The Leopard Report: Last-Minute Wishes

December 8th, 2006

I’m going to be realistic here. There’s little doubt that Apple has finalized the features for Mac OS X Leopard, and no chance that much will change beyond spit and polish between now and the actual release. What’s more, I also think there’s no chance it’ll be ready for Macworld Expo in January, except, perhaps, as fuel for a fascinating demo.

When Apple says it’ll be out in the spring, I believe them, although precisely when is another question entirely. However, I anticipate a release some time in March, perhaps the sixth anniversary of the original Mac OS 10.0, or in late April, two years after Tiger hit the store shelves.

So whatever I say right now isn’t going to count for much, except perhaps as grist for further comment on the subject. But from what I’ve read, I look forward to the system-based backup application, Time Machine and Apple’s fancy implementation of virtual desktops, known as Spaces.

I’m sure the added 64-bit support, improved Spotlight searching, and the eye-candy for iChat and Mail will certainly count for a lot, although the latter two aren’t high on my list of priorities.

Most of all, I want Mac OS X’s plumbing fixed as well. Such things appear at the bottom of the bulleted points for new features, and they really don’t demo well, but there are things down deep that cause system slowdowns at the wrong time. Take the way the Finder handles multiple copy requests. Sure, there’s a lot that’s demanded there, including reading and writing data to one or more drives and/or network servers. But is it necessary for the Finder to come close to a dead stop even on the speediest Mac? Isn’t it supposed to be multithreaded? Surely, all this stuff can be done in the background, while allowing the Finder to do its thing at a reasonable pace.

In fact, just try it, and then open an application, and prepare for a long lunch break or a nap until things settle down. Ditto for the time it takes to figure out when a network share is unavailable because it was disconnected or crashed.

I’m not about to say the Finder is solely responsible here. That’s something for the brilliant developers at Apple do deal with. I’m not concerned with the nuts and the bolts. I care about results.

Sure, some out there may still long for a true spatial Finder approaching the one available in the Classic Mac OS, rather than one that has browser-like attributes and imitates some of the behavior of the older Finder. But I’m long past such considerations. Just make it fast and efficient.

The same holds true for the arguments about brushed metal, dark gray, Aqua or whatever. It looks nice to me as it is.

I’ll also repeat my fervent wish for better Open/Save dialogs. Certainly graft more of the Finder’s capabilities on it, such as being able to trash a file, and rebounding to the last used file or folder, in the fashion of Default Folder X, is certainly long overdue.

Yes, I do want the third parties to be able to benefit from developing products that enhance Mac OS X’s look and feel. But there are some things Apple ought to do for itself.

The other concern is lack of interface consistency. An Aqua window moves from the top, the brushed metal can move from whatever end bears the metallic sheen. Certainly Apple trounces Microsoft in this regard, but is that enough? No, it can be better.

If you want an example of how it shouldn’t be done, take a look at the latest Microsoft applications, and Windows Vista. The menu bar is replaced by icons, although the former can be restored via an optional setting (if you can find it). I hate to be at the other end of the phone when people start calling about such foolish interface alterations.

Apple supposedly has the better ideas, and I hope the final version of Leopard will eliminate some of the confusion and repair some of the performance hangups.

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5 Responses to “The Leopard Report: Last-Minute Wishes”

  1. Jeff says:

    I’d like to see some performance improvements. I’m currently running a last-generation G4 Powerbook, and the slowdowns and spinning cursor are unacceptable on a laptop that is only one year old.

  2. I’d like to see some performance improvements. I’m currently running a last-generation G4 Powerbook, and the slowdowns and spinning cursor are unacceptable on a laptop that is only one year old.

    I understand. Sometimes adding more RAM will help you, at least somewhat.

    Yes, more than anything else, I’d like to see performance improvements and a reduction of system bottlenecks at the top of the list, but how do you demonstrate that during an Expo and make it look sexy?


  3. Martin says:

    I want features that Microsoft promised for Vista but couldn’t deliver. Also a pipedream, but why let that stop me from writing a whole blog entry on the subject.

  4. Dana Sutton says:

    Gene is right that the really important innovations are the under-the-hood ones (above all I’d like to see maximum capitalization on multi-processing, a faster Rosetta and Apple’s own implementation of virtualized Windows). And as far as his suggestion that Apple ought to improve open/save dialogues in the manner of Default Folder X, that’s a good one too, even though some folks would inevitably squawk that Apple was hurting the business of DF X’s developer (as people did when widgets replaced Konfabulator). So okay, let’s look at some other shareware utilities. First, there are several that restore features of Classics we once depended on (most importantly the haxies Fruit Menu, Window Shade, and utilities like Keyboard Maestro that allow programming of f-keys). Apple ought to put features such as these back into the OS, where they belong. Then there’s Finder Window Manager, which gives windows the ability to remember sizes, screen placement, and appearance. This corrects a bad interface feature of OS X. Going even further, why couldn’t file recovery and defragmentation features be incorporated into Disk Utility? And there could be a more sophisticated copying mechanism that would allow the user to clone a bootable OS to another volume from within the Finder. If Apple wants to know how to improve OS-X’s ergonomics, all it has to do is cherry-pick ideas from the utility software on the market designed to address mistakes and omissions in the OS itself.

  5. Gene, I think you are greatly underestimating iChat 4. In terms of significant features in OS X I would probably rank it in the top 5, personally in the top 3 (along with Exposé and Time Machine). A lot of people saw the effects for iChat 4, but what they didn’t pay much attention to were the two really significant features: iChat Theatre and Screen Sharing. Now iChat Theatre has the potential to be huge, given that it’s something that any developer can hook in to. And Screen Sharing looks like it could be a god send to people like me who are constantly having to help people out, but can’t do it properly as we can’t see the screen. In all fairness, Screen Sharing wasn’t mentioned in the keynote, but in the iChat video on Apple’s leopard page, but still it’s a key feature.

    Dana, looks like file recovery could be in Leopard: As for defragmentation, it would be nice to see it in Disk Utility for those big files, but any files under 20MB are defragged on the fly by OS X

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