Editor’s Note: This article was written ahead of Apple’s release Thursday morning of a Developer Preview of Mac OS X Lion. Over the next few days, as further word comes forth about the new features, we’ll see just how much our hopes and dreams have been fulfilled.
The MacBook Pro has received its expected refresh, and as the media prepares for the release of the next iconic iPad at next week’s special event, there’s talk once again about yet another major release from Apple. At last October’s Back to the Mac presentation, you saw the first glimmerings of the next version of Mac OS X, code-named Lion. But the brief demonstration raised more questions than it answered.
The new features on display were, in large part, derived from the iOS, an expected development. But most were mostly eye candy that probably don’t offer a large amount of improvement in your productivity. The best two of the lot appear to be, at long last, a system-wide ability to automatically save your documents, and to auto-resume apps when you want to relaunch them. Both features, plus Version, which stores different “states” of your document, will require updates to your apps. As to auto-save, there have been utilities offering that feature on the Mac dating back to the early days. You only wonder why it took Apple so long to glom onto this very useful feature.
The iOS-style app launch display doesn’t impress me. Unless you can pick and choose which ones appear, you’re apt to have dozens and dozens of pages of those things, which works against easy organization. But it certainly looks nice.
So there are now published reports that Apple is ramping up development of Lion toward the promised summer release (confirmed by release of a Developer Preview), and that the key features might include significant changes to the user interface. Now from the early days of Aqua and Mac OS X, changes up till now have been relatively minor. The look and feel has been smoothed, and seems less jarring, more elegant. The question is whether Apple plans to take the theme further in the present direction, or devise something totally different. Will it offer the requisite “Wow!” factor? Time will tell.
The other issue is whether Apple plans to make any drastic alterations to the OS plumbing, but that seems doubtful. That was the purpose of Snow Leopard, and, at this point, it would be more comforting for developers not to have to change things all over again. I also expect Apple’s system architects planned on 10.6’s fundamentals to last for at least a few reference releases.
In saying that, perhaps there will be needed enhancements here and there to the security model, such as sandboxing all apps (which is already done in the iOS), and other features that those who want a safer Mac will crave. These aren’t sexy features, but as Macs penetrate further into the business world, you can bet that system admins will require the most secure environment possible. Yes, I know that there haven’t been any widescale Mac OS X malware infections, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. More to the point, the Mac is the “IT” platform right now as far as traditional personal computers are concerned. What’s more, Apple has hired additional security professionals, and their ideas will likely be incorporated into new OS releases.
Past the pomp and circumstance, and the under-the-hood improvements, I would hope Apple will consider needed changes to all or most of the core features of Mac OS X, such as the Finder and Open/Save dialogs. The Finder remains controversial. It gets better and better, but is always missing that last element of spit and polish. After a decade, you can’t even depend on a Finder window retaining the preset location and position. It would also be nice to have more sort options for Column View. I find myself returning to List View more and more often when managing my stuff.
The Open/Save dialog, though more Finder-like these days, remains underutilized. I have long suggested that Apple’s OS engineers should take inspiration from Jon Gotow’s DefaultFolder X. From automatic rebound, to the ability to actually rename a file within the dialog, I continue to wonder why Apple hasn’t simply offered Jon a job, and licensed his app. Maybe Apple’s interface designers will find ways to improve the spit and the polish, but there’s a lot of meat and potatoes in that utility. Unfortunately, DefaultFolder X doesn’t get the proper respect behind a modest user base of power users and content creators.
Worse, many Mac users avoid Open/Save. To launch a document, they double-click a Finder icon, even if the appropriate app is already open. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used these “obscure” words, “Choose Open from the File menu,” and heard responses that usually began with long pauses, and ended with, “What’s that?”
I’ve also been lobbying for years for an improved Help model. Not that dreaded Balloon Help of Mac OS 7, but something for the 21st century that is truly helpful, perhaps employing fuzzy logic to assess your skill levels based on the information you seek, and offering the assistance you truly need. It’s unfortunate that lots of really useful OS features go underutilized simply because they aren’t readily discovered.