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The Leopard Report: Why Rush?

If all goes well, Mac OS 10.5 Leopard should arrive by the middle of June. Why am I being so precise? Well, inasmuch as the Apple’s WWDC is scheduled for June 11-15, so it would seem logical that it’ll be shipping by then, or, at worst, shortly thereafter.

Understand that Apple has been mum about Leopard’s particulars besides that initial demonstration last August and the preview at its Web site. Other than the rumor sites, not much more is available. You know, for example, about such new features as the Time Machine backup application, Spaces for multiple or virtual desktops, enhancements to iChat and Mail, the ability to make your own Dashboard widgets, improved Spotlight searching and lots of neat stuff for developers to chew over.

On the surface, this doesn’t sound like an awful lot. What you’ve seen of Leopard doesn’t represent any huge changes in Mac OS X’s interface. As a practical matter, that might make sense. After all, why mess with a good thing? Tiger, for example, seems to work all right for most of you. Serious problems stemming from the initial release seem to have been largely overcome. If there is indeed a 10.4.9, as some expect, well maybe there will be a few more fixes to deal with. But is there a crying need for such an update?

Compared to Windows Vista — which had a shaky start from a sales standpoint — Tiger works quite well thank you. As in Vista, it has a fast desktop search tool, a pretty user interface and requires verification before software is installed.

But where Tiger does things with elegance, Vista bashes you over the head with repeated requests for approval to allow the system to do this, that, and the other thing. Vista’s eye-candy, assuming your PC has sufficiently powerful graphics hardware to see it — and you have the right version of Microsoft’s operating system — can be considered just a little too in your face.

Without going into all the down and dirty details, Tiger pretty much does everything Vista can do for most users, with far more finesse. So there’s really not a whole lot of pressure on Apple to rush Leopard into production to overcome any perceived Vista advantages.

If anything, Apple has plenty of time to get it right, make sure all the new features work properly, and that everything else is as solid as possible. If it takes a month, fine. Three months? No problem. I can wait.

Does this mean The Night Owl is going to sit back and not upgrade to Leopard when it arrives? No way. I expect to be on the front lines, or rather place my order online from the convenience of my home office, so it gets here as quickly as possible, probably within a day of its appearance on the store shelves.

For the rest of you — as I’ve said previously — it probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to postpone purchase of a new Mac until it’s preloaded with Leopard. Sure, you may save $129, or whatever Leopard will cost (and I expect it to be higher actually), but you will benefit in the meantime from the higher productivity of a new computer.

And, should Leopard ship with a few early-release bugs, you won’t have to feel that you’re forced to give it a shakedown cruise before you can get real work done. That can actually be a saving grace in a production environment where it’s more important to meet your deadlines than fiddle with a new operating system, however reliable it may be.

In the meantime, Apple appears to be in pretty good stead. After all, it’s not as if the Windows fanboys are gushing over Vista in huge numbers. They didn’t line up at dealers to buy the first copies to ship — or at least most of them didn’t. Most waited for Vista to be included with a new PC purchase, since they didn’t want to endure the pain of installing it on an older computer, and, believe me, it can be painful. Or at least unpredictable.

So in the grand scheme of things, when Leopard arrives, great. If it fulfills its promise with a couple of hundred great new features, even better. True, at one point I felt Apple was under some pressure to get it out in a reasonably fast timeframe. Now I’m not so sure.