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

  1. Terry says:

    It’s already been reported that Leopard’s requirements are the same as Tiger’s.

  2. It’s already been reported that Leopard’s requirements are the same as Tiger’s.

    Nothing is official until there is a confirmed shipping date and a full slate of features.


  3. Snafu says:

    My guess is that Leopard is already “feature complete”, user experience-wise (I don’t think they have too much time left to add anything major), but Apple will try to produce some fanciful addition to please the faithful.

  4. Keith says:

    I’m not the first to say it but please let there be an improved Finder. Nothing fancy, just true multi-threaded performance and instant awareness of dropped network volumes. (Sorry if my terms are incorrect or my point is unclear)

  5. Jim says:

    I believe there are a number of features they’re working on, but don’t want to make elaborate promises in case they can’t make them work flawlessly by the release date. That way the features can be rolled out in a .x or .5 release somewhere down the road.

    Apple’s strategy seems to be both part genius and part idiocy. Those of us in the blogosphere are hyping these supposed missing features beyond any realm of reality. There’s no way ANYTHING can live up to the buzz. Especially lately, Apple has been masterful at orchestrating hype but has been less effective in delivering the goods. In the long run, this roller coaster of hype-and-disappointment can only be harmful to the company’s image, even if the hype is incredibly unrealisitc.

  6. rj says:

    common sense does not argue against the copy story. the “top secret” features could easily be added to the package at a later date. if you’ll notice, its maybe apple puts in a new or maybe they just add the new features as .apps. either way, developers have what they need to know and end users can wait to see what these “top secret” features are.

  7. David says:

    As already noted “top secret” probably just means “Steve doesn’t think it’s ready to show off yet”. I think we’ve already seen most of the “top secret” features in their raw form. It would be foolish and counter productive to hide the new technology from developers so we should look at what they’ve promised and imagine what Apple engineers are doing with it behind the scenes. For example Core Animation would allow Apple to deliver a pseudo 3-D Finder that would look nothing like today’s version. At the basic look and feel level Tiger’s Finder isn’t really much different from the one you’d find in System 1 and basic functionally hasn’t changed much since the introduction of MultiFinder in System 5 twenty years ago.

  8. SD says:

    There isn’t nothing there at all. Apple knows that this release doesn’t contain enough of features – so they are saying “stay tuned for more cool things” as a way of justifying this as a release worthy of upgrading.
    They could also be scavaging for ideas to include by reading the rumor sites and creating what users want. But they are better ways of doing this.

    Personally, I’m not upgrading. If you look at it, the last three releases cost $100 each – that’s $300 for an incremental release. You can say the same for iLife. This past release was not good enough to upgrade (it didn’t contain enough of features to warrant me upgrading).

    So for now, I’m saying no thanks to Leopard.

  9. Snafu says:

    This could be Tiger all over again. Tiger, for us users, was Spotlight+Dashboard+speed. Leopard seems is going to be Time Machine+Spaces. Although there are wonderful new APIs inside both, I wonder if we’ll see them effectively exploited any soon. Certainly, Core Image and Core Video didn’t seem to produce any fantastic GUI revolution at all (and most Apple apps exploting GPU effects and such look like using their own resources instead of those APIs). I wonder if the same will happen with Core Animation.

  10. Dana Sutton says:

    Let me build on what Snafu just wrote. Apple has a long history of launching a new technology and then failing to exploit it in its own software. This sends a horrible message to third-party developers: if Apple won’t bet on its own horse, why should they? (This is a corporate fault that goes back to the John Scully and Gil Amelio era, and it’s not something Steve has really fixed since his comeback — remember GX Printing?). Core Image/Video/Animation are rather small issues. The huge ball I’m afraid is going to get dropped is exploitation of multiple processors: if Apple used this for each and every application they put out, then they just might budge Adobe, Microsoft, etc. etc. into doing the same. If they limit it to a few high-end apps., so will the rest of the world. And that will leave a lot of us shaking our heads and wondering exactly why we are being asked to pay for two dual-core processors on the Mac Pro.

  11. Max says:

    I think the “Microsoft photocopier” thing is a cover for whatever the real reason is. My guess: they want to be able to develop hype and excitement about 10.5 on their terms and at the time of their choosing, and knowing that the WWDC beta would probably be leaked, why allow their full hand to be shown that early? Thus, the overwhelming majority of the features announced at WWDC appeal to the developers and to geeks. The more simple, pretty, “Look! We re-wrote the Finder!” sort of stuff that everyone can understand to one degree or another is held back till later (so the theory goes).

  12. Ron says:

    I don’t think it’s anything like what you guys are saying. Some of you guys have very interesting ideas, but I think you’re thinking too big. (On an Apple rumors discussion? Gasp! 🙂 )

    What is it that Mac users are frustrated most about Vista? It’s that they’ve gone and copied too much of the superficial look of Aqua. Once you re-engineer your windowing system into something like Aqua (or Aero), it becomes a little too easy to say, “Hey, cool slide-down effect with Sheets! Let’s do something like that, only fancier.”

    Big changes in the system APIs are probably not the kinds of things Apple is withholding from its developers. But things like user-interaction changes… I could easily see Apple holding onto them until it’s too late to change Vista.

    I think the secret stuff is gonna mainly be eye candy. The kind of thing that takes genuine talent and skill to create, but no more than a dearth of ethics to copy.


  13. What is it that Mac users are frustrated most about Vista? It’s that they’ve gone and copied too much of the superficial look of Aqua. Once you re-engineer your windowing system into something like Aqua (or Aero), it becomes a little too easy to say, “Hey, cool slide-down effect with Sheets! Let’s do something like that, only fancier.”

    Let’s see, now we learn that versions of Vista designed for PCs with 32-bit processors can’t play HD videos?

    They’re too busy shedding features to add any at this late date.


  14. Larry says:

    “that’s $300 for an incremental release.”

    but thats simply not the way Apple has been enumerating their software for years.. the increments are X.X.X . SO just move the decimal place and maybe you’ll feel better.

    We are going from OS 104.7 to 105.0 . see ? much better.

  15. g says:

    While I believe Windoze is crap and its UI is attrocious, I really dislike MacOSX Finder. Maybe it’s the fact I was using better OSes when most had to cope with DOS/Windows or MacOS Classic. The problem is that Apple still doesn’t get it. They really think Finder is ok. I don’t expect any radical changes in Leopard; a couple of updated applications such as Mail and iChat, some x86 optimizations, the same inconsistency in GUI, the same dreadful requesters and dialog windows, the same slow and inefficient file manager. Boring !!!

  16. steven says:

    Apple has a long history of launching a new technology and then failing to exploit it in its own software.

    Would you call all the amazing Real Time effects in Final Cut Pro not exploiting it’s own software? I use Final Cut at home and Adobe Premiere at work, and my dual g4 powermac in final cut does a lot in real time that my dual 3ghz pentium 4 can’t do in Premiere. That and everything that makes Motion run in real time relies HEAVILY on Core Image and Video, along with the fancy real time reflections in iChat, Pages, Keynote, and iWeb.

  17. Wes says:

    Let’s see, now we learn that versions of Vista designed for PCs with 32-bit processors can’t play HD videos?
    They’re too busy shedding features to add any at this late date.

    Really, that’s because they lost a fight with the MPAA and the HD DVD trade groups. 32-bit Vista ain’t locked down enough for them, whereas 64 bit Vista will required signed drivers for everything. Really, since 32-bit and 64-bit Vista is supposed to come out at about the same time, it really can’t be because of coding failures, like the other lost bits of Vista were victims of.

    Basically Hollywood would rather paying customers not be able to watch a film outright rather than risk the possibility of someone seeing it free.

  18. David says:

    Couldn’t agree more with Max and Ron. I really think there is something to be revealed and I think the WWDC was just not the right time. Apple just keep the hype for the very end, maybe just a couple of month after Vista’s release. Or just before maybe.

    There is no point unveiling everything a year ahead the release, and then to be overwhelmed by Vista’s.

    There is one thing I’m 100% sure: the Finder will *not* use the brush metal appearance.

  19. Vicky says:

    I’ve been made a part of tiny little secret. I would like to share it with you guys:

    1. There Dock as we know it will evolve. *couch* 3D Core animation *couch*
    2. The metal look of windows and base applications will be exiled
    3. Why have a background with icons on top when you can travel? (Hint: Finder)

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