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  • The Leopard Report: What is Old is New Again

    August 10th, 2006

    Most of you already have the specifics about Apple’s Leopard preview,, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. That’s why I prefer to provide links to the source in such instances (as I did with my initial report), and confine my humble bid for your attention to commentary.

    In reading the online chatter, I wasn’t surprised to see folks combing through existing or older operating system and application features to see whether they match up to the ten new things revealed so far about Leopard.

    Now, aside from ribbing Microsoft about getting its copiers ready to steal more stuff from Apple, Steve Jobs and his crew didn’t exactly say all the features they displayed were entirely original. Sometimes it just takes a different, unique slant on something to make it seem innovative.

    Take the iPod, for example, which certainly wasn’t the first digital music player on the planet. Apple just made it better than the competition in terms of ease of use, and, with its smooth integration into iTunes and both Mac and PCs, it became a cultural icon.

    So let’s take a realistic look at a few things about Leopard that have garnered lots of attention from the “Apple-cribbed-this-feature” crowd.

    I’ll start with Spaces, which is Leopard’s new workspaces feature that organizes your application sets into discrete desktops. Now there have been virtual desktop programs around for years, but they tend to be the province of power users, who also use multiple monitors to gain extra screen real estate. Spaces gives this feature a warm and fuzzy look, designed to tantalize and empower even the novice user. Maybe the concept isn’t original, but Apple’s slant on it provides mass appeal, which is, in its own way, true innovation.

    When Time Machine was demonstrated, we all learned that only 26% of Mac users do any kind of backup, and just 4% use dedicated software. Considering the consequences of losing even a single file, particularly if your livelihood depends on that data, these are frightening statistics. So Apple came across with a virtually transparent backup method, one where you only need a backup medium, such as an extra drive or a network share, and minimal configuration.

    The ability to go back in time to resurrect a lost file is also not original with Apple, but that’s not the point. With all the fancy 3D effects, Apple’s developers are providing a smooth, simple method to retrieve that material. Of course, this assumes that Time Machine has been installed and has already stored the file. Otherwise, there will be no miracles, flashy or otherwise.

    As my friend Julian Miller, of Script Software, reminds us, ChatFX provided many of the fun features that are being prepped for the Leopard version of iChat.

    And, gentle reader, don’t forget that you and I haven’t seen all of Leopard yet. It may even be that the prerelease copy developers are taking home from the WWDC is not feature complete either. In the next few months, more and more of those allegedly “Top Secret” features will be rolled in, and it’s quite likely some of them may already be available in some form in a Mac or Windows utility.

    When that happens, you’ll hear the arguments all over again, that Apple stole the idea from someone else, so they can’t claim it’s original. That’s not the point, although I do hope that hard-working shareware authors who may have originated the ideas that “influence” Apple will be rewarded in some fashion for their innovation.

    The real point is that Apple has a knack for making complicated concepts simple, so that they aren’t confined strictly to power users and system administrators. When Leopard arrives, those who install it can all benefit from automatic backups, multiple workspaces and all the rest, thanks to Apple.



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    11 Responses to “The Leopard Report: What is Old is New Again”

    1. Tero says:

      “I’ll start with Spaces, which is Leopard’s new workspaces feature that organizes your application sets into discrete desktops. Now there have been virtual desktop programs around for years, but they tend to be the province of power users, who also use multiple monitors to gain extra screen real estate. Spaces gives this feature a warm and fuzzy look, designed to tantalize and empower even the novice user. Maybe the concept isn’t original, but Apple’s slant on it provides mass appeal, which is, in its own way, true innovation”

      No it isn’t. It is a cheap rip-off of a typical Linux desktop feature, and that’s it. I’ve never seen anyone using virtual desktops with multiple physical displays, though I guess it’s a good idea, should you have these displays at your disposal. People generally have a single display device, though. Virtual desktops enables you to work efficiently WITHOUT having to use multiple screens.

      The only innovation here is that Apple is finally copying useful stuff.

    2. No it isn’t. It is a cheap rip-off of a typical Linux desktop feature, and that’s it. I’ve never seen anyone using virtual desktops with multiple physical displays, though I guess it’s a good idea, should you have these displays at your disposal. People generally have a single display device, though. Virtual desktops enables you to work efficiently WITHOUT having to use multiple screens.

      Not to belabor the point, but there have been virtual desktop applications on the Mac OS too. Apple is putting it into the operating system in a way that makes it simple to use and configure. Linux desktop’s are still power user systems, by the way.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Tero says:

      “Linux desktop’s are still power user systems, by the way.”

      Depends on who uses them and for what: If they’re OK to be used in school and corporate setups, then obviously the desktop–but not necessarily the system maintenance–is suitable for all kinds of users. And what comes to this particular feature, there’s absolutely nothing power-userish in it.

    4. name says:

      Personally, I’m jaded with marketing buzz words like innovation, rich, etc. No idea comes from a vacuum. It is always built upon the prior collective knowledge of mankind. Current law regarding IP, patent, and copyright does not recognize this; nor does it protect the interests of the public. It’s one thing to adequately reward hard work and investment, and another to promote avarice and arrogance. Hopefully mankind will evolve one day to realize one man doesn’t need insanely more than his fellow man, that we are all in this together.

    5. I beg to differ! says:

      Hey, there is nothing power-userish about my Grandma, but she does make a lot of use of multiple virtual desktops when she is coordinating her conasta games for the ‘girls’ in her retirement community. She is right at home in Ubuntu, but finds the Mac awfully confusing, except when she is using X-code to write her own universal binaries…

      So, you see Gene, Linux is not a power user system, Macs are.

    6. Sam Griffith Jr says:

      Virtual Desktop ideas have been around since the mid 80’s on Lisp machines…. (Xerox ROOMS) Actually they are another Xerox PARC invention and here the link to the paper about it. Additionally since 1987 there have been many implementations of this idea, including even the original switcher which was based on each application running on it’s own virtual desktop on Mac OS 2.0 if I remember right. So it’s not some ripoff of Linux, if anything it’s another example of other companies taking something Xerox PARC did.

      By the way you can still purchase that dialect of Lisp and the ROOMS interface here:
      http://top2bottom.net/venue_pricing.html

      Additionally, here is some text from that papter that talks about it’s initial creation date etc.:

      A Brief History
      Designed in 1985 and 1986 by Stuart Card and Austin Henderson

      Originally implemented in Interlisp-D on Xerox D-machines

      “A Multiple, Virtual-Workspace Interface to Support User Task Switching”
      Stuart K. Card & Austin Henderson, Jr., SIGCHI Proceedings, 1987

      Ported to Medley Interlisp in 1988 on Sun-3 machines
      Ported to C/Unix/X in 1989

    7. Virtual Desktop ideas have been around since the mid 80’s on Lisp machines…. (Xerox ROOMS) Actually they are another Xerox PARC invention and here the link to the paper about it. Additionally since 1987 there have been many implementations of this idea, including even the original switcher which was based on each application running on it’s own virtual desktop on Mac OS 2.0 if I remember right. So it’s not some ripoff of Linux, if anything it’s another example of other companies taking something Xerox PARC did.

      Thanks for providing the research, Sam.

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. Sam Griffith Jr says:

      Forgot the link to the paper… Here it is:

      http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=24056

    9. Sam Griffith Jr says:

      Your welcome. I actually have the Medley environment with ROOMS and Notecard (One of the first and best HyperText systems ever). I just don’t have a PC to run it on right now…. We are still catching up to what those Smalltalk and Lisp machines made at Xerox Parc could do….

      Anyway, thanks for a good site for us Mac users as well.

    10. Sam Griffith Jr says:

      My comment was a bit unclear as well about “Switcher” which was done by Andy Hertzfeld. Here’s a link to that. I used to run this till Multi-Finder came out.

      http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story=Switcher.txt

      Note: This is from 1984 time…..

      So Apple you could say was a inspiration to some of these others…. but the thing to remember is that all this was going on at the same time…. Lots of inovation going on at the same time and people all over trying new things with the power they had available for the first time.

      Sam

    11. Steve says:

      “No it isn’t. It [Spaces] is a cheap rip-off of a typical Linux desktop feature”

      First, no disagreement that it’s not an original idea but why is it ‘cheap’? Second, are you suggesting virtual deskops is a Linux innovation? Hardly. It existed long before Linux (it was also available on Mac OS 9 and NeXTSTEP/OPENSTEP).

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