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  • The Leopard Report: It Looks Pretty, But Can You Get Any Work Done?

    November 27th, 2007

    I suppose Windows users who are offended or simply tired of the overwrought Aero interface are happy they can turn it off. Or never see it, because their PC hardware isn’t powerful enough to render the full, unfettered graphical display. Perhaps they even got a Home Basic edition, which is free of special visual effects, even as an option.

    Yet there’s actually a class-action lawsuit brewing where some folks claim, in their legal documents, that Microsoft deliberately misled them into believing they had a PC that supported all of the key features of Vista, only to discover that the graphics were crippled. Maybe they were lucky, but they evidently believe otherwise, or perhaps their attorneys just hope for a huge payday and don’t really care.

    To be sure, Microsoft is late to the eye-candy party. Apple delivered first, way back in 2001 with the first official release of Mac OS X. In fact, they got roundly criticized for their excesses, but managed to tone down the most irritating visual artifacts, at least to some of you.

    Even though the basic interface of Leopard is far subtler, there’s even more of a feast for the eyes, maybe enough to cause a stomach ache for some of you. Everything happens with a flourish, even such a simple thing as switching desktops courtesy of Spaces. The visual effect varies depending on whether the new space is above the present one, or to its side, and extends the concept of sliding a frame into view, horizontally, vertically, or somewhat diagonally, as appropriate.

    But in talking with one of our regular commentators on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I was reminded that even special effects of short duration might cause a negative effect. Imagine, for example, if you’re visually disabled and your vision tends to be somewhat clouded via cataracts or another ailment. Maybe you suffer from migraines, as far too many do. Would too many 3D widgets serve to exacerbate your symptoms?

    I suppose, in theory, this might make sense, but before someone goes off half cocked and proclaims that Leopard is dangerous to your health, let me assure one and all that I have never tested the theory. While I do have an occasional headache, I do not feel compelled to run to the medicine cabinet because of the deleterious effects of gazing upon my Mac for too long a period and enduring all its visual effects.

    This isn’t to say I am immune to such symptoms. In the days when I used large-screen CRT displays, gazing intently at the display for a long period of time forced me to rush for the handy bottle of Advil several times a day. I always kept those bottles near me just in case. In fact, one of the reasons I adopted LCD displays so rapidly was because the symptoms were vanquished. The higher price may, in part at least, have compensated for the fact that I could place the little bottle of pills back in the cabinet and only consume them rare occasions.

    But the real reason you buy a personal computer is to get something done, either play with email, digital photos and music downloads, or something more practical, such as earning your day’s pay. Regardless, you certainly would want to keep disturbances to the minimum. Distractions, irritations, eye and wrist strains can all conspire to blast your productivity to smithereens.

    In fact, after all these years in front of a keyboard, I do not suffer from too many shoulder and wrist aches. I take frequent rests from my Mac, and even walk around my home office to get a little exercise, in addition to my daily workout regimen. My keyboard, presently part of Logitech’s excellent Cordless Desktop Wave desktop set, has keys situated a slight semi-circle, in the fashion of an ergonomic keyboard. They are also elevated and lowered across the keyboard, which is the reason for the “Wave” designation in the product’s name.

    I find that keyboard supremely comfortable, and, in fact, became accustomed to it almost immediately. The companion ambidextrous mouse has some degree of customization, and it’s also reasonably comfortable, with smooth button and scroll wheel action.

    More to the point, even on that superb 30-inch Dell display I’m using these days, I find that I am not at all disturbed by Apple’s 3D excesses in any way. The translucent menu bar and 3D Dock aren’t distracting at all, or maybe I got used to them, so they don’t conspire to force me to lose my focus.

    I haven’t been immersed in Time Machine’s Sci-Fi effects much, simply because I have not had the need to recover a file, but it’s great to show to skeptical Windows users who can’t fathom Vista’s questionable backup capability.

    On the other hand, you can’t account for taste, so I wouldn’t even try. If Leopard’s eye-candy serves to distract you, then it is a genuine problem that ought to be dealt with in some fashion. At the very least, I think Apple should consider adding a preference pane in a future maintenance update that would let you disable the worst excesses, if that’s what you prefer. Certainly, you can search the Internet and find software solutions that’ll handle those chores. In the end, whatever makes you happy. Because even without the visual pizazz, Leopard is a first-rate, incredibly solid operating system.

    As to those people who claim it’s a lemon, well, I don’t know what they’re drinking or smoking, or maybe it depends on certain installation scenarios that I’ve not encountered. But everything just works for me.



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    8 Responses to “The Leopard Report: It Looks Pretty, But Can You Get Any Work Done?”

    1. Dana Sutton says:

      I’m willing to give Apple’s “eye candy” a little bit more credit. I suspect that one reason for the “wizzy” effects is simply to show off Apple’s ability to handle graphics in the hope that this will encourage developers to exploit these technologies. The translucency of the menu bar and Dock unnecessary and maybe a bit excessive (after about thirty seconds they stopped bothering me), but they do show off the Mac’s ability to display translucent images. The sci-fi theme of Time Machine may also be a bit “over the top” but it does showcase the new Core Animation. But of course Apple could adopt a different strategy for doing the same thing. Remember the Graphing Calculator Apple used to throw in with the OS? 99% of us had no idea what the heck that thing was for and got no use out of it, but it dramatized the Mac’s processing power and probably made some programmers sit up and take notice. Maybe Apple would do better to concoct some demo applications to ship with the OS as an alternative way of putting their new “under the hood” technologies in the shop window. But, like it or not, I bet that this showcasing urge played a certain part in the thinking of the interface development team, and, who knows?, maybe its impact on developers will have a nice payoff for the rest of us.

    2. Nick says:

      I’ve up-dated both my iMac G5 and my MacBook to Leopard, all went very smoothly no problems at all, and didn’t take very long either. I did discover that you need to update Flip4Mac. There is a beta available for Leopard, and it works just fine for playing files in either QT or in your browser. Otherwise I haven’t had to update any other software. I spend all day working on a Mac, and have had no problems at all. The only major Leopard feature I have yet to set up and try is Time Machine. I just need to get around to sorting out files on my external hard disc and then let it run. The new Stacks for document are fast and useful, but the really productive things are the cover flow way of viewing files and the Quick Look method to see the contents of documents. I have literally thousands of documents and PDFs, and this is a great way to help me manage them at work. Also, the new Spotlight is fast and customisable. Again, a huge productivity bonus for people like me. Finally, I must mention the new Preview. It’s got so many features it’s hard to know where to start. You can easily combine PDF documents, move pages around, and add annotations or highlights etc. Again, hugely useful. All of this makes Leopard well worth having for me… and I haven’t even begun to play with iLIfe. Oh, one more thing (no pun intended) the ability to tear off Tabs in Safari, or drag them into new windows is another huge boon to people like me who do a lot of research, and need to manage large numbers of browser tabs and windows…. and I’ve only just discovered Spaces. Wow, this is another useful thing…. I must go and check it out now

    3. Julia Case says:

      “everything just works for me”… We’ve all heard that way to many times. I’m sure it does work for you. Vista works for me (bet you won’t agree with that). But what you do and what others do are totally different things. You can’t assume everything will work fine for others. Developers such as Adobe are still trying to catchup to changes in Leopard. Older Adobe products are no longer supported, forcing people to upgrade. PPC based games crawl or don’t work at all. There are lot’s of problems if you look.

      At work (software development) it’s windows, C# and .NET. Hands down it’s the bread winner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a switcher. I use a Mac for everything at home.

    4. “everything just works for me”…

      We’ve all heard that way to many times. I’m sure it does work for you. Vista works for me (bet you won’t agree with that). But what you do and what others do are totally different things. You can’t assume everything will work fine for others. Developers such as Adobe are still trying to catchup to changes in Leopard. Older Adobe products are no longer supported, forcing people to upgrade. PPC based games crawl or don’t work at all. There are lot’s of problems if you look.

      At work (software development) it’s windows, C# and .NET. Hands down it’s the bread winner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a switcher. I use a Mac for everything at home.

      Since you did raise the point, OK: Most of the current or recent Adobe apps to work fine with Leopard. The issue comes into play with Premiere Pro and other multimedia software, which will be updated soon. As to Power PC-based games, I suppose that depends on the game. I look carefully at the reported problems, and most are scattered and inconsistent, or apply to only a small number of users. This is quite true of pretty much all initial Mac OS X releases. As we speak, Leopard compatible updates are increasingly available.

      In short, I use a wide range of software, and everything does indeed work for me, and for most of the people I’m in touch with. Bear in mind that I do not live in a vacuum. I interview lots of well-known tech writers and major software companies on the tech radio show, and I’m in the loop on lots of things.

      As upgrades go, Leopard is quite good. Remember all the early complaints about Tiger when it came out?

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. David C says:

      One could argue that the animated cosmos in Time Machine is purely gratuitous, but I beg to differ. For one thing, it announces that this is not just another backup solution. Because the transition is so dramatic, while at the same time preserving your application context (Finder, Mail, iPhoto, etc), you have the benefit of working in a familiar layout and also a clear sense that you have stepped out of the usual spatial relationship with files and into a temporal relationship. Time Machine also exploits the z axis, in using the notion of depth and distance to convey a sense of further back or forwards in time. It’s really quite brilliant, and the whirling galaxy and moving stars are an effective metaphor for traveling back in time.

      But beyond the rational concepts communicated, Time Machine is just fun to use. I actually look forward to screwing up, or having an application failure cause file loss or corruption. Because the tool is a pleasure to engage, it invites changing behaviors: such as emptying the trash more often, tossing more dicey photos, perhaps retaining old email on my computer for a shorter period. Time Machine makes it so easy to let go.

    6. One could argue that the animated cosmos in Time Machine is purely gratuitous, but I beg to differ. For one thing, it announces that this is not just another backup solution. Because the transition is so dramatic, while at the same time preserving your application context (Finder, Mail, iPhoto, etc), you have the benefit of working in a familiar layout and also a clear sense that you have stepped out of the usual spatial relationship with files and into a temporal relationship. Time Machine also exploits the z axis, in using the notion of depth and distance to convey a sense of further back or forwards in time. It’s really quite brilliant, and the whirling galaxy and moving stars are an effective metaphor for traveling back in time.

      But beyond the rational concepts communicated, Time Machine is just fun to use. I actually look forward to screwing up, or having an application failure cause file loss or corruption. Because the tool is a pleasure to engage, it invites changing behaviors: such as emptying the trash more often, tossing more dicey photos, perhaps retaining old email on my computer for a shorter period. Time Machine makes it so easy to let go.

      I actually agree with you on this. The animations serve as a great way to show off Apple’s technology and add a little fun to your workday.

      Unfortunately, Microsoft apparently doesn’t understand that people can work hard and still have a great time.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. John says:

      I bought Leopard but haven’t installed it yet but I have used OS X since it came out. The animations have the potential to humanize the operation of the computer. For example, there is no need for slide transitions in a presentation. You could simply jump from slide to slide. However, the transitions convey information on a human time scale helping the viewer adjust to the fact and prepare for the new information. Similarly, icons bouncing in the dock or the genie effect help the viewer understand what is happening. The danger is that if these effects become too flash they steal the scene from the true action.

    8. Leo says:

      I like Aero. It’s just glass. Big deal.
      Longhorn would be so cool, but… MIcrosoft managed to screw that one.

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