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The Leopard Report: My Personal Petty Mac Annoyances

After four maintenance updates, with many more on the way over Leopard’s expected lifecycle — and I am not counting security fixes — it’s a sure thing that the worst ills are behind us. Typical of most Apple software these days, the original version was somewhat shaky, betraying evidence of a rushed release.

Now I installed Leopard on Day One, and, in most respects, it works just fine, with precious few mysterious crashes or other examples of anomalous behavior. I’d like to say the experience is perfect, but I know better. I’d want to say that Apple needs to improve its quality control, so you don’t have to wait months for things to settle down, but don’t expect to happen anytime soon. Apple has no incentive to do things better, so long as sales keep climbing and profits keep pouring in.

Yes, I know Apple’s stock has taken a beating of late, but product quality issues aren’t really responsible. You might attribute some of that to jitters about the state of the economy and ongoing concerns about the state of health of Apple’s CEO. To be sure, I think some stock speculators also delight in manipulating prices to enhance their own nefarious schemes, but as long as the SEC isn’t cracking down on such behavior, I don’t expect such things to change anytime soon.

Maybe that’s one reason I’ve historically stayed away from the stock market, besides the fact that, as a journalist, I really shouldn’t be buying shares in the companies I cover. Yes, I do believe in ethics, although that’s sometimes a hard commodity to find these days.

Returning to Leopard, I continue to have a love and hate relationship with Leopard’s Spaces feature. In the past, I used system enhancements that automatically hide everything but the application I was working in (yes I know you can do it manually). I think that’s probably still one of the best solutions to reduce window clutter for most Mac users.

Spaces, however, is different, because it allows you to create multiple desktop environments, each supporting only the applications you want. It may be, in fact, a great solution for folks who might otherwise consider buying a Mac Pro, extra graphic cards, and as many monitors as you can fit on your computer desk.

In theory, Spaces is simple to configure. Just open the Exposé and Spaces preference panel in System Preferences, and make sure Spaces is selected. From here, you can assign up to four rows and four columns of spaces, a total of 16 in all. An application can be assigned to a single space or to all of them; it would be nice for a midrange choice, where an application occupies two spaces and maybe there’s a third-party solution or a trick to doing that, but I haven’t seen it, and the need hasn’t really arisen for me anyway.

If Spaces worked as advertised, it would be a dream solution, particularly in concert with Exposé. But things get complicated with applications that spawn separate document windows and formatting or configuration palettes. While successive improvements in Spaces have made the problem less severe with the various Leopard updates, the situation is still not perfect.

Some applications, for example, will open one window in one space, and another in a second having nothing to do what what you originally selected. This tends to happen most often if you launch that application (usually from the Dock) when you’re in a different space than the one configured for that application.

Now it may well be that the it’s not Apple’s problem at all, that application developers need to perform some programming legerdemain behind the scenes to take better advantage of Spaces. I’ll leave it to them to sort all this out. For now, after giving up Spaces entirely, I’ve returned to it grudgingly, since it’s more good than bad for my purposes. But maybe 10.5.5, which I’m sure is inevitable some time in the next few months, will help set things right. Or at least less wrong.

Other Leopard issues are less injurious of productivity, so they don’t bother me so much. I do not, for example, understand why Apple insisted on having items in the Help menu display in a smaller typeface than the rest of the menu bar labels. Sure, there may be a practical reason, that the text for some of those Help items might be wider than the others. But my design sensibilities still tell me that this is wrong.

The so-called 3D Dock doesn’t bother me in the least, by the way. Your eye gets used to the little blue glowing ball below an application that indicates it’s open. And, aside from pinning the Dock on the left or right sides of your screen, various Mac OS X maintenance and enhancement utilities are perfectly capable of changing the look and feel to the way you want.

When it comes to AirPort reception, I didn’t suffer from the inconsistent performance issues that afflicted others, perhaps some of my gentle readers. Unfortunately, Wi-Fi is not a perfect technology, and it operates on the same frequency range as many other devices, including portable phones, microwaves and others. That it works at all in that sea of radiation sometimes strikes me as a miracle, and I concede that there’s only so much Apple can do about the situation.

But I’d still like to see more consistent performance from the Back to My Mac feature, which interfaces with MobileMe. In theory, I should be able to connect to my Mac’s desktop remotely when I’m on the road. It will work when the router in use is Apple’s, but otherwise, it’s hit or miss. Supposedly Apple continues to work on compatibility with third-party routers. According to their support materials, “NAT-PMP or UPnP must be enabled” on your router. Beyond that, you need to contact MobileMe support if the standard remedies don’t succeed.

I know my list is short, and yours may be a lot larger. But that’s what our Comments section is for.