Product: Mac OS X version 10.3 Price: HK$1,000 Pros: Beautifully designed, modern operating system with a few unique surprises Cons: High maintenance. Requires a fast machine, lots of Ram and two gigabytes of disk space Apple's new operating system, Panther, has roared on to the Macintosh world stage. This is the third major upgrade of the OS since Apple made the radical decision to base Mac OS X on FreeBSD, the Unix system that is at the heart of the OS. After nearly 40 years of tweaking, the Unix operating system is known to be rock solid, but Apple made it usable to the ordinary computer user by putting a superb graphic user interface on it. With more than 150 new features, according to Apple, Panther represents a major upgrade that nevertheless will not appear too strange to most users. This is the difficulty with upgrading operating systems: a major change suggests a lot of differences but too many will mean you have to learn everything again. With Panther, the balance is quite good. A few new features are quite striking - especially one called Expose. Most of us know that a short time working at the computer will create a plethora of windows. Expose allows you to get a big-picture view of things at the press of a button. Expose has three commands tied to the F9, F10 and F11 keys, but can be reprogrammed to anything you want. By pressing F9, every window on the desktop shrinks to a size that allows you to see a mini version of each. F10 does the same thing, but only within an application. F11 pushes all windows to one side and lets you look at the desktop. I reprogrammed Expose to work with my three-button mouse and it is terrific. Another rather slickly executed feature is fast-user switching. When this is turned on in the System Preferences, you can quickly switch from one user to another. This would be quite useful for a family sharing a single computer. You could switch to check e-mail and then go back. The person using the machine does not have to shut everything down. As one would expect with the system of choice for publishing, Apple has revamped the handling of fonts and made it even better and more visual. There is also built-in support for most Chinese standards. You can use those special characters that are only used in Hong Kong, for example, as well as all the characters supported by the mainland. A few years ago, requiring ordinary users to have 128 megabytes of Ram and two gigabytes of disk space just for an operating system would have seemed absurd. Most Macs today can handle this with little effort, although some older machines may have to be upgraded. There is always some price to be paid for the kind of ease-of-use that Apple creates. A friend of mine switched from a PC to a Mac a year ago and was astounded at how well it all held together. He could not believe that anyone would want to run anything else after using a Mac. The case is made even stronger now.