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The WWDC Report: No New Hardware Folks!

After all the anticipation and excitement about the secret features of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard and possible hardware announcements, the cup was half filled. Of course, that’s not so bad, considering all the things that Leopard has to offer.

Take the confusing interface of today’s Mac OS X. You have platinum and brushed metal and dark gray, and it’s understandable that Mac users have become nonplussed as to the consistency and the purpose of so many disparate choices.

Well, for Leopard, things will settle down, according to Steve Jobs during his presentation at the highly-anticipated WWDC keynote. From here on, the subdued gray that characterized the iLife applications, including iTunes, will now spread to all applications. When you explore the nooks an crannies of Leopard at Apple’s Web site, you’ll see they’ve already adopted the new look and feel.

But it gets better. You see, Apple’s team of operating system is working to make desktop navigation simpler, courtesy of Stacks. These organizational tools let you group your applications and documents in a revised Dock, which, itself, sports a refined 3D look.

Perhaps the biggest request for Mac OS X since day one has been a better Finder. The interface has been controversial, and despite several enhancements, serious performance bottlenecks persist. The new iteration, courtesy of a feature called “Back to My Mac,” works with .Mac to let you browse the files on other Macs even if they’re not on your network. In addition, Sidebar navigation is simplified by putting items into categories and the Quick Look feature provides enhanced previews. In all, the Leopard Finder has clearly been influenced by iTunes.

Of course, none of this counts for anything if performance isn’t improved, and that, of course remains to be seen. But I expect that Apple isn’t going to refine the Finder’s interface without actually dealing with the underlying performance and reliability bumps in the road. That’s, of course, a matter of faith, but I’ll give Apple its due on this issue.

In all there are supposed to be 300 new features in Leopard, only ten of which were revealed during the keynote. In a fair number of respects, old ground was retreaded, which includes Time Machine, iChat, the Spaces virtual desktops feature, Core Animation and 64-bit support. There will also be improved support for multiprocessor Macs, which may make that eight-core Mac Pro more useful in a greater variety of applications.

Contrary to some predictions, the Boot Camp feature that lets you run Windows on your Intel-based Mac, remains dual-boot. Apple wants you to use the third party alternatives from Parallels and VMWare if you want to go the virtual machine route and run multiple operating systems without a restart.

And, despite those claims from Sun executives last week, Jobs said nothing about switching to the ZFS operating system, or even supporting it. In addition, nothing was said about an impending Mac OS 10.4.10 update, nor were there any major improvements to the aging .Mac feature-set. Maybe next time.

When it appears in October, Leopard will be priced identically to Tiger, which is $129 for the single-user edition. Nothing was said about a special upgrade for recent purchasers of Tiger or brand new Macs. And, despite my hopes, you won’t see iLife ’07 — or is it iLife ’08 now? — bundled with Leopard.

However, I’ve seen enough to convince me to order my upgrade as soon as it’s possible to place that order, and that will probably come a little closer to shipping time.

As to the rest of the keynote, it’s nice to know that Web-savvy applications will be able to run on the iPhone, but I was more than curious about the release of a public of Safari 3 for both Mac and Windows. The Mac version certainly runs faster than the current version, but it has difficulty handling the formatting of my daily commentaries for WordPress, and refused to connect me to my bank for account information. So I’m back to Firefox once again.

Gamers will surely appreciate the announcement by Electronic Arts and id Software about more Mac titles coming to your favorite dealer real soon now. While I’m glad to see Steve Jobs introduce executives from both companies on the keynote stage, it would have been nice to hear more about a concerted effort by Apple to help bring more games to the Mac platform.

As far as the rumor sites are concerned, there are more misses than hits there, although some predicted a new Finder, which doesn’t strike me as much of a stretch. But there is no new iMac, brushed metal case or otherwise, nor a revision to the Mac Pro, and we still don’t know if the Mac mini is dead, on life support, or consigned to the dust bin of discontinued hardware.

But the month is young. We know the iPhone is coming June 29th. But there are additional opportunities left for Apple to amaze us. That’s for sure!