Major features of Mac OS X

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One of the major differences between the previous versions of Mac OS and OS X was the addition of the Aqua GUI, a graphical user interface with water-like elements. Every window element, text, graphic, or widget is drawn on-screen using anti-aliasing technology. ColorSync, a technology introduced many years before, was improved and built into the core drawing engine, to provide color matching for printing and multimedia professionals. Also, drop shadows were added around windows and isolated text elements to provide a sense of depth. New interface elements were integrated, including sheets (document modal dialog boxes attached to specific windows) and drawers.

Apple has continued to change aspects of the OS X appearance and design, particularly with tweaks to the appearance of windows and the menu bar. One example of a UI behavioral change is that previewed video and audio files no longer have progress bars in column view; instead, they have mouse-over start and stop buttons as of 10.5.

The human interface guidelines published by Apple for Mac OS X are followed by many applications, giving them consistent user interface and keyboard shortcuts. In addition, new services for applications are included, which include spelling and grammar checkers, special characters palette, color picker, font chooser and dictionary; these global features are present in every Cocoa application, adding consistency. The graphics system OpenGL composites windows onto the screen to allow hardware-accelerated drawing. This technology, introduced in version 10.2, is called Quartz Extreme, a component of Quartz. Quartz's internal imaging model correlates well with the Portable Document Format (PDF) imaging model, making it easy to output PDF to multiple devices. As a side result, PDF viewing is a built-in feature.

In version 10.3, Apple added Exposé, a feature which includes three functions to help accessibility between windows and desktop. Its functions are to instantly display all open windows as thumbnails for easy navigation to different tasks, display all open windows as thumbnails from the current application, and hide all windows to access the desktop. Also, FileVault was introduced, which is an optional encryption of the user's files with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-128).

Features introduced in version 10.4 include Automator, an application designed to create an automatic workflow for different tasks; Dashboard, a full-screen group of small applications called desktop widgets that can be called up and dismissed in one keystroke; and Front Row, a media viewer interface accessed by the Apple Remote. Moreover, the Sync Services were included, which is a system that allows applications to access a centralized extensible database for various elements of user data, including calendar and contact items. The operating system then managed conflicting edits and data consistency.

As of version 10.5, all system icons are scalable up to 512×512 pixels, to accommodate various places where they appear in larger size, including for example the Cover Flow view, a three-dimensional graphical user interface included with iTunes, the Finder, and other Apple products for visually skimming through files and digital media libraries via cover artwork. This version includes Spaces, a virtual desktop implementation which enables the user to have more than one desktop and display them in an Exposé-like interface. Mac OS X v10.5 includes an automatic backup technology called Time Machine, which provides the ability to view and restore previous versions of files and application data; and Screen Sharing was built in for the first time.

Finder is a file browser allowing quick access to all areas of the computer, which has been modified throughout subsequent releases of Mac OS X. Quick Look is part of Mac OS X Leopard's Finder. It allows for dynamic previews of files, including videos and multi-page documents, without opening their parent applications. Spotlight search technology, which is integrated into the Finder since Mac OS X Tiger, allows rapid real-time searches of data files; mail messages; photos; and other information based on item properties (meta data) and/or content. Mac OS X makes use of a Dock, which holds file and folder shortcuts as well as minimized windows. Mac OS X Architecture implements a layered framework. The layered framework aids rapid development of applications by providing existing code for common tasks

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