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The Leopard Report: What is Old is New Again

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.