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The 10.6 Report — Making Up for Apple’s Mistakes

You and I both know that the next great version of Mac OS X probably isn’t going to arrive until some time in 2009, if then. However, that doesn’t mean it’s too early to say something now. You see, with Leopard settling down for most of you, I rather suspect any updates from here on will be largely to fix those remaining defects rather than add new features.

Certainly, with the 10.5.2 release, they fixed the Stacks feature to incorporate most of the previous elements of handling folders in the Dock. That way you can make your own decisions how best to deal with the look and the feel. You can also turn off menu bar transparency (I’ve left it on), so some of your treasured desktop backgrounds can appear without making the menu bar invisible.

The Dock’s 3D look? All right, you have me there, but after all, if it upsets you so much, you can pin it to the left or right ends of your display or use a third party utility, such as TinkerTool, to turn it back to 2D. That ought to be sufficient to handle the most significant complaints.

Over at One Infinite Loop, you can bet Apple is busy working on Leopard’s successor. In fact, they probably began to draft the new system release long before Leopard was released last October, and they very likely have a basic idea what features might be incorporated.

One of the biggest problems Apple will face now is that a few frills among another 200 or 300 changes will not be sufficient to overcome resistance to yet another upgrade, even if it’s 18 or 24 months after Leopard’s debut. Certainly Microsoft has encountered similar difficulties getting companies to upgrade to Office 2007. Yes, there are objections to Vista too, and part of those objections relate to the fact that XP works pretty well for most Windows users. However, Vista also has performance and stability shortcomings, still, even after the SP1 update that was recently released. In fact, Microsoft has set up a free support program encompassing even customers who had the software preloaded on their PCs (in other words OEM versions), because of the rampant difficulties.

Apple’s huge dilemma is that Leopard, for the most part, has garnered a high level of customer satisfaction. More than 80% are extremely pleased with the upgrade, according to a survey published earlier this year. As Apple continues to sell over two million Macs a quarter with Leopard preloaded, you can bet it won’t be long before it holds a majority stake among Mac users.

So what do you do for an encore? Does Apple add more of the same, or do they go back and look at some core problems with previous versions and do something to address them? Now that Classic is history — at least for Leopard and/or Intel-based Mac users — what about restoring more of the lost features?

Well, chief among those might be a full-featured Location Manager. No, not just for storing your basic network and Internet settings as you can now, but something that would encompass an entire range of adjustments, such as the applications you’re using, the specific printers you require and any special system-related configurations you need at a particular place. This feature might use an interface reminiscent of Parental Controls, which allows you to customize the user experience for a family member, in order to monitor what they’re doing and make them safe from Internet predators.

So when you’re on the road, you can choose Hotel, Office, or whatever, and the things you need will be automatically configured. Maybe the system could do some of that for you, by sensing certain network configurations, such as the hardware address of an office router, to help guide you to the proper choice.

For me, this wouldn’t be a serious issue, but as millions of MacBook Airs hit the streets, I can see where there will be a demand for a Location Manager on steroids. I realize there are third-party possibilities, but this is something that is really Apple’s province.

That goes for the Help menus as well. Why, for example, do they use a smaller type face than the rest of the menu bar commands? I see no logical reason for that, but I think Apple needs to go farther to provide the help you need depending on your user level. This takes us to the controversial issue of Active Assistance that I’ve talked about before. It means that, upon installing Mac OS 10.6, or setting up a new Mac on which it’ll be preloaded, you’ll select what you regard as your level of expertise, and the nature of help you are given will be adjusted accordingly. System Preferences will offer you an opportunity to alter that experience level as you discover you’re really a power user, or confront the possibility that you know less than you thought.

The other feature sadly in need of rebuilding is the Open/Save dialog. Take a look at Jon Gotow’s excellent work in Default Folder X and you’ll see what I mean. No, I don’t want to put Jon out of work. He’s a great guy, a family man, and needs to earn a living. Maybe Apple would do well to hire Jon and discover some of his secrets and meld them into a revitalized Open/Save dialog for 10.6.

For starters, just being able to access recent files and having the dialog box rebound to the last opened file would be a great plus. Then Apple can incorporate more Finder-level features, such as the ability to rename a file before you open it.

Again, this list remains preliminary. There are fundamental changes we can talk about that Apple might be considering even now, such as a true 3D-style interface that incorporates the X-axis as well, perhaps to age your files and folders in the Finder.

The possibilities are endless, and your comments are welcomed.