Leopard, Apple's new Mac operating system, hits all the right spots

Leopard includes more than 30 stationery templates in its Mail program, covering baby announcements, party invitations and more. An integrated photo browser makes it easy to drag your own pictures onto template place holders.

You can also create and organize Notes and To-Dos inside Mail.

Another handy feature: Mail can detect addresses, phone numbers and dates inside a message. Roll the mouse over these, and a little menu lets you quickly create contacts or appointments.

Through selected RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, you can search for topics of interest and have them routed to updated Smart Mailboxes.

As before, you can use Apple's Mail program with your own e-mail accounts.

A dandy desktop

Macs are as much about style as substance. The quick-launch icons on the three-dimensional Dock — a strip of programs and other icons — now reflect off the surface. To tidy up your desktop, you can create collections of icons called Stacks for programs and files you often access. The contents of Stacks can be fanned out in an arc or displayed as a grid.

The Finder program in OS X is where all your files, programs and disks are managed — kind of like Windows Explorer on a PC. With Leopard, the Finder borrows a neat trick from iTunes: namely, Cover Flow. Now, you can rapidly ruffle through your stuff inside Finder the way you look at album art in iTunes. You can peer through multipage documents and even play movies in Cover Flow.

Another useful new feature, called Quick Look, lets you view a document (even full screen) without opening a separate application to do so.

If you join the $100-a-year .Mac online service, you can access your machine remotely through the Back to My Mac feature. You use another Mac running Leopard. I was able to use the feature at times but also ran into snags trying to remotely connect from a computer in a hotel and from USA TODAY offices in Virginia to a Mac in New Jersey. Apple says it is possible that firewalls may well block such a feature; the company plans to give instructions to corporate tech administrators and Internet service providers on how to allow the service through their networks.

Lastly, you can carve your Mac desktop into customizable areas known as Spaces. To reduce clutter, you can arrange these mini desktop Spaces to include only the programs needed to tackle the project at hand.

Clipping a widget

You can highlight and copy any portion of a Web page inside the Safari browser and turn it into a live Dashboard widget. For example, you might copy a train or bus schedule and know it will be updated if the timetable changes.

These and other features should satisfy new and old Mac fans. Leopard is one cool cat.

E-mail: ebaig@usatoday.com

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