The 10.7 Report: More of the Same?

December 23rd, 2009

Predictably, folks are now beginning to talk about Snow Leopard’s successor. The key reason is that 10.6 had few sexy features, no list of 200 or 300 “must-haves” that entice you to upgrade. Instead, Snow Leopard is mostly about promises, promises that app developers will soon support such features as Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL and thus deliver faster performance.

Indeed, owners of Mac Pros and the new quad-core iMacs must surely be disappointed that most of the apps they use never use the extra cores. All that CPU horsepower going to waste, and consider all the money you wasted for extra performance.

But beyond the system functionality, what can Apple do to make its next operating system more of a traditional upgrade, one that’s truly feature leaden? Here’s where things can mighty difficult. Most of the suggestions I’ve seen amount to little more than refinements rather than new features. You can, for example, suggest things Apple ought to do to make the Finder more flexible, perhaps adopting a few of the features of some of those file viewing replacements, such as Path Finder.

Now this is not to say that the Finder is bad, but Path Finder has a rich set of features that fit into the category of “if only” when it comes to Apple’s Finder. One is a Dual Pane File Browser, where you can “View the contents of two folders or volumes side-by-side in one window.”

Next time you open a second Finder window to accomplish that purpose, you start to wonder why Apple has given the Path Finder way some serious thought. It’s not as if Apple is above cribbing features from third parties or simply finding ways to make those products obsolete.

Right now, Path Finder is just one of a load of OS enhancements that are designed to craft new features onto Mac OS X, or simply unlock the stuff Apple puts below the surface, which are normally activated by the command line. My feelings about the latter are largely mixed. I really think Apple can make these capabilities available easily enough, and probably embed them in an interface to die for. On the other hand, I don’t want to see independent developers losing their income sources.

Speaking of income sources, though, I’ve long felt that Apple should be giving Jon Gotow a large check to acquire the rights to Default Folder X. This is the ultimate Open/Save dialog box enhancer, rich with features that should have been blended into Mac OS X long ago. Some of those capabilities are deliciously simple, such as rebounding to the last opened file or folder. You can also rename files and perform other edit functions without returning to the Finder. Why hasn’t Apple caught on?

But I gather from talking to Jon that his product isn’t easy to sell. We’ve tried, by persuading him to advertise on the tech radio show and this site, but the benefits from advertising to a general audience haven’t been realized. He does better focusing on desktop publishers or other content creators, people who really appreciate what he’s trying to do. However, I think all Mac users will benefit, and maybe someone at Apple will get the message and get Jon on the team.

Another feature that ought to appear in 10.7 is the ability to easily rollback your system in case of a failed upgrade. Restoring with Time Machine is time-consuming, except for individual files or fodlers, and not enough of you regularly use a clone backup utility that would be able to let you revert your startup drive to its previous state — or at least the state of the most recent backup — within a relatively short amount of time.

This is the sort of thing people on the Windows platform can do, and certainly it’s easier to foul up your system over there. But that doesn’t mean that every system upgrade from Apple is totally reliable, and they do make mistakes from time to time. More to the point, even with Time Machine, I’m willing to bet that the actual numbers of Mac users who regularly backup their stuff remains depressingly small.

Besides, enhancing Time Machine will only help hardware makers sell more backup drives, so it’s a win-win situation. In the meantime, yes, this does seem to be a suitable opportunity for a third party to exploit, and I wonder why it isn’t happening. The last utility to offer this feature dates back to the Classic Mac OS.

Of course there’s plenty of room for minor fixes. I would still like to see a more predictable Finder, one that would consistently remember location, view options and size. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and the 64-bit Cocoa version in Snow Leopard is only somewhat better.

And please don’t get me started about the loss of the traditional file creator data, where even generic files, such as MP3 and AIF, would open in the application that crested or last saved them, not a default app of Apple’s selection. Yes, the Finder’s Get Info command helps you change that, but this is the sort of alteration that we didn’t request. Even if Apple claims to have switched to a better method, I think that this is one huge step backwards.

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15 Responses to “The 10.7 Report: More of the Same?”

  1. Matt Kaiser says:

    The biggest feature that I could hope for would be resolution independence. As pixel density has been increasing over time (the new 27″ iMac has a whopping 109ppi!), certain non-scalable elements have just been getting smaller. That feature alone would make me buy 10.7 at the drop of a hat.

    • Daffy Duck says:

      @Matt Kaiser,

      I couldn’t agree more. It’d work wonders for the high-resolution display of the 17″ MBP as well. Screen real estate is nice, but sometimes you don’t feel like squinting at UI elements that are tiny by comparison.

  2. javaholic says:

    I’ve been using both Path Finder and Default Folder for a number of years now. For me, they’ve become indispensable tools in my daily workflow. While Apples current Finder (although it’s taken them 8 years) and Open/Save dialogues are adequate, you get quickly accustomed to the additional features 3rd party apps like Path Finder and Default Folder can offer. I’m still using Unsanity’s WindowShade utility since Apple, for whatever reason, dropped it once OSX rolled into town (I still consider that a great utility for window management.)
    Looking to future releases, the chances of me seeing the Finder inheriting any spatial ability or ‘ol Windowshade being re-implemented seem pretty thin no matter how practical they may be. We all have our wish lists. Sometimes these kinds of design decisions serve as a reminder that just because Apple built it, doesn’t always mean its better. Thankfully 3rd party developers have the opportunity to exploit any shortcomings and improve the user experience.

    • @javaholic, In the last week, I’ve noticed that my quad-core iMac has begun to lose Internet access after awakening from sleep mode on occasion and has to be restated. I’m not sure if this is a fluke or what. I’ll be checking it.


  3. Thej says:

    What about a finished Quicktime X or ZFS file system or Pixel Independent graphics !?!
    I would really like to see that !! Preferably sooner than later !!

    How about that crazy 3D user interface that Apple recently patented. If you haven’t seen the video you should !!!!! It’s unbelievable how immersive a standard display can be when coupled with a camera and two LED lights! Check it out NOW!!

    How about GCD & OpenCL optimized Final Cut Express and iLife apps (I’m sure the pro apps will get it soon if not already). Yeah, it’s not part of 10.7 but I’m still waiting for them!

    Well that’s all I can think of for new stuff that 10.7 might have. Any other thoughts !?!


  4. Andrew says:

    I’d like to see the ability to switch between sleep modes (suspend to RAM and suspend to disk). Right now I use a utility for it, but with 10.6 it is a lot less convenient than it was with 10.5 (the utility, not suspending).

  5. DaveD says:

    I would like to have Windowshading back. Exposé and Spaces are not convenient enough. I want to use the mouse to peek at a window behind a window. I have not used Snow Leopard’s Finder to see if a folder when opened presents my desired view, size, and position. It has been an ongoing issue from the first Mac OS X and was finally working well in Tiger. Opening a folder in Leopard’s Finder tends to be a hit-or-miss situation.

    I do use Path Finder for admin work only for its wealth of information.

  6. dfs says:

    It’s easy enough to run your eye down a list of top-selling shareware utilities and see things Apple could and probably should incorporate into OSX. Sure, Default Folder X is one of these. You’ll also see, for example, various implementations of multiple clipboards, hot-key creators which allow you to get some use out of your keyboard’s f-keys (Keyboard Maestro is my favorite), launcher apps., window shading and the like, and indeed it is a puzzle that Apple hasn’t either purchased some of these from their developers or introduced its own equivalents. After all, some of the things I have just listed were features of OS-9, and it’s only reasonable to think that Apple ought to supply them as part of OSX. Also, one of the few ways in which Windows appears to better than OSX is that it seems to come with a bigger toolkit of maintenance, diagnostic and repair utilities. Apple gives a copy of Tech Tool Deluxe to anybody who purchases Apple Care, why not distribute it to all OS purchasers (and maybe they should put out something like Cocktail or Onyx too). And some current OSX features could stand a lot of improvement. For instance, I’d like to see a new kind of Spaces which is project-oriented rather than application-oriented, so that it could handle gracefully the situation of having different windows open in different spaces by the same application, and accurately remember their placement. Personally, I have very limited use for an application-oriented approach. But when all these things are said and done, and a lot of other tweaks are made too, there’s still nothing with the “wow factor“ that equals previous innovations like Expose, Windows, and Time Machine. To be successful, OSX 7 will need one killer new feature that makes us all says “I gotta have this.” A new equivalent of the Finder? Okay, that would be nice for those users who are dissatisfied with the present one. But how many people like that are there? Must people accept the present one and would have difficulty imagining anything else, and I’m not sure I don’t fit into that category myself. No, Apple needs at least one thing that catches us all by surprise, delights and amazes us, and riffing around among the things the shareware world has to offer right now probably provides no clue what this might be.

  7. dfs says:

    B. t. w., here’s one to add to the list of possible improvements: build an audio equalizer into the Sound control panel, so it could be used with any sound source, not just i-Tunes. This would let you use your Mac as a genuine preamplifier.

  8. Alec says:

    While some of the features of Default Folder are nifty, by running deep hacks like Default Folder you seriously risk the stability of your computer. There have been certain versions of Default Folder which run fairly stably with certain versions of OS X, but even .1 iteration can throw stability out the window.

    Thanks but no thanks to any bauble which will make my system less stable when one upgrades and require special feeding and watering.

    Moreover, Default Folder’s core functionality is now in Apple’s open and save dialogues. Did you know that you can:

    * just drop a file from the finder into an open and save dialogue to open it?
    * just drop a folder from the finder into an open and save dialogue to instantly save into that folder?
    * Apple builds in quite a good recent locations these days.

    Those three features cover the core of the original Default Folder.

    Jon’s problem with selling Default Folder might have something to do with his aggressive pricing: more than the price of Snow Leopard for a single small utility.

    PS. Some of the commenters here run Haxies. Anyone willing to run haxies really isn’t interested in system stability and probably enjoys troubleshooting .kext conflicts so my points above would not apply to them.

  9. Rick Barrett says:

    Very good ideas here. I just have one comment. Apple has a $29Billion cash hoard that could be used to purchase software or companies outright. And, because they are still undermining their developers by not disclosing important details when they release a new OS, they break a lot of the functionality of some very good an popular tools, but don’t replace them within the new implementation. WindowShade X is an excellent example of this. Apple can’t even figure out that 90% of the people with high-resolution screens would like both scroll arrows at the top an bottom of the scroll bar. Why do I have to move 1100 pixels down the screen to tweak a window? This should be an easy to implement option… [I believe the main reason is they don’t want it in the iPhone] They even hired the guy who did “Double Scroll” in the Mac OS days. But, have since killed the idea. I think that the unfortunate truth is that Apple is loosing its bead on Mac OSX with phone and tablets and such as distractions. Organizations suffer a problem in that they get the “not invented here” or a sort of religious conviction that nothing they do could be improved and that they are just “right” about some decision. Microsoft had this problem in spades when they released Vista. And, you can see the results. Look at how they handled Windows 7 and you can see why a lot of people are saying they have out done Apple in their innovation and implementation. But, the interesting point is Windows 7 is seen as “fixing” a lot of little problems and is actually more compatible with Windows XP than Vista was. My concern is that 10.7 will be all about the tablet and leave the desktop and laptop users with a ton of useless touch-screen solutions with no touch-screens. I doubt Apple can or will even see this problem. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  10. BrianP says:

    When I have been to the Apple store recently I seemed to hear the same things from their customers. All of them had questions that they felt frustrated they had to come to the Apple store to solve. How about something like this?

    1. Direct help with a genius? Dedicated iChat technical support and remote control to fix issues. If third parties are doing this, why not Apple? They only reason I see that they push people to the store is that they probably make sales because of it.
    2. Better game/console support. Don’t force 3rd parties to support streaming to xbox/ps3. Allow the Mac to be compliant with all consoles so it becomes a better player of the “hub” concept that Mr. Jobs spoke about. Focus on supporting games developers so that they can use all the raw power that these high end systems have. Why can xbox 360 gain such a quick following? Because they are responding to peoples desire to have fun and play games. Why not license ps3/xbox360 OS and allow people to connect to TVS or monitors to play. This would be a win/win for everyone. Its well known that Microsoft prefers selling software than hardware, and with their high 360 failure rate might even increase their market share.
    3. Projection. Why not add a mini pico projector built in? Imagine what an impressive presentation people could give with those, and gamers would buy them by the ton. Games would want to be compatible with that because of the Gee-Wow factor.
    4. Easy fail-over. With the failure rates of the Time Capsule out of warranty, there should be an easy failover for all mac devices. if they sense another compatible mac device on the network, it should automatically configure the other device and send a warning to an administrative email or broadcast a message to everyone on the network. If the wireless Time Capsule device died, and there was another one or an Airport Express, it should switch over rather than go down. Considering that Apple considers itself a “consumer company” then it should make it easy as possible to have reliable internet/network connectivity.

    I have tons of other ideas, but this is a start.

  11. Larry says:

    We don’t need more features. No current operating system needs more features. We need stability and performance, period. The simple fact is that 99% of users don’t want or use most of the crap that’s built into the OS. So-called “power” users are responsible for feature glut and code bloat. These types always want one more option, one more preference, one more feature. OS developers should concentrate on stability, performance, and ease of use. Ignore the endless requests of the geeks, techno dweebs, and “power” users. They drag us all down with their one-more-thing mindset. I’m tired of it.

  12. Sid Farcus says:

    So Gene, I’m curious. What do you consider to be the most interesting and useful features of Snow Leopard?

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