Mac OS X Leopard is just around the corner and I sure am excited to start using it. It’ll include over 300 new features and some brand new applications.

1. iCal – I spend a fair amount of my computing time in iCal. Not only do I manage my personal calendars but also my department’s calendar. While iCal will continue to run and work the same as it does in Tiger there’s one major feature that I’m really looking forward to: Shared calendars.

Shared calendars means that when someone has something to add to the calendar, anyone can do so. Then if a week later it gets cancelled, I can remove it or someone with the right permissions can. Essentially everyone has access to change and modify these shared calendars. My semi-solution to getting this type of task done was to put the few people who accessed the calendar on a .Mac account. Then they could just make any changes and it would sync to everyone else. Obviously this isn’t the best solution because maybe you only want some people to read or view the calendar while others can make changes and edit the calendar. Fortunately the iCal service that’ll be built into OS X Leopard and Leopard Server will address that and allow you to set specific permissions for different people per calendar.

iCal may not be a huge application for some but I really can’t wait. Sharing calendars is definitely going to be a welcomed feature.

2. Apple Mail – Another place I spend a good amount of time is Apple Mail. The new Apple Mail program is not going to be a place where you can send, receive and sort your emails anymore. Yes, it will be able to do those standard things just as Mail in OS X Tiger, it will now be much more integrated with iCal. It’ll allow you to access and add to your to-do list much easier. For example if my girlfriend emails me and asks me to pick something up for dinner on the way home from work, I can quite easily add that to my list of to-dos. You can also make a simple note of it. You can also use the notes feature for taking notes in general, then you can access them from anywhere you have email! Notes can also include graphics and attachments.

Another included feature is RSS feeds right in the mail application. I’m going to really enjoy this because I often send interesting and fun stories that pop up in my RSS feeds to friends. What better and quicker way to do that than have the stories right in Mail itself? I won’t have to move between applications, I can simply open up a new message window, plug in the contents of the story and hit send… done. It’ll be a smoother work flow.

3. Better parental controls – While I’m not a parent myself, I am someone who likes to limit my own computer time. I currently use Mac Minder which does a great job for most of it. In Mac OS X Leopard, parental controls will have much better features. They even acknowledge that on Mac Minder’s website, and go so far to say that it won’t even install on a Leopard system because you’ll get a much better offering from the built-in controls.

It really doesn’t matter to me which application I use to get the job done, but if the Leopard application works better and does the job, great!

Leopard’s Parental Controls will include a lot of features that I don’t need but it will include the basic feature that lets you set how long the computer can be used. I usually set mine to 3 hours maximum per day. For parents who really want to take advantage of all the features it also includes the ability to block certain websites, allow only specific people to chat with your children, log what your child does and specify a time when your child can or cannot not use the computer.

There are a few other features, but the one I am most excited about is the time limiting feature. Something that Mac Minder couldn’t do was to track whether or not the screen saver was on. Sometimes I get up from the computer for an hour and unfortunately Mac Minder counted that time as my use. I am hoping that Leopard will recognize the screen saver and not do this.

Another thing that I enjoyed about Mac Minder that I hope Leopard lets you do is that you have to type in another password set by Mac Minder (in addition to the system administrator password) to make any changes. I have a feeling Leopard won’t include that feature, though.

4. iChat – Email and iChat are probably my primary means of communication with people, but I don’t think I picked iChat because it’s going to make me any more productive. I mostly picked it because it has a couple new and cool features.

You’re now allowed multiple logins, so I can now login both my .Mac account and my AOL Instant Messenger account at the same time. It also has tabbed chats (although I am not to fond of how they have it set up) and some new features when you’re video chatting. I think it’ll be kind of neat to share Keynote presentations and iPhoto slideshows with people over iChat.

5. Time Machine – While I currently back up each of my servers very night using a command line utility (rsync), I only back up my Desktops every month (sometimes less), and my notebooks every 4-5 months, if that. It’s definitely not a good plan. I usually use Apple’s Backup application which has worked great for me, but I get new computers so often that I rarely remember to set it up each time.

Time Machine is going to make the process of backing up simple. For example you can plug in an external hard drive and Time Machine will ask you if you want to use that hard drive as your back up drive (it actually reminds me of how the Newton did that when you inserted a flash card). You can also use the Time Machine preference pane in the System Preferences to configure it.

Now instead of having to setup Backup every time I format my system or get a new computer, I can just plug in an external hard drive and Time Machine will do the rest.

I’ll probably continue to use the rsync utility on my Xserve but all my client workstation machines will definitely be using Time Machine.

Conclusion – These are only 5 of the new changes in OS X Leopard and I only touched the surface of some of the new features to be included in the above applications. There are supposed to be over 300 new innovations in OS X Leopard, so I’m really excited. How about you, what are you looking forward to in OS X Leopard?

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