volumes you have access to) or via the new Screen Sharing application (which is also used in conjunction with iChat). The controls to do both are built right into the folder windows on your desktop. You have to have access to the Macs in question, but it's a great way of blasting open your home network for sharing files and troubleshooting. And, if you have a .Mac account, you can set Leopard up so that you have access to your home computer from your notebook or remote computer when you're away from home.

Brotherly love in Boot Camp
Yeah, I know Parallels Desktop 3 and VMware's Fusion are all the rage. But I don't like Windows sullying my pretty little Mac world, so it's Boot Camp for me, thank you very much. Boot Camp with Leopard will add the one feature I really care about: letting me copy files between my Mac and Windows partitions. I can say good bye to my USB drive (aka USBSNEAKERNET) once and for all.

Print preview
Being a printer guy, I have spent a lot of time over the years pondering the print dialog box. One thing has regularly confounded me: why can Microsoft can give me a (small) preview of what I'm about to print in Word or Excel, but I have to click a Preview button in the standard Print dialog box? I don't want to launch Preview to see the preview, especially because it's not really Preview, since I can't do anything other than preview. I want it inside the Print box. I'll need something new to complain about though, since Leopard gives me a nice big preview every time I go to print.

Better scripting
Automator has two new features that should make scripting more productive for experienced scripters and people like me, who know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be productive. The Watch Me Do feature will record any actions you perform, even in applications that aren't scriptable. And support for variables in Automator actions should make it much simpler to create complex actions, but it will also significantly expand the range of possible actions.

Wikipedia joins the Dictionary club
In Leopard, the Wikipedia becomes a full-fledged part of Dictionary, with the full Apple look-and-feel. Sure, I can use Safari to do the same thing, but I like the uncluttered feel of the Dictionary, which is one of my favorite little OS X apps.

Scrolling background windows
A few months ago, I ran into an issue on the small screen of my MacBook, where I was going back and forth between Microsoft Excel and Safari, trying to synchronize data between a Web page and an Excel workbook. All I was doing in Safari was scrolling the window as I was checking data. After the third click-to-Safari-and-back, I remarked to myself that I really wanted background scrolling capabilities. And Apple just went out and did it in Leopard. If you put your cursor over a non-active window, you can now use your trackpad or mouse's scroll wheel to scroll it up and down without having to click in it. That's cool.

[Rick LePage is Macworld's editor at large and curator of the Creative Notes blog.]

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