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  • The Leopard Report: Don’t Get Hung-up on the “Top Secret” Claim

    August 24th, 2006

    All right, you know the spin. Apple’s “Top Secret” slide at the WWDC keynote means there are a number of super-significant Leopard features that’ll remain under wraps, because they don’t want Microsoft to copy them for Vista.

    Of course, common sense argues against that story, since Microsoft is an Apple developer and would get its copies of beta versions of Leopard as quickly as anyone else, if not quicker. Besides, taking 10.5’s features and somehow grafting them into Vista in some form or another is well-nigh impossible at this stage. Microsoft can hardly manage to finish its existing work as it is.

    So is there some secret truth that Apple is withholding from us, to dole out in baby steps between now and Leopard’s scheduled release date next spring? It may not matter one way or the other, because Apple made us curious, and, naturally, the bloggers are having a field day with this, suggesting possible new features for the next great version of Mac OS X.

    There’s talk of a new Finder and other interface enhancements. Developers may have some fascinating capabilities to tap into so they can build their killer apps. Consider the possibilities.

    So, just what is Apple working on, and will it be even more important than the few features they’ve already let us in on?

    My friends, don’t get too carried away by all this. That “Top Secret” label is just some marketing nonsense and probably not a whole lot more. It also gives Apple lots of options, because they don’t have to postpone delivery of Leopard to finish a feature they never promised in the first place.

    Indeed, some folks are already criticizing Apple for not delivering enough compelling new features in the Leopard Preview, and a few are suggesting that they probably won’t bother to upgrade. Talk about shooting from the hip. But I’m sure they’ll be patiently watching Apple’s site to see how Leopard information expands over time, so they can get a full picture of just what Apple is withholding from us.

    Even worse there are the conspiracy theories, that Apple is poised to end support for all manner of older Macs that can now run Tiger with decent performance. That appears to mean the remaining line of G3 Macs, including PowerBooks that shipped before 2001, iMacs that shipped before 2002, and iBooks that came out before October, 2003. In the scheme of things, these computers seem relatively new, although, by the spring of 2007, you might regard them as a somewhat long in the tooth.

    In light of all this, it’s time for a reality check. First of all, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the G3 consigned to the museum by Apple, despite the fairly recent vintage of the last iBook that contained that processor. While some of you will tell me that you’re perfectly happy with the way Tiger runs on a G3 Mac, the graphics processors on most of these models are certainly not up to the task of rendering its most potent special effects.

    The new Core Animation feature, for example, may not operate on most Macs older than two years, at least according to what Apple is now saying.

    As far as those features Apple is keeping close to the vest, I can see several reasons for this. One is simply that they aren’t ready to show off yet. As you recall, there was an application crash during the WWDC demonstration. Imagine components that crash regularly or aren’t fully functional, or both, and you will get the picture. There are no doubt elements of Leopard that are in early stages of development and will require weeks or months of work before they are even ready for developers to examine.

    The situation also gives Apple an escape route. Microsoft, in contrast, over-promises and under-delivers. Some important Windows Vista features, such as the new file system, had to be dispatched along the way. That has to be embarrassing.

    With Apple, if something isn’t promised in the first place, and problems are encountered getting a new capability to run reliably in time for Leopard’s release, Apple can simply put it on the backburner. Those features can be rolled in during a maintenance release or just kept on hold for Mac OS 10.6.

    Of course that won’t stop the speculation about which features didn’t make the cut, and I always welcome your ideas about what they might be.

    But, for new, you probably don’t have to worry about what the Top Secret label really means. You’ll find out soon enough; that is, if there’s anything worth finding out.

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