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Jaguar leaps onto Windows networks

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I really like Apple’s OS X. I think Apple has done a wonderful job of combining the best of their user-friendly operating system with powerful Unix-based underpinnings. But previous versions of OS X haven’t been very helpful in allowing me to do work on the Microsoft network at my office. Apple says OS X Jaguar will change all that. I wanted to see if that was true.

InsertArt(1606023)FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND. OS X 10.2 (codenamed Jaguar) was released this past Friday night at Apple stores across the country. It is a major operating system release update. For $129 ($199 for a 5-computer family license), Jaguar offers half a gazillion or so improvements on an already terrific OS. Among the highlights:

iChat: an Internet messaging tool based on AOL’s AIM platform.

Mail: a newly updated mail program that can handle POP and IMAP messages, and includes a promising junk mail filtration system.

iTunes 3: an improved digital music player

Address Book: a new central depository for e-mail address and contact information.

Sherlock 3: a computer search engine turned Web search engine.

QuickTime 6: the latest version of Apple’s media standard now handles MPEG-4 files and AAC audio.

Finder: it’s newly improved and faster at everything

Rendezvous: an instant networking tool

Quartz Extreme: a super-charged Macintosh graphic windowing system. The better your computer’s processor and video card, the more improvement you’ll see.

Inkwell: Install a writing/drawing tablet and your Mac will now do handwriting recognition.

Consider this upgrade a MAJOR upgrade. OS X Jaguar took a really long time to load onto my two test platforms. I currently have a new-ish iMac on loan from Apple (G4, 15-inch flat-screen and 256MB of memory) and my trusty 2-year old iMac (G3, 1GB memory). On both machines, Jaguar took more than an hour to load, 70 minutes on the G4, 75 minutes on the G3.

Once everything was complete, I took both computers for a spin. Speed-wise, both iMacs were amazingly similar. Web pages opened at the same speed; downloads via my DSL line were virtually identical. Word, Excel, mp3 and QuickTime files seemed to be perfect on both hardware platforms.

So far, so good. But let’s get to the networking. As for Rendezvous, it works as advertised. My Windows computers could see what’s on my iMacs and vice versa. That’s very, very cool. But I was interested to see if I could connect from home to the MSNBC newsroom, read my e-mail and accomplish tasks that only a Windows computer can complete.

Not trying to make this test overly important, but Jaguar’s ability to connect and work with Microsoft networks has been made a very big deal. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.) Apple’s whole campaign is about getting Windows users to switch. That big ad campaign is kinda moot if the OS can’t live up to the hype.

THE VPN TEST So, how did it do? Better than I, a skeptic, expected. OS X Jaguar can VPN into other networks. VPN stands for Virtual Private Networking, a protocol which allows people to “dial-in” to their offices via a “secure” Internet connection. I won’t go into whether VPN is the best, secure method to do this, but it’s what I have to use to get to MSNBC.

I’ve tried some third-party VPN clients on previous versions of OS X with limited success. Jaguar’s VPN client works flawlessly. Once it is set up, it took 2 to 3 seconds for me to connect to MSNBC.

Next came trying to open a remote desktop connection. Many firms use this type of thing to do exactly what it says it does: open a desktop from work (with all your work applications and settings) on your remote computer. A number of companies offer slightly different software to do this, but Microsoft has just released their Remote Desktop Connection client for OS X. RDC is built into current versions of Windows.

I’ve tried the RDC for OS X on my computers before Jaguar was released. It worked one time out of fifty. I’ll blame those flaky third-party VPN connections for most of the problems. That’s because under Jaguar, RDC worked first-time, every time. I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to be able to get my Outlook e-mail and use many of the MSNBC applications that up until Saturday were available only on Windows computers. They’re still available only in Windows — it’s just that Jaguar, with some third-party software, is now capable of letting me simulate a Windows desktop on my Mac. One hint though, my G3 iMac has a 2-button mouse, allowing me to right-click Windows-style — something the beautiful Apple mouse is incapable of.

But alas, I did hit some snags when it came to Jaguar’s new Mail program. If you read the hype on Apple’s Web site you’ll see that Apple hints that Mail can act as your Outlook mail program. Quote: “To help you work remotely, the Mac OS X Mail client lets you connect better with a Microsoft Exchange mail server. Your INBOX can pretend to be an exact duplicate of what’s on your work machine, so you can check your mail, delete a few items, then leave other items for when you’re back in the office.”

That got my attention! Unfortunately, it didn’t do everything I wanted. Mail just couldn’t connect to my mail servers at work. First of all, Jaguar had a problem with DNS addresses on my network. The RDC software I wrote about above worked only after changing the name of the remote server to its IP address. That trick didn’t work for Outlook:mac. But, after a lot of fiddling around, I got Jaguar’s Mail program to receive my MSNBC mail. Receiving was quick and easy — but Mail doesn’t let me get into my inbox’s sub-folders despite using Mail’s IMAP settings. That cuts Jaguar Mail’s useablility in half. A major faux-pas as far as I’m concerned

Luckily, I can get all my e-mail and folders and everything else I need when using the Remote Desktop software so I can use my iMac to connect and complete office work from home. That’s a major accomplishment. Overall, the Apple people and the OS X Jaguar team in particular are to be commended for what they’ve done so far.

At the moment I’ll consider Jaguar (like every other software title ever written) a work in progress. And I’m not giving up when it comes to getting Jaguar to network seamlessly with my office. OS X is too good to quit on it. I’ve e-mailed the experts at Apple to see if there’s anything they can do to help. I’ll let you know as soon as there’s something to report.