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  • The Leopard Report: Is Apple Regaining What it Lost?

    June 14th, 2007

    As much as some people have been busy yawning at the WWDC keynote, I regard some of the developments as particularly significant, even though this particular 90-minute Steve Jobs address is regarded as a one of his worst in recent years. But isn’t that what they said last year?

    No, it’s not Time Machine. We heard about all that last year, and little new was revealed about it. Spaces? I’ve never become enamored with multiple desktops largely because I use a utility, HideItControl, which only keeps the application I’m using visible. That’s sufficient for me.

    I suppose I might warm up to the improvements in Apple Mail, although I switched to Microsoft Entourage 2004 a long time ago because of its superior handling of IMAP. iChat? Well, the promise of improved sound quality is encouraging, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to make and receive phone calls, just as you can now with Skype? Just asking.

    No, none of this gets my blood flowing, and since I don’t write software for a living or any other purpose, having better 64-bit support and all the rest are of academic interest. If these features help deliver better applications, allowing me to get my work done more efficiently and with greater flair, fine and dandy. Otherwise, I just don’t care.

    However, having a better Finder does impress me quite a bit. Yes, having it resemble iTunes is certainly useful, particularly for Mac switchers and those who are obsessive about interface consistency. But my main concern is being able to organize my stuff, and not to suffer from the blatant slowdowns of the previous Finder. As I’m writing this article, for example, I’m simply backing up a couple of folders in simultaneous operations to a pair of backup drives. That’s all. Yet routine Finder functions, such as displaying a small folder of files, or even invoking an Open dialog box, have slowed to a crawl. And this is on a vintage Power Mac G5 Quad, with loads and loads of RAM.

    Yes, the Finder can be snappier on a MacIntel, but not to a large degree.

    So even if Apple left the Finder’s interface alone, repairing its performance lapses would be a huge plus for me. In fact, that would rate well ahead of any interface changes, but having the promise of both is particularly impressive. If the promise of the new desktop and Finder are largely realized, that’s almost enough to convince me to pay $129 for the Leopard upgrade.

    Stacks? Well, those are fancy folders that simply display a few animated tricks when you click on them and they open before your eyes. I suppose that’s better than simply clicking on a folder in the Dock, and, while the mouse key is pressed, have the contents pop open. It might even encourage developers to harness the power of Core Animation since Apple has put it on display wherever possible.

    Of course, there are supposed to be over 300 new features in Leopard, which ought to be enough to justify the two-and-a-half year wait, although only a small number of those enhancements have been revealed so far.

    So I suppose there’s reason to hope that there are other goodies that only developers under nondisclosure agreements are just discovering, but might appear at Apple’s site before long. I’m still optimistic that the tired Open and Save dialog boxes will be enhanced for easier navigation and maybe even the ability to deliver an expanded list of recent stuff, including the files you’ve been accessing.

    Being able to create my own Dashboard widget by taking a clip from Safari 3 sounds interesting, but it’s not my number one priority.

    However, it’s good to know that Apple has decided to revert to its original 1984 concept of consistency, by consolidating all the interface variants into that single shaded-gray look. It’s about time.

    Of course, the most important things about a new operating system are often not the features that are most appealing to marketing people. You want speed and stability, for example, but that doesn’t sound terribly sexy. And it is true that each version of Mac OS X has been more reliable and snappier than its predecessor, although the difference between Panther and Tiger wasn’t huge.

    I would hope that, after packing on all the eye candy, Apple has done something to make Leopard run faster, and, with all that extra development time, there won’t be so many point-zero bugs this time out. In fact, some folks weren’t happy with Tiger until a few of the most serious initial defects were eradicated. Let’s really hope that things are different this time.

    For now, I’ll just remain ever-optimistic that we won’t need that inevitable 10.5.1 right away, although it will eventually appear.



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    29 Responses to “The Leopard Report: Is Apple Regaining What it Lost?”

    1. Dana Sutton says:

      Time Machine? Spaces? There are plenty of software, shareware, and even freeware applications that already do these things. Tricks like adding eye candy to Mail? Zzzz. So why bother to buy Leopard? Gene’s right that that actually improves the Finder is a Good Thing (as opposed to merely layering on some more gimmicks). But what also gets my attention is improved 64-bit handling, multiprocessing capability, and core graphics. Since I have an Intel Power Mac, anything that allows me to maximize its potential justifies the upgrade. And this means precisely the sort of under-the-hood stuff that seems the least sexy to the average consumer.

    2. Carl Howe says:

      I think you’ll be very happy with the new Finder then. Turns out the new Finder has substantially better multicore and multi-threading characteristics, as does the Leopard kernel. The result: you may never see the spinning beachball again with the new Finder if you have a multicore processor — and even if you don’t, the Finder is much more responsive, according to the contacts I have who have been using the WWDC version.

      Best,
      Carl

    3. Spencerian says:

      I’ve played about with Vista lately. To its credit, Microsoft has made many changes not only in its interface, but the language of the dialogs and menus to make it easy on the user. But unlike Vista, Apple realizes that substantial divergeances in the desktop paradigm will get you in trouble. While prettier by far than any other version of Windows, Vista makes more users confused than satisfied (amidst the various hardware and software issues). Apple’s update on the Finder, I think, continues their “evolution rather than revolution” process in interface updating. They corrected the color inconsistencies (score a point for listening to the audience), they appear to have increased the threading and performance of the Finder (score big points from the techies and power users) and the Finder itself takes advantage of one of the most popular interfaces out there: iTunes. This is a major advantage: Apple is leveraging iTunes (as they did for the iPod itself) to sell more Macs. “If you can use iTunes, you can use a Mac.” Pretty impressive.

    4. Dave says:

      A little off subject, but a couple of times this week you have mentioned how Entourage handles IMAP much better than Mail. What is it that makes it so much better?

    5. A little off subject, but a couple of times this week you have mentioned how Entourage handles IMAP much better than Mail. What is it that makes it so much better?

      I’ve answered this elsewhere, but it has to do with folder organization, mailing handling options, display and navigation. It’s a personal reaction, to be sure, but if you use it day in and day out, you’ll realize what I mean.

      There are a lot of under-the-hood components that Omar Shahine and his Microsoft colleagues grafted into Entourage that simply make it the best IMAP client out there.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. hmurchison says:

      Time Machine? Spaces? There are plenty of software, shareware, and even freeware applications that already do these things. Tricks like adding eye candy to Mail? Zzzz. So why bother to buy Leopard? Gene’s right that that actually improves the Finder is a Good Thing (as opposed to merely layering on some more gimmicks). But what also gets my attention is improved 64-bit handling, multiprocessing capability, and core graphics. Since I have an Intel Power Mac, anything that allows me to maximize its potential justifies the upgrade. And this means precisely the sort of under-the-hood stuff that seems the least sexy to the average consumer.

      There is NOTHING like Time Machine currently available for Mac users. What we have now are disk cloners that image your entire drive. You may be able to search within this image for a particular file but that’s not something that is really all that intuitive. Time Machine is amazing technology. It creates a full backup (BU) and then tracks all incremental changes to your file. Spotlight can find these files in a search and Quick look can display whatever you want to restore to make sure it’s the right product. I’ve seen the developer videos on TM and it’s not a toy. Apple had to work hard and even make some changes to the file system (FsEvents) to accomodate tracking file changes. Saying you can do this now is a bit of a misnomer because the technology to do this doesn’t exist in Tiger so you’re only going to get a less flexible approximation. TM is a BU app but when a bit of clever additions to the file metadata you could easily hack together a system and track changing versions of documents.

    7. hmurchison says:

      Steve Jobs certainly has snowed the Mac faithful. I’m pretty much enjoying all this hand wringing and yelps. Leopard has a lot of stuff that is publically available that fill in the gaps about where more changes are yet some people only seem content with what comes out of Jobs’ mouth. Think about this. You haven’t heard about Quicktime (yet there are “massive” changes there) you haven’t heard about Resolution Independence…but it’s in there. You haven’t heard about improvements to the UI rendering and the new OpenGL 2.1 but it’s in there. You haven’t heard about the universal access to iCal calendar data. These things aren’t so sexy to the avg person but when you see that your PIM now can add calendar data now as well as read it you have “felt” the improvements in the underlaying code. You can easily get sucked into the hype of Macdom. You can fall victim to viewing keynotes as a secondary form of entertainment but when it is all said and done computing is about becoming more efficient and even when Apple adds gloss they are still focused on efficiency

    8. Michael says:

      I use Mail.app, and on the whole I like it, but it has a number of annoyances. Who could have dreamed up that kooky idea of mailfolders that appear and vanish again in the GUI? And you can’t subscribe to _particular_ folders over IMAP. As for that stupid account wizard … words fail. If you need different ports, you have to wait while the email client tries and fails to connect on the standard (but wrong) ports and you eventually get out of the wizard. If you don’t want to use Mail.app, because you can’t get into it unless the wizard has run, you still have to set up an account before you can get to the settings to make the other MUA the default–unless you happen to know about RCDefaultApp.

      I helped a friend set up his mail account over the phone the other day and, of course, you can’t simply tell someone which tab to go to in the account settings, because they’re not available till after the wizard has run. And, of course, over the phone you don’t get to see the dialogs. At one point he said he was being asked to use SSL. I was surprised, because I didn’t think the mailserver he was using it. I think he must actually have been being asked “Does your mailserver use SSL?” because after we got out of the damn wizard, and after Mail.app failed to connect, I told him where to go in the account settings to uncheck SSL, and lo and behold he connected.

      This is just so much easier with Thunderbird or Evolution or really any other client, where there’s no wizard to screw matters up. The wizard may be supposed to be easier, but it causes a number of problems. But maybe the wizard is there to simplify dot.mac sign-up where the server names, ports, the syntax of the username, etc. are already knowns.

      I suspect email set-up might be one reason why webmail is becoming more popular. It’s much more limited, but set-up doesn’t involve much more than choosing a username and password in a web interface, a process people are already familiar with.

    9. CHO says:

      I hope Carl Howe is right. I have to say that in terms of desktop experience on Windows and OS X, Windows feels snappier and more responsive to me. One of OS X’s major shortcoming is the beach-balling.

      I’ve been using Macs since 1989 and only owned Macs from 1989 to now.

    10. DarkDog says:

      After watching the keynote, there was something lack luster about—not technically the presentation—but the missing “Big Thing.”

      However, this result is derived from a combination of two, possibly three things.

      The Mac news community has had months to fabricate emotional hysteria surrounding the WWDC Keynote. Beginning with the end of last year’s WWDC, then further launched into the stratosphere after Macworld 2007 was devoid of Mac.

      This one–two punch continued to ring-out Pavlov’s bell to the justifiably Mac-hungry community.

      Then enters Steve-the Keynote. Tells us about user interface functionality during the entire allotted time. Pretty for the consumer, but zero meat for the developer. And yet does not address the salivating expectant masses.

      But, when you take your own time to research & explorer the publicly available information on Leopard, you will uncover a vast trove of riches. Both for the developer, the admin and the owner. Leopard is deep in technology to make all happy. Xray alone, could have taken 30% of the presentation and it would have been appropriate to do so.

      The conclusion that one must draw is that Steve intentionally downplayed the presentation—very intentionally. There was much he could have presented while completely ignoring the 10 items he did present.

      Now, I wonder why…

    11. CHO says:

      Michael writes: “I suspect email set-up might be one reason why webmail is becoming more popular. It’s much more limited, but set-up doesn’t involve much more than choosing a username and password in a web interface, a process people are already familiar with.”

      For me, one of the limitations to Webmail is that one cannot access it offline. That is a major no-no for me when I don’t always have internet access. I hear that Google is beginning to solve this problem, but I’m not sure how.

    12. hmurchison says:

      I do think that Steve unecessarily hyped the “Top Secret” features and that’s what caused the letdown. It’s a return to the “Way beyond the rumor sites” hype of a few years back. You cannot outdo what’s on the rumor sites EVER. The imagination is infinite. Then there’s the problem where people expect to be wowed and amazed. I’ve heard people talk about touchscreen iMacs. What a freaking horrible idea. Talk to anyone that does ergonomic evaluation for a living. Juxtapose this…a person sitting at a desk in proper position with arms down at the sides, elbows at a 90 degree angle and typing comfortably with their hands. Now show the person using a touch screen…notice how they cannot “rest” their arms…they are constantly lifting their arms up and out to touch the screen. Imagine how your shoulders may feel after 8 hours of this. Too often people are swept up by the glitz and glamour without really thinking about the effects and efficiency of certain products. I’m a big proponent of voice recognition. There should be input methods that all work to cover a wide gamut of users. Keyboards and touchscreen are viable for many, voice recognition however will enable far more users than touch screen and come with less of physical penalty. Leopard unfortunately didn’t make huge strides here. Perhaps 10.6. Apple is handling searching, organizing and viewing well. They now should return to input methods and work on beefing up Universal Access. You’re not going to find another GUI paradigm that is as effective as the PARC/Lisa/Macintosh. That’s a once in a lifetime journey for a company.

    13. THEj says:

      Stop looking only at Jobs keynote items !
      There is LOTS of stuff in Leopard that has been dramaticly improved but wasn’t in the keynote. ONE item that I am eager to use is the COMPLETELY REWRITTEN Quicktime layer. I’m not a developer but I use Quicktime and Quicktime apps a LOT. The 64bit improvements and optimizations (to Leopards new underpinnings) means Quicktime will be a real barn burner that LOTS of people will be able to take advantage of.

    14. Dana Sutton says:

      hmurchison writes ” It’s a return to the “Way beyond the rumor sites” hype of a few years back. You cannot outdo what’s on the rumor sites EVER. The imagination is infinite. Then there’s the problem where people expect to be wowed and amazed.” This is sooo true! True even to the point that when Apple fails to match such hyped expectations the price of its stock sometimes goes down, and the faithful feel a huge letdown. Truth to tell, a.) there is going to be an incredible amount of new tech wizardry in Leopard. Some we can write off as glitz and frou-frou designed to wow and amaze people, but (as I wrote earlier in this thread) the technological underpinnings have to be taken very seriously; b.) the progress of the Mac is ultimately dependent on Intel, or whoever is supplying the processor at the moment, so we have to look to Intel, not Apple, so set the pace of its development.

    15. David W says:

      I agree that the whole “Top Secret” thing is what led to wild speculation this past last year, but Jobs let everyone down by repeating so much of the presentation from last year. Why not show any of the truly new stuff?

      Of course a vertical touch screen is ergonomically bad. How many books were written on walls? Not many outside of prisons.

      Almost every book ever written was composed on a horizontal surface, either written out with pen and ink or typed. Almost every architectural or engineering drawing was made on an inclined desk because such a surface is best suited to drawing and viewing large documents.

      The touch screen of the future will be a desk. Digital documents will lie on the top of it just like a piece of paper does on your desk today. The entire surface will be a display and the entire surface will be receptive to touch. It might even be possible for it to scan objects placed on top of it. The top will tilt like a drafting table. Users will be free to use whatever angle best suits their eyes, arms and applications. Tilting a full 90 degrees will turn it into a big screen TV.

      The desk will have no trouble differentiating inputs so users will be free to use whatever strikes their fancy as an input device. Just tell it you’re going to draw with a pen and select or resize things using the tips of your fingers and it’ll ignore the arm you’re resting on it and that dangerously positioned cup of coffee you keep picking up and putting down.

      I’ve had this product of the future in my head for years. Hopefully someone will make one before I get too old to use it.

    16. CHO says:

      I agree that the whole “Top Secret” thing is what led to wild speculation this past last year, but Jobs let everyone down by repeating so much of the presentation from last year. Why not show any of the truly new stuff?

      Of course a vertical touch screen is ergonomically bad. How many books were written on walls? Not many outside of prisons.

      Almost every book ever written was composed on a horizontal surface, either written out with pen and ink or typed. Almost every architectural or engineering drawing was made on an inclined desk because such a surface is best suited to drawing and viewing large documents.

      The touch screen of the future will be a desk. Digital documents will lie on the top of it just like a piece of paper does on your desk today. The entire surface will be a display and the entire surface will be receptive to touch. It might even be possible for it to scan objects placed on top of it. The top will tilt like a drafting table. Users will be free to use whatever angle best suits their eyes, arms and applications. Tilting a full 90 degrees will turn it into a big screen TV.

      The desk will have no trouble differentiating inputs so users will be free to use whatever strikes their fancy as an input device. Just tell it you’re going to draw with a pen and select or resize things using the tips of your fingers and it’ll ignore the arm you’re resting on it and that dangerously positioned cup of coffee you keep picking up and putting down.

      I’ve had this product of the future in my head for years. Hopefully someone will make one before I get too old to use it.

      Ugh. This is using the metaphor of an office desktop and applying it too literally to an electronic world. It might be helpful to think beyond the boundaries of what an office desktop allows and see what other ways of doing work there are in an electronic world. This might entail moving beyond a direct mapping of office desktop modes of doing things. Each medium has ways of operating that is more suitable for that medium. We don’t have to stick with the office desktop metaphor.

    17. Dana Sutton says:

      “I’ve had this product of the future in my head for years. Hopefully someone will make one before I get too old to use it.” Microsoft released the Microsoft Desk about three weeks ago, which does a lot of the things on your wish list.

    18. Dorian says:

      I’ve answered this elsewhere, but it has to do with folder organization, mailing handling options, display and navigation. It’s a personal reaction, to be sure, but if you use it day in and day out, you’ll realize what I mean.

      There are a lot of under-the-hood components that Omar Shahine and his Microsoft colleagues grafted into Entourage that simply make it the best IMAP client out there.

      Sorry, I use Mail at home and Entourage at work because Mail can’t connect to the Exchange Server, and there is not one minute that I don’t wish I could use Mail at work. Entourage is slow in almost every aspect, and just doesn’t feel as easy to use as Mail. There is not one feature that I can see that makes me want to use Entourage more than Mail. Not one single instance.

    19. Sorry, I use Mail at home and Entourage at work because Mail can’t connect to the Exchange Server, and there is not one minute that I don’t wish I could use Mail at work. Entourage is slow in almost every aspect, and just doesn’t feel as easy to use as Mail. There is not one feature that I can see that makes me want to use Entourage more than Mail. Not one single instance.

      Certainly you’re entitled to your viewpoint. Mail is fine for POP email and it sort of handles Exchange, at least the latest version. But Entourage 2004 is still my choice for IMAP (you didn’t say which edition of Entourage you had).

      Recent minor maintenance updates have, in addition to repairing security issues, made Entourage 2004 work a little faster, with fewer slowdowns.

      Peace,
      Gene

    20. Vast improvements have been made to the Finder in respects to network connections. The aspect of threaded UI rendering will cut down on the number of beachballs.

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