• The Ultimate Leopard Wish List

    April 22nd, 2006

    Apple has raised expectations about its next operating system big time by the release of Boot Camp. It was sufficient to change the dialog and certainly divert attention from Windows Vista, except that one now assumes it will run on Intel-based Macs whenever it is finally released.

    Aside from a way to run Windows with as little fuss and bother as possible, most of the chatter I’ve read on the subject covers advanced features that the average Mac user isn’t going to use. This isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be new features that offer the proper level of eye-candy and the ability to give us more things we can do with Mac OS X. But there are other areas that need little in the way of flashy interfaces, and heavy doses of practicality.

    I’m thinking about a way to liberate you from ever having to use a command line function, even if it’s done via proxy, with one of those little OS X maintenance applications. I’m talking about self-repair. Yes, if you feel, for whatever reason, that permissions are munged, you can fix them with Disk Utility or one of those dozens of third party alternatives. Caches? If you believe they are somehow contributing to your ills, you can dismiss them with several quick operations, or just let your application of choice handle the chore for you.

    Now I am not about to enter the debate of whether manual repair of disk permissions is a good thing, or whether caches, deleting log files and all of the rest, if not done regularly, will turn your Mac into a door stop. While the latter may be a little extreme, the developers of those utilities feel that at least some of the functions they are offering are critical to your Mac’s health. Maybe they’re right, but that raises the larger question, which is why the Mac can’t do it for itself?

    It all comes down to the oft-repeated slogan that the Mac “just works.” Well, if you need to open Terminal or launch an application that performs similar maintenance tasks behind the scenes, your computer won’t just work without a little help.

    Understand that I don’t want to see third party developers lose their sources of income. At the same time, Apple needs to consider things that will benefit its user base, and sometimes those disparate considerations won’t coincide. Just look at Boot Camp, which, in a matter of hours, replaced the need for a convoluted third party routine to install Windows on a MacIntel. Apple’s smart programmers are perfectly capable of finding ways to run diagnostics behind the scenes, with minimal impact on performance, and perform the needed operations without your intervention.

    So if cache files are corrupted and may potentially impair performance of, to name the common example, your chosen Web browser, a periodic automated scan of file integrity will result in the affected files being deleted. Will permissions cause you aches and pains when you try to perform routine functions on your Mac? Again, Apple’s little background applications will come into play to make things right. The same can be said for corrupted preference files and all the rest. In fact, these functions can be triggered by a software installation, so you are ready to roll as soon as the process is completed. You don’t have to take extra steps to ensure the integrity of the setup process.

    There are already under-the-hood functions that occur from time to time. So it would be nothing new to add the ones that can perform a some essential self-diagnostics. Apple could even put that inevitable pretty front end on the process, and add a System Repair or System Maintenance preference panel, with some clearly-labeled buttons to enable even the novice to do manually what’s right without having to figure out how to harness arcane functions.

    Of course, there can be an Advanced function for power users who want to get down and dirty with Mac OS X’s guts. If you want to use Terminal instead, there will be no stopping you. But it won’t be necessary for your Mac’s proper day-to-day functioning.

    Another feature, one that mirrors something you can already do on Windows, is the ability to return the system to a previous state. It’s also reminiscent of software that existed for the Classic Mac OS, known as Rewind. What if you install a third party system enhancement or a Mac OS X update? Something goes real bad, so what can you do to solve the problem? Spend hours diagnosing the situation? Reinstall Mac OS X? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to simply roll back the system to way it behaved prior to installing any of that stuff?

    Now you may want to consider these fundamental suggestions as excess baggage. Why should Apple have to add tons of code to make all these things happen? In the end, however, self-repair and the ability to restore a system after a failed update are essential to your Mac’s well being. You want a computer you can set and forget? Yes, Mac OS X comes fairly close, but no cigars. Apple can take all of this to the next logical step, and I hope they’ll do so with Leopard.

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