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  11-07-03 | This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.


Tale of OS X Panther (Part II)


By Bob LeVitus

Last week I told you that there might be an issue using Mac OS X Version 10.3 Panther with external FireWire hard disks but concluded that it was "still too early to tell." A couple of days later, the following important message appeared on Apple's Web site (

A special message for FireWire 800 disk drive users.

Apple has identified an issue with external FireWire hard drives using the Oxford 922 bridge chip-set with firmware version 1.02 that can result in the loss of data stored on the disk drive. Apple is working with Oxford Semiconductor and affected drive manufacturers to resolve this issue which resides in the Oxford 922 chip-set.

In the interim, Apple recommends that you do not use these drives. To stop using the drive, you should unmount or eject the disk drive before doing anything else. Please check this web page for further updates.

Fortunately, most FireWire 800 drive vendors-- LaCie, WiebeTech, FireWire Direct, Other World Computing, and more—have already released firmware updaters. So if you've got an external FireWire 800 drive connected to your Mac, you must apply the firmware update to your drive before installing Panther; failing to do so may put data on the disk in jeopardy.

While researching the FireWire 800 hard disk issue on the Internet I came across another potential issue involving File Vault, one of Panther's 150 new features, File Vault encrypts your entire Home directory (folder), automatically encrypting and decrypting its contents on the fly as you work. From a security standpoint, it's a welcome addition, particularly for PowerBook and iBook users. Alas, there have been reports File Vault can cause file corruption and/or deletion under some circumstances.

The issue appears to involve File Vault's "reclaim disk space" feature, which frees up previously used disk space within the encrypted directory so you can reuse it. But for some, using this feature deletes or corrupts files in their Home folder.

Fortunately, File Vault is disabled by default when you install Panther and I recommend you not use it until more is known about the issue.

Lucky for me, I don't have any FireWire 800 drives or feel the need to encrypt my Home directory, so Panther is still running beautifully on my big Mac. And almost every day I discover one or more cool features that weren't available in Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar).

Just yesterday I learned a sweet trick. Exposé, you may recall, is a new Panther feature that tiles all open windows, shrinks them down so they all fit on the screen, and arranges them neatly so you can see every one of them. Exposé is a godsend for people like me who typically run 10 or 12 programs simultaneously, with each program spawning one or more windows. When I press the F9 key I can see every window from every app at once. Then, I click on any of the shrunken windows to make it active. The sweet trick (reported by Mike Retondo on is that it supports drag and drop. So I can select some text and begin dragging it, invoke Exposé by pressing F9, and then drag the text over any window from any application. The window springs to the front and becomes active so I can drop the text onto it.

I can't tell you how much this feature rocks—I've already used it a dozen times today.

There's much more to love about Panther, but I'm out of space. So stay tuned—I'll have more Panther coolness for you in upcoming weeks.

Bob LeVitus is a leading authority on Mac OS and the author of 41 books, including The Little iTunes Book and Mac OS X for Dummies, 2nd Edition. E-mail comments to [email protected].

Copyright © 2004 Bob LeVitus




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