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  • Is it Time to Talk About OS 10.9?

    November 20th, 2012

    Over the past couple of weeks, some Web logging sources have detected what may be the first indications of the existence of an OS 10.9 testing program within Apple. This shouldn’t be surprising. If Apple stays on the path to annual OS X upgrades, it makes perfect sense that very preliminary versions of the next release are already being evaluated as feature additions and changes are considered.

    This week there’s a published report suggesting that Apple may be adding Siri voice recognition and Maps integration. While it would seem curious to expect turn-by-turn navigation on a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, it’s possible that technology would be used for integration with other apps. Siri would simply expand upon the existing Dictation capability in OS 10.8 Mountain Lion. But all of this comes from a single site that’s being widely quoted, even though there’s no evidence the story is true.

    And even if Apple is testing those features, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see them in the next version of OS X, although it would be in keeping with the enhanced integration with the iOS. The larger question would be how Apple might flesh out the feature set to tout 100 to 200 new features for Mountain Lion’s successor.

    If the timetable is similar to 10.8, you’ll learn the first meager details of 10.9 in February, and a full feature set and final beta will be released at the WWDC next June. That assumes the timetable remains annual. But predicting Apple’s intentions can be a losing game. Just as you begin to assume you have the pattern down pat, it’s changed.

    However, the real issue is how Apple might flesh out OS X, and to the extent to which iOS integration will continue. Already some Mac users have chafed over such changes, and it may well be that Snow Leopard, 10.6, has become Apple’s equivalent of Windows XP. It’s a perfectly useful OS, fast, reliable, and, most important, free of the irritating (to some) excesses of 10.7 and 10.8.

    Now I happen to think that this perceived irritation is misplaced. Yes, there are some changes that are designed to smooth the path to iOS and back again. Having apps with the same names, such as Calendar and Contacts, helps reduce confusion. But the objections are more in the way the interfaces have been changed.

    So consider the loss of the traditional scroll bars in OS X, and not displaying them (unless the setting is changed) until the cursor hovers over them. Reversing the scroll direction can also be confusing. Aping the iOS scheme, Apple calls it “natural,” and some of you might just call it a useless change. But there is that issue about consistency, and natural scrolling is easily turned off.

    I’m sure some of you are concerned about the way a potentially valuable feature, Auto Save, was implemented. Yes, having your document saved periodically in the background can prevent trouble if your app or even your Mac crashes for any reason. But when you just want to noodle with a document and not save any of the alterations, things get a tad complicated. The return of Save As in Mountain Lion was implemented in a questionable fashion, because the original, in addition to the document saved under a new name, would receive the changes made before Save As was invoked. But that questionable “feature” can now be unchecked in the Save As dialog, so the original is left unaltered. Apple does listen, at least sometimes.

    The real problem with Auto Save and Version, the feature that stores different sets of a document using Time Machine technology, is that few apps have received the updates required to support these features. Key productivity apps, such as the components of the Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office, only pay lip service to 10.7 and 10.8. This forces you to jump back and forth in save strategies, and such situations are ripe for confusion.

    Maybe Apple tried too hard. Auto Save features are already baked into some apps, and the handy utilities that add this function are global. They don’t require changes to an application, which means your workflow pattern doesn’t have to change.

    The other question about OS 10.9, which may be called Lynx (or maybe not) is human interface. Now that Sir Jonathan Ive, of minimalist intentions, has control over the look and feel, perhaps the OS X developer team will tame some of the interfaces excesses (such as in Contacts and Calendar) and the sometimes inconsistent look and feel. That should be a really positive development. The best advantage of OS X is that it can get out of the way and let you concentrate on your apps. In contrast, Windows 8 is the most “in your face” OS I’ve ever seen. I suppose Microsoft hasn’t begun to realize that you might use your PC for something other than running Office, or checking your Face-book and Twitter status.

    But perhaps the best thing Apple could do with OS 10.9, beyond smoothing the interface, is to go back to all those OS 8 and OS 9 features that were dropped over the years and seek a different sort of inspiration for the future.

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