With millions of Leopard users, and more coming along faster than many so-called analysts predicted, we devoted this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, in part, to that subject.
Noted Mac author Ted Landau gave you a detailed tour of Leopard’s “Share Screen” feature. It’s great, when it works that is. But not everything is as clear-cut as it should be, with settings spread across as many as three separate preference panels. But if Apple can fix the rough edges, it’s going to be a killer feature. You may never need the third party options again, except, of course, if your other Macs are using older system versions.
Cutting-edge columnist Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, covered the myths and realities of Leopard and the press coverage of Apple Inc. It does seem that more than a few of those tech columnists have their own hidden agendas to trash the companies they hate and praise the ones they favor — or invest in? — without regard to the facts. Daniel is a master at dissecting the facts from the fiction, which is why he’s a regular on the show.
In addition, now that Apple has heeded lots and lots of requests and permitted you to install Mac OS X Server in a “virtual machine,” Benjamin Rudolph of Parallels explained what this development means for the business marketplace. You’ll also heard an update on the promise and reality of Leopard security with former industry analyst Rich Mogull. It seems Apple has succeeded in delivering some of the enhancements touted in the Leopard feature set, but some of these things are only half-formed, at least so far.
And Denis Motova explained the plusses and minuses of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. To be sure, Denis isn’t a fan of this marketing methodology, but it’s worth at least some experimentation to see if it might meet your needs.
Coming November 18: Documentary filmmaker and UFO researcher Paul Kimball explains why the UFO field needs a major overhaul.
Coming November 25: Researcher Richard M. Dolan, author of “UFOs and the National Security State.”
I suppose it’s really easy to become bored with all the stories that have been written about Leopard. I mean how many times can you read the same descriptions of Time Machine and Spaces before you, well, space out?
Yes, you and I know full well that Leopard has a few rough spots, and no doubt Apple is working quite hard to smooth things out. I’ve previously stated in various places that I expect the first update, no doubt to be called 10.5.1, will probably appear by December 1st, or even earlier. No, not because I’m somehow privy to any inside information. I’m just using previous system versions as a guide as to when the first maintenance release will appear.
While all that’s going on, I think it’s a good time to take stock of what we got with Leopard, and what’s missing, so we an begin one of the early wish lists for Mac OS 10.6.
Now it’s quite possible we won’t have to wait 30 months for its release this time. In recent comments, Steve Jobs returned to the 12 to 18 month time-frame, and, unless Apple has something up its sleeve — in the fashion of a successor to the iPhone and/or iPod — maybe their operating system developers can deal with a single goal post rather than two or three this time.
Maybe that’s the reason Leopard seemed a little scattered in some respects.
As with any so-called list of this sort, of course, you never know what Apple is actually cooking in its testing labs. It’s quite possible that their smart developers have even better ideas in mind. More to the point, when I express these concepts for new features and improvements to existing ones, I’m going to confine myself to the raw concept, not to the final execution. For that, feel free to chime in with your comments, particularly those of you who have done some programming. I’d be curious to see how some of these things might be implemented.
So, in no particular order, let the games begin:
- Time Machine: Despite some raggedness, it’s a terrific start. I set it up for a client the other day, just by plugging in his brand new external FireWire drive and accepting the prompt to use that device for backups. As with many of you, this particular client was neglectful about backups. No longer. But while Time Machine is a wonderful tool to find the file or files you mistakenly deleted, or which got trashed somehow, it’s not so good about recovering an entire drive. For that, you need to break out your Leopard DVD, restart from it, and use its Restore feature, which can be time-consuming. The third-party alternatives, such as SuperDuper! (which will have its Leopard-compatible version out soon), can create bootable clones. Apple needs to get with the program come 10.6.
- Finder: It’s so much better in Leopard, particularly in dealing with the operations that used to generate spinning beachballs, that I’m loathe to suggest changes. But I will anyway. You see, the Finder still suffers from amnesia about remembering size and layout settings, which is something I suppose Apple could fix in a forthcoming 10.5.x updater. The same holds true for being able to change the size of the Sidebar labels, which might be rather small for some of you. However, I’d really like to see them work a little harder to eliminate some more of the performance hangups. Try, for example, launching a couple of applications while copying separate files to different drives and you’ll see what I mean. But it’s a whole lot better than the Tiger Finder.
- Open/Save Dialogs: With each version, it comes closer and closer to a mirror image of the Finder. But I’d also like to see an equivalent to some of the features you see in Default Folder X, such as being able to move and/or delete files, and rebound to the previously opened file or folder. I’ve been pushing for that in a number of wish lists, and I’m not giving up.
- More Active Help System: This is the linchpin of making the novice Mac user a skilled power user in record time, or at least taking a big move in that direction. It would start with a few checkboxes in the setup assistant where you declare your level of Mac expertise. Once you’ve done that, the Help system would adapt to the kind of work you do, and the things you need to do in order to get your work done more efficiently. It may, for example, suggest things you could do on an active basis with helpful dialogs (which you are free to dismiss as you prefer). It might even work with Automator to build workflows behind the scenes in order to help you become more productive. Some of you are concerned about the background processes and stolen CPU time, in case you have 3D rendering on your mind. But, as I said, you could turn the feature off if need be, or the operating system could take the appropriate action if your CPU requirements soared past a given level.
- Real 3D Support: No, I don’t mean more silly eye-candy. While I have no problems at all with the 3D Dock (or the translucent menu bar for that matter), it’s all window dressing. It looks cool and all, but it doesn’t really take advantage of the z-axis, which is the depth component of a 3D image. Now I know that my friend and colleague, David Biedny, has made a big deal of this during his appearances on my tech radio show, and I have to say I agree with him. You could, for example, age document files by having them fade level by level. If you want to have the virtual desktop mirror the physical one, there are loads of fascinating possibilities to consider. Leopard already exploits the graphics hardware that provides appropriate support, but doesn’t follow through in an imaginative way that could change the personal computing paradigm for anther generation. But remember that you have to consider functionality rather than just appearance, for otherwise it’ll end up being just another set silly visual effects.
- iChat and Regular Phone Lines: Let’s compare Skype to iChat. They both offer solid audio and video connections to individuals or groups. Since the Leopard updates, iChat now offers comparable sound quality, and it possesses some fancy eye-candy and screen sharing too, but Skype trumps it with the ability to send and receive calls from regular phone networks. Even better, Apple doesn’t have to build its own phone network to accomplish this chore. They already partner with the world’s largest traditional phone company, AT&T. Receiving phone calls might be a free accommodation, with an extra charge for outgoing calls. Sure, Skype isn’t a big money maker, but, for Apple, it would just be a value-added extra that would pay for itself and provide a little extra income to cover expenses and make their phone company provider happier. You can see where, for example, AT&T might sell special bundles featuring wireless service and iChat integration, and Apple’s international partners could offer the same capability. What’s more, you don’t have to wait for 10.6 for this to happen. The update could be separated from the operating system, just as iTunes is now.
Sure, this is just a very, very short list. Apple is going to want to deliver a Keynote presentation with 250 to 300 changes and enhancements for 10.6, so there’s lots more to talk about. And I haven’t even begun to speculate which feline Apple will use as its marketing name.
There are some who firmly believe that Google, with its huge reserves and marketing savvy, may well be on its way to becoming more dangerous than Microsoft in the technology marketplace. It’s not that everything they’ve touched turns to gold, but by putting a lot of their key products in a perpetual beta cycle, they are constantly getting better and better. In some respects, they are even approaching world-class status.
Now I expect a lot of you are already using Gmail, which has expanded from an invite-only status, to a service that’s available to anyone who signs up.
As a free service, it’s pretty good, with, at present, more than 4.8GB of online storage and more coming. That’s more than sufficient space to accommodate almost anyone’s mailbox, even mine. Recently, Google began rolling out IMAP support, which means that the contents of your mailbox reside on the server, so your email is automatically synchronized whether you check your messages online or via any email client.
Based on the IMAP feature alone, they trump Hotmail and Yahoo. But let’s go further: Microsoft’s spam filtering scheme, dubbed SmartScreen, is probably the dumbest system on the planet. It constantly flags good mail as so bad, it’s blocked from your mailbox completely, even the Spam folder. Itt takes many, many emails to Microsoft’s lame support system to set things right. Even then, there’s no guarantee of success. And, of course, the real spam is often overlooked.
Yahoo also has pathetic spam filtering technology that also flags bad messages as good, even when you try to train it. While I haven’t used Yahoo Mail in months, my Inbox was still inundated with junk when I checked it recently, such as the latest pathetic collection of “Buy discounted famous Swiss Rolex watches” offers.
Besides, even on Yahoo’s extra-cost plans, there’s still no IMAP support.
I had a Gmail account for ages, but, in recent weeks, I’ve given their Google Apps service a try. This service combines email with a host of online tools, including a basic set of business applications that are roughly compatible — but not feature-comparable — with Microsoft Office. No wonder Steve Ballmer gets red in the face whenever the word “Google” is mentioned. He has to be frightened to death at this point at what they’re doing to Microsoft, particularly when it comes to Web services.
The basic Google Apps package is free, with a mailbox comparable in size and features to Gmail. But you also have the ability to use your own custom domain for your email, just as you do now with your Web host or third party business mail service. All it involves is a change of the MX Records for your domain’s email setup, and Google provides instructions for most of the larger hosts and key host management software to make the job truly simple.
For $50 per year, per user, your mailbox is expanded to a whopping 25GB, and you receive value-added services, such as toll-free telephone support, a 99.9% uptime guarantee, and a number of other extras that make it a compelling alternative for business mail, collaboration and so forth and so on. As part of the package, you can also set up an account at Postini, which Google recently acquired, to allow for enhanced company security and message recovery services.
Microsoft Exchange? Why bother?
This isn’t to say that Google Apps is an all-encompassing solution for business mail. Aside from email, which works fine on any desktop client, including Apple Mail and Microsoft’s own Entourage for the Mac, the rest requires the Web interface. That’s fine in an of itself, but I’d hoped for more, such as integration with Apple’s Address Book. Well, at least the online calendar evidently works with iCal. What’s more, all of Google’s stuff is a work in progress, so you can bet the feature set will expand considerably in the months to come.
And, if nothing else, Google’s spam-filtering technology is truly state-of-the-art. In my extensive testing, it rarely flags a bad message as good and vice versa. And that might be reason enough to give them a try.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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