Opinion: 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

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Alex: Leopard's new voice

Macs have had text-to-speech capabilities for more than a decade and a half. However, it has been more than 10 years since Apple introduced any new voices for the technology, and while some of the old higher-end voices aren't bad, they aren't always great.

Leopard includes a new voice, Alex, that can be used to read text and speak alerts. Open the Speech pane in System Preferences, and check out one of the most natural sounding computer voices available.

Finder sidebar in Open/Save dialogs

Open and Save dialog boxes in Leopard now sport the same sidebar as Finder windows. The iLife Media Browser is integrated into this sidebar, giving you instant access to the music, photos and movie clips stored in your iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie libraries, respectively, whenever such file types are appropriate.


An Open dialog featuring the Finder sidebar.

Click to view larger image.

This is one of those additions that everyone notices but pays little attention to. The power of this feature is that any folder you frequently access in the Finder -- or even folders you rarely access but often store files in -- can be accessed with one click. It acts like a group of aliases that are readily accessible whether you are working in the Finder or from any open or save operation. The result is consistency in your ability to locate important folders and files, no matter where you are interacting with the file system.

Saved searches in Finder sidebar

Another sidebar feature that has gotten some notice but is often undervalued is the ability to save Spotlight searches directly to the sidebar. Spotlight's ability to create simple or complex searches and implement them very quickly opens this feature to all manner of uses.

For example, with one click at any time, you can do the following:

  • Have immediate access to your most recently edited files.
  • Be able to tell what files your kids or other users have opened or modified in the past day or week.
  • Find all the video files on your computer.
  • Find all the documents that include a specific string of text, such as the name of current project.

Saving a search to the sidebar. Click to view larger image.

Having these searches (or more importantly, their results) readily accessible is amazing when you begin to think about the hundreds of ways you can craft searches to find files or information about files on a daily basis.

Guest log-in

Say your sister and nephew are visiting for a week, and they both need to use your computer for things like checking e-mail, turning in homework remotely and playing the occasional Web-based game. You certainly don't want them tromping all over your personal and professional files.

With Leopard's new guest account enabled, anyone can log in, open applications, create files, print and log out. Because all the actions of guests are deleted when they log out, there are no users to delete and no clutter to clean up. It's as if they were never there.

(This behavior differs from guest access in previous versions of Mac OS X, which allowed other users to connect from a remote computer over a home or office network to access shared folders, but required that a local user account be created for anyone who actually used your computer to run applications, access the Web and so on.)

Leopard's guest account is also great if you have friends dropping by and want them to be able to check their e-mail or online banking, but don't want to provide wholesale access your computer or files. It even works well in small offices when you have a freelancer or temporary staffer in for a few days. No need to create any user accounts to get work done.

Just enable the guest account for log-in from the Account pane in System Preferences. You can also use Parental Controls to determine just how much access to the computer guests are allowed.


Enabling the guest account. Click to view larger image.

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