In spite of the dire warnings in last week's column, the installation of Apple's latest upgrade to OS X (Panther) has been, at least for me, a delight. Panther delivers a number of production-enhancing features that have had me saying: 'Well, it's about time'. Whether you are a power user or novice, Panther offers a worthwhile, satisfying range of improvements that will make your day - day after day. The first big difference is in performance. My Mac feels about 15 per cent faster during most actions, and considerably faster in others. For example, Apple's Help feature used to take minutes to open. It was so slow I never bothered using it. But not any more. Now Help pops open in about four seconds. This is a godsend for novices, as Help has a ton of tips and answers for everyday questions. Also much faster is the opening of PDF files. It is still not zippy, but PDFs seem to open twice as fast. And the Search by File Name function is now lightning fast, and for that reason more likely to be used. The next big difference is in the user interface. Each window opens with a customisable Sidebar, a vertical space to the left of the window containing icons of your disks, network terminals, commonly used applications, documents, or anything else you want. It functions much like the Dock, except that it is more handy. Keeping current project folders in the Sidebar is also better than keeping them on the desktop. Drag the project folders to their main folder, then drag their icon to the Sidebar. You will find your projects much easier to find the next time. Also, each time you open a window you will now find other useful features. Along the top, where you usually select List or Column View, there is a new button: the Action Menu. Click and hold and a drop-down list of actions appears. Select from New Folder, Open, Get Info, and most of the other commands normally under the File menu. It is particularly handy. In the Action Menu is another pleasant surprise: the Color Label command. At last you can make your files stand out by highlighting files names and data with coloured labels. The Color Label can also be applied to icons on the desktop, and makes a world of difference when you are trying to find something. The next new addition makes me smile every time I use it. It is called Expos?. Normally, when you want to find an open document or window on OS X, you drag everything out of the way until you find the one you want, except that now all your open documents are hidden because they are off the desktop. This is a pain. I frequently keep 10 to 20 documents, photos, and windows open at one time, and I waste a lot of time digging through them. With Expos?, I just press the F11 key and all the open windows disappear so I can see my desktop. If I press the F9 key, all the open windows shrink so I can view them all at once. If I press the F10 key, all the documents not in use grey-out, leaving only those linked with the application I have chosen to make visible. If you do do not like the F-Keys Apple has selected to activate these features, they can be customised to suit your taste, as is the old Apple tradition. Expos? is a slick and even breakthrough feature, and heralds the return of the Mac as the most user-friendly computer available. Another awesome new Panther feature is Fast User Switching. If you share your Mac with others, everyone inevitably wants to use it at the same time. With Fast User Switching, you can leave your documents open and have your applications running and processing work or downloading stuff, but your interface and documents will be unavailable to any other user. Each user clicks on the account that they have access to and enters their password. The Mac desktop then morphs into a cool cube that rotates to expose the desktop of the new user. The computer takes on all the preferences and customised settings of that user, and allows them to access their personal applications, documents, network settings, e-mail, contacts, etc. Once again, it is as slick and elegant as a Mac interface should be. Next week, I will talk about the incredible security features and new applications and upgrades that come with Panther. E-mail Dave Horrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org with your Mac queries.