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

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.