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The Leopard Report: Forget the New Features!

Sometimes I put up a headline mostly for the entertainment value, but I’m fairly serious about this one. Mac OS X needs a fair amount of fixing, and a few hundred of those ahead of a few hundred bits of eye candy might be just the ticket.

Now, I can imagine that many of you are drawing up your list of hopes and expectations ahead of the introduction of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard at Apple’s WWDC on August 7. I know I plan to be in the press box at the appointed time, and if we can get a good wireless Internet connection, I have hopes we’ll be able to post updates here as the keynote progresses. But don’t depend on that; we’ll know how the connection rates at the appointed hour and not before.

In the meantime, I’ve already weighed in on various elements that must be addressed even before we are inundated with all that sizzle. It’s quite fascinating, as I’ve examined the online chatter, that gee-whiz doesn’t seem seem to dominate the discussion this year. Instead, there’s the attitude that Apple needs to fix what’s wrong first, then worry about the stuff sell lots of copies and provide extra traction against Windows Vista; that is, when that’s released (as I’m sure it will, eventually).

As I’ve mentioned before, numero uno is the Finder, which has been lambasted over and over again for its poor multithreading performance and inability to stay put when it comes to view settings. I’ve railed against the inability to handle multiple copying operations, which can bring even the most powerful Mac to a halt. But there’s more. Just try this: Mount another Mac as a network share on your computer, and then put that other computer to sleep. That’s a simple, innocent mistake that we all make, especially with a Mac note-book.

So what happens next? Well, the Finder doesn’t get the message that the other computer is asleep right away. In fact, it might hang up for several minutes or more. You could, I suppose, Force Quit the Finder, which isn’t hard to do, but why?

On the latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, author and ace troubleshooter Ted Landau wondered about the those occasionally pesky Login items. You know, the stuff that launches when you boot your Mac.

Now a login item may be nothing more than an application that you want to launch at startup, such as Apple Mail or Firefox. But that’s not all. There are some strange things that lurk there as well, background operations that might serve special functions for, say, iTunes, Microsoft Office, and a third party input device.

If you have a startup problem, one common troubleshooting step is to disable your Login items, which can be done via holding down the Shift key as soon as the blue background appears during the startup process. Or just remove some or all of the suspects from the Accounts preference panel.

The latter is, however, dangerous, because you can’t easily restore some of these items, because they are parts of peripheral driver installers, or hidden within an application “package.” It doesn’t just put things in a “disabled” folder, so they can be easily restored and you have to wonder why.

Such subtleties may not make so much of a difference to you, until you consider what might happen if you remove the wrong Login item, such as the custom keys of your fancy mouse or multimedia keyboard failing to work. You suddenly have to rerun installers, maybe even endure multiple startups, to set things right.

You can no doubt list lots and lots of interface and setup oddities that can get you into a lot of trouble if you happen to make a simple mistake. Another that comes to mind is the way Trash has been handled in the Mac OS from Day One. What if you delete the wrong file by mistake? Forget having backups, forget a third party file recovery utility. Even if you do backups, it’s not too practical to do them constantly, and the latter doesn’t always succeed.

But what if Apple offered a trash undelete function, part of the operating system, that gave you the chance to restore recently deleted items? Not a flashy feature, but, when added to a bunch of important fixes to the system, would make Leopard absolutely irresistible to me.