Apple Computer Inc. says its fourth major operating system release in under three years is helping break down the barriers between power and simplicity in computing.

At a media briefing Wednesday, Bruce Hough, consulting engineer for Apple Canada in Markham, Ont., outlined some of the 150 new features of Apple Mac OS X Panther version 10.3, available since Oct. 24.

Macs running this version of OS X are now able to interoperate with Windows networks – ideal for “customers out there that (that) exist in multi-tier environments,” Hough said. Macs and PCs can share files or peripherals, and can share the same network. The OS supports the same standards used in Windows and Microsoft-specific technologies that enable Macs to be used with Active Directory and Windows Exchange mail servers, Hough explained. “You can make it fit in without having to change anything on the Windows back end – there’s no special configuration required.”

Eddie Chan, research analyst, mobile and personal computing with IDC Canada in Toronto, said features like Windows network interoperability could make the systems administrator’s life easier. “They’re trying to make (things) more seamless…and not so much of a headache in terms of platforms and integration with Exchange Server.”

Although Apple’s core market is still education, and it has a loyal following from “the creative types and early adopters,” Chan noted that the firm seems like it’s “trying to get into the business and commercial markets” with OS releases that could help it “move up the food chain” and become more appealing to medium and larger enterprises.

Hough said that as a result of user feedback from previous Mac OS versions, Panther now features a redesigned Finder that lets users put their favourite folders, storage, servers and iDisk in one location. It also enables users to browse the network for Mac, Windows and Unix file servers.

In addition, Apple has “brought back things like coloured labels so that users can visually segment their files and folders” through the action menu, Hough explained. New file open and save panels, as well as fast file searching, are included as part of the revamped Finder.

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