The Snow Leopard Report: Recovering from Feature-Bloat

October 30th, 2008

You have to appreciate Apple’s point of view with Snow Leopard. After releasing reference upgrades for Mac OS X with two or three hundred new features — some of which you may not have even wanted — it was time to fix the plumbing to pave the way for the future.

Or at least that’s what Apple expects you to believe.

The question, of course, is whether a feature-bare operating system release will be worth the same $129 that Apple charges for the one that’s usually filled to the gills with fancy new stuff. Over the years, customers have been trained to expect something new and different with new software upgrades — particularly paid ones — even if some of the new stuff weighs the system down as far as performance is concerned, or creates problems where none existed before.

Indeed, with Leopard, Apple boasted over 300 new features. But not everyone appreciates the changes. Macworld’s Rob Griffiths, for example, has his personal top ten rant list, things where Apple clearly fell down on the job. This is not to say that he’s reverted to Tiger. On the whole he prefers Leopard, even though some of its better ideas are, to him, actually worse.

This is not to say that Apple necessarily is out of good ideas either. Certainly there are things that Mac OS X still doesn’t handle properly, and features that were actually present under the Classic Mac OS but were never carried through in the migration to Mac OS X.

Now I’m not necessarily a believer in the conspiracy theory once voiced that the original Mac programmers were at war with the NeXT developers that arrived along with Steve Jobs when Apple acquired his company. It may be true, or it may be that, together, they conceived a different list of priorities.

However, you have to wonder why some things just never quite made the cut. The configurable Apple menu, for example, which was so easy to manage in the days of Mac System 7.0. Yes, there are third party alternatives, but today the Apple menu is a rigid structure where you can only change the number of items displayed in the Recent Items submenu. Is that really an improvement?

What about managing locations? Mac OS X’s Location feature is pretty much restricted to wired and wireless network setups. In the old days, with the Classic Mac OS, you could configure such things as specific printer and application setups as well. Sure, you can easily select another printer from the Print dialog, but you’d still have to figure out whether that particular device is actually a part of the network to which you’re connected. Are you expected to store this information in your cluttered brain? Isn’t the computer powerful enough to figure this out for you?

Do you remember the original PrintMonitor? Well, maybe you want to forget that relic of the old days. But I remember an extremely important feature that no longer exists in the current printer status display — and that’s the ability to schedule and prioritize jobs. Say, for example, you have a 200-page document, with lots of graphics, one that would keep the office printer purring for half an hour before it’s done. Now you don’t want to have this particular job run while other employees are cluttering up the print queue with smaller documents of more immediate concern. So you schedule the larger document at a time when everyone’s off to lunch, or even at night, after the staff is gone and only the admins are around doing their network management tasks.

Maybe Apple believes that today’s output devices are so fast, that a job of that size wouldn’t clog the print queue, or that it’s just as easy for you to remember to manually add it to the queue at the appropriate time. But why?

I’m sure you can come up with your own list of lost features that ought to return. You might even be able to recommend third-party alternatives that will provide the capabilities you want, and I’m certainly in favor of giving shareware developers an opportunity to make a living.

There are, however, certain features that ought to be a part of the core operating system. You shouldn’t have to depend on independent developer to produce them, or find some hidden Mac OS X feature that delivers just what you want but, for some reason, hasn’t been activated.

Now with Snow Leopard, I’m quite certain that the ability to handle multiprocessors more efficiently is extremely important, particularly with tasks that can overwhelm a single processor. Being able to offload chores to the graphics chip is another plus. Why have all that capability underutilized, except for 3D rendering and games?

Indeed, cleaning up Mac OS X and eliminating dead wood and potential sources for system slowdowns or crashes is a good thing, and Apple is to be commended for its foresight.

On the other hand, maybe Snow Leopard will give Apple a time to catch up and add just a few additional features, ones that have fallen by the wayside, but deserve to be returned. I’m not even going to bother with the official wish list, beyond what I’ve discussed so far. If you were using Macs in the old days, I think you know just what I’m talking about, and if you weren’t, you’re really missing some neat stuff.

| Print This Article Print This Article

14 Responses to “The Snow Leopard Report: Recovering from Feature-Bloat”

  1. javaholic says:

    Ah yes. I remember the good ‘ol days… those useful features I relied on from OS9 like The Location Manager, Windowshade and the AppleMenu. Popup tabs were great too. In many ways Apples key UI designers like Gitta Solomon and Bruce Tognazzini were ahead of their time. Back then Apple put a lot of weight behind their UI development and deployment in comparison to the glam and gloss we see today. For example, if you compare Gitta’s original patented ‘piles’ concept for Copland (now Leopard’s ‘stacks’), I believe her original idea would still be viable today. In comparison, Apple provided a poorly implemented version of the same idea chained to the dock.

    While I never use the likes of the Dock, Dashboard, Automator and even the Finder that much, Apple has managed to introduce some nice features and apps to OSX. So although we may never know why the more practical features from OS9 never made the grade during OSX’s development, I’ll probably still pony up the money for the promise of Snow Leopard, and keep using my 3rd party haxies from the good ‘ol days unless Apple have a change of mind.

  2. Jarod says:

    Interesting article but bland at the same time. Apple knows what Apple is doing. Over the years, people have been trying to tell Apple how to do its thing, and time after time, results have proven, that only Apple can be Apple. Why don’t we just let the best be the best so we can enjoy what we get. They listen to customers. They don’t always make a public show of that but they do listen and it shows with every product update and upgrade. I’m just glad we don’t have to deal with a piece of shit company like Microsoft. Now THAT hunk of junk, you can never mock enough. Morons for hire = Microsoft.

  3. Keyword says:

    For all I know, some of these already exist – but I don’t know about them…

    Apple menu, yes.

    I’d like to see labels with more functionality. I’d like to be able to create sets for use in different contexts. For instance a set of labels in place for the images folder of my website, and a different set for correspondence, etc.

    Powerful tools for locating duplicate files and for comparing files. (with user-friendlY interface).

    System level simple but verbose document versioning

    True uninstall services that clean everything out, including preference files.

    Rollover balloons in Activity monitor that explain what each process does in language that a non-engineer can grasp.

    Fix iCal. The “Edit Pane” is a pain. We don’t need modal stuff. To-Do’s are too primitive. Invent a To Do view .


    OTOH – I have a Mac Pro – so I AM looking forward to the plumbing fixes. I spend a lot of time looking at the CPU use display watching 1 core pegged and the other 7 idle!

  4. Tedious says:

    If Apple releases Snow Leopard ONLY with new hardware and keeps the boxed version @ 10.5 and keep mum on the whole topic for the first 100 days, they can spin the entire story.

    Instead of headlines saying: “You want me to spend $129 on nothing?!?”

    It will be: “Another bonehead move, Apple! How about us loyal customers? Don’t you want our money!??!”

    The whole reason Apple develops an OS at all is to sell hardware.
    Boxed “upgrades” are just icing on the cake.
    Anyone at Apple that says otherwise is blowing smoke.

  5. Sage comments. Snow Leopard will apparently work only on Intel-based Macs, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll be a free or low-cost upgrade. Apple, as you state, doesn’t earn a whole lot of income from upgrade kits, and they really want to sell hardware.

    By presenting this as a gift to loyal Apple customers, more Macs will be sold.


  6. BobS says:

    There is a scheduler panel in the expanded print dialog available using the disclosure triangle next to the printer drop-down menu. Select “Scheduler” from the last drop-down menu (it defaults to the application-specific panel). This makes it pretty easy to schedule tasks for later printing including the ability to assign priorities to various print jobs.

    It would be nice if you could reschedule print jobs in the print queue.

  7. OS X has a “Scheduler” option in the Print dialog which lets you set a print job to run at a specific time, with specific priorities, etc.

    In Safari it is the second option after “Copies and Pages.”

  8. David M. Converse wrote:

    OS X has a “Scheduler” option in the Print dialog which lets you set a print job to run at a specific time, with specific priorities, etc.

    In Safari it is the second option after “Copies and Pages.”

    Ah yes, buried several layers deep. 🙂



  9. Richard Dalziel-Sharpe says:

    I don’t care if there are no new features in Snow Leopard but will happily pay up if Apple attend to my ten fix requests as listed below.

    Please, someone at apple, read this and FIX THE FINDER!! There are many more than ten problems with the Finder as it is now, so at least fix some of them

  10. Sean says:

    The software industry has followed the famous axiom “features sell upgrades” for more than a decade. If Apple can actually produce and successfully market a major OS release on the basis of better quality performance, greater resource efficiency, and tighter security, it will cause Bill Gates to spin in his semi-retirement (or adjust his shorts). I look forward to it (Snow Leopard, not the shorts thing…).

  11. Andrew says:

    No kidding. I think that efficient and reliable code is why minimalist Linux distributions like Xubuntu are getting popular, and also why many people choose to run older operating systems on new PCs. Windows XP remains more popular than Vista because it is faster and just feels somehow lighter. I actually like Windows 2000 best of all Redmond operating systems and use it on three PCs at at my office.

    Leopard is very nice, but I’m not sure if I would downgrade to Tiger if it was possible. I am used to Leopard now, but I don’t use Time Machine, Spaces or any of the other new features. Even in Tiger, the only new feature I use much is Dashboard, and then only to view the time and weather in Korea.

    I only use Leopard on my 1.0 GHz PowerBook G4 so that I can have the same UI as my MacBook Pro and Mac Pro. Panther and Tiger actually run much smoother and faster.

  12. Gary S says:

    Ditto re. what Richard says.

    Please, please, please fix or otherwise reinvent the Finder. I’m tired of workarounds for an app that is central to the OS. It should be the showcase of Apple ingenuity and design. Instead it is a frustrating hodgepodge of approaches and ideas.

    I thought 10.5 might bring the needed changes. I hear they are rewriting it in Cocoa. Perhaps the next release will finally be the charm.

  13. addicted says:

    I dont think the next Finder will be radically different from the original one from a UI perspective. However, with it transitioning to Cocoa, I bet Apple will change it in the next release, because standardizing on 1 API will make them far more efficient…

  14. Tori C says:

    Please bring back to spotlight the ability to search individual harddrives instead of everything connected.
    Also give us the ability to change the search view from icons view to list or kind, or version in other words just give us back the features of spotlight in tiger with the speed of Leopard spotlight

Leave Your Comment