The top 25 overlooked and underrated features in Leopard

Don't miss these little-known but highly useful features in Mac OS X 10.5

About five months ago, Macintosh lovers finally got their hands on Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard," which boasts more than 300 new features spread across its interface and underpinnings. Some of those features are well-known -- the Dock's "stacks" function, Spaces, Time Machine and Screen Sharing, to name some of those most talked about by users and columnists alike.

But many others are buried just beneath the surface, unknown or ignored by users even though they've had Leopard installed for months. These "hidden" features may be things you never heard of or noticed, or even used without realizing their presence or scope -- but they're too good to miss.

Here are our picks for the top 25 undervalued Leopard features.

Automator workflow Starting Points

Since Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" was first released, Automator has provided a simple mechanism for automating common tasks and building workflows that bridge multiple applications without the need for any knowledge of scripting or programming. Leopard makes Automator even easier to use.

New Starting Points allow users to indicate the type of data they want to use in a workflow (files and folders, music, images, or text) when Automator is launched or a new workflow is created. Starting Points make it easy for new users to determine the initial source for information (such as iTunes, iPhoto library, a document or iSight camera) as well as what Automator should ask for in terms of information selection when the workflow runs, greatly easing the use of Automator for novices.

Recording in Automator

Another new feature in Automator that can help users is the ability to record a series of user activities. This allows novice users to better understand how their activities translate to Automator actions, and it allows experienced users to add tasks that might not otherwise exist as Automator actions.

The technology is functionally similar to the recording feature in the AppleScript Script Editor, except it's more broadly implemented because it relies on the Universal Access feature of Leopard to fully track user activities while recording.

iChat Theater

iChat gained a number of new features in Leopard; the best known is its ability to initiate screen-sharing sessions with audio chat. Less known is iChat Theater, which projects a file or iPhoto selection such as an album or event to another iChat user.

The effect is like watching a Keynote presentation or slide show, but watching it remotely via iChat. Instead of seeing a live video from your Mac's iSight camera in the iChat window, the recipient sees your presentation in real time and can respond to you.

This can be great for sharing photos and movies on a personal level, but it can also be used on a professional level as a powerful remote communication and presentation tool.

Advanced sync options with .Mac

Apple's .Mac service has always allowed users to synchronize certain information (such as Address Book contacts and iCal events) across multiple Macs. In Leopard, .Mac syncing has expanded to allow so much syncing that it almost feels like you're always using the same Mac.

You can now sync any or all of the following across multiple Macs with a single check box in the .Mac System Preferences pane: Safari bookmarks, iCal calendars, Address Book contacts, Dashboard widgets (including their preferences and location on-screen), Dock items, Keychains (which can store passwords for everything from file servers to mail accounts to Web log-ins), Mail accounts, additional Mail preferences (rules, signatures and smart mailbox settings), Notes from Mail or Entourage, and even settings from all System Preferences panes. If you frequently use more than one Mac, this not only makes a great Leopard feature, but also a really great use of .Mac.

Address Book sharing and syncing with Exchange, Yahoo

Speaking of syncing, Address Book has gained some powerful sync options of its own. Hidden in the Preferences dialog for Address Book are options that allow you to now sync contacts with Yahoo Mail and with an Exchange server account -- both of which are little known, yet powerful, if you use Yahoo Mail or connect to an Exchange server in your office.

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Ryan Faas

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