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The 10.7 Report: More of the Same?

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.