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The Lame Leopard

As promised, Apple introduced their next operating system, Mac OS X Leopard at the WWDC Keynote today. What I think of it should be evident if you bothered to read the title of this post.

But first, lets start with the stuff I *did* like. Yeah, I’m talking about the digs at Microsoft:

“Redmond has a cat, too. A copycat.”

“Mac OS X Leopard – Introducing Vista 2.0.”

“Mac OS X Leopard – Hasta la vista, Vista.”

“Redmond, start your photocopiers.”

“If you can’t innovate, impersonate.”

Some of these sayings speak of positive genius – genius that could have been better employed elsewhere, say, in the development of Mac OS X Leopard. And, unfortunately, it’s time to start talking about that.

The first thing that was said: “There are some top-secret features that we can’t show you – can’t have those photocopiers started too early”. Sorry, not buying that. We all know fully well that Vista is nearly at a release candidate stage and Microsoft would simply be unable to “copy” anything that they showed today. In fact, any major improvements they could showcase would only add to Microsoft’s pains as they’d be totally impotent to do anything about them. I read Apple’s claim as “Wow! They really did release some decent stuff in Vista! We’ll try and come up with some cooler stuff by next spring.”

Moving on to the ten features of Leopard that were actually touted.

64-bit UI Applications: You can now have 64-bit apps at the UI layer, as opposed to the Unix layer in Tiger. I’m really not sure about where this makes a difference. 64-bit and 32-bit apps can coexist peacefully without need for emulation or slowdowns apparently. Which is good, I’m glad to hear it – but no less than I would have expected (if it *were* to create problems, there wouldn’t be a reason for Apple to move to 64-bit since nobody at the desktop/laptop level probably uses them). Fair enough.

Time Machine: This is a system which will essentially keep backups of *all* your data. Its basically like storing the entire hard drive as a SVN repository, which tracks changes on a per-change basis. So you can move “back in time” for a particular file, or a folder, or your entire drive. So, for example, you can check out what was on your desktop a week ago. Sounds cool, right?

First, did some of the photocopiers start working in reverse? Vista already has this feature – previous versions of files. Apple, of course, conveniently chose to avoid mentioning that fact.

Secondly, it’s pretty obvious that this kind of mechanism would lead to horribly inefficient usage of storage space. That is the biggest concern to me. In the keynote they showed how photos you deleted a week ago could be undeleted by moving the iPhoto library back in time. This is serious. Lets say I filled my 2 GB SD card with photos, copied them to my hard drive, and later deleted 75% of those photos as snaps I did not want. But hey, I can recover them anytime, so they’re still taking up space, right? While I’m sure this kind of thing will be configurable and backups to network will be possible somehow; this kind of thing is usually a mess. I would be much more comfortable with an opt-in mechanism which says – here are the folders I want to keep safe (say, Documents) and the rest can be ignored. Thats what I do with my research and document folders – I keep them in an online SVN repository.

There are animations you can watch as you roll-back Finder windows in time; and while I’m pretty sure they’re cool to watch, I’m pretty sure they’re cool only once. Nobody is going to buy a Mac and spend his or her time looking at how beautifully a folder’s look changes as it goes back in history. More to the point, I am not sure this feature (which is a big thing for Leopard, judging by the amount of time they spent on it at the keynote) is solving a real problem. Yes, people are bitten by lack of making backups but not so often. And I’m not sure how many would be willing to trade drive space for this. Personally if I had a choice the first thing I would do to the Time Machine is to point it back to 5,000 B.C. and command it to stay there.

Boot camp, Front Row, Photobooth: Apparently will be enhanced and delivered in a “complete” package with Leopard. No evidence of new features presented. Yawn.

Virtual Desktops: Apple calls this “spaces”, and of course, they were discussed at the keynote as if the “intuitive” idea of clustering apps together had never occurred to anyone before. And hey, did you know you could drag information from one virtual desktop to another? I wonder if Steve Jobs’ famous reality distortion field could distort the fact that Red Hat Linux had virtual desktops in like 1999. Not to mention DesktopManager, a cool app that allows limited virtual desktop usability for the Mac.

Spotlight: Apparently spotlight will be able to search computers on your network if it has permissions. Gee, did Apple actually find a way to SSH into one machine, run mdfind and return it to another machine given authentication? Wow! That must have been keeping them busy since before Tiger was released! Oh, and just so you know, Apple is working hard to convert Spotlight into a “great app launcher”. QuickSilver developers at BlackTree, you have my sympathy; but I can’t say this was unexpected.

Core Animation: So last time it was Core Image which would enable fast rendering of images, and this time it’s animation. You can write a screensaver in half the lines of code. Automatic figuring out of keyframes, opacity, layers etc. Not too bad, but still mostly for developers.

Text-to-speech: This is the first feature that I would really want to have. According to the keynote coverage, the engine produces very human-like sound. Apple is touting it for accessibility, but I think this would be perfect for reading e-books, a market that rumor has it Apple is going to get into soon.

PIM features: Remember all those nifty features in your PDA phone? Well, now you can have them on your Mac, improved! I cannot believe the amount of fuss that was made about to-do lists, sending mails to yourself and keeping them as “notes” and embedding “stationery” (a.k.a. embedded images with HTML markup) in outgoing mail messages. At one point the presented was quoted as saying “It’s that easy to create ToDo’s!” Like only an Einstein could do it before Leopard came along. But yeah, maybe I’m being a bit unfair here. As a devoted citizen of the command line, I manage my life with text files, and use Thunderbird or GMail and Google calendar. I suppose these features would be a real benefit to people who believe in the Apple way.

Dashboard: New developer tools, with debugging and what-have-you. No mention of performance which is a sore point with Dashboard if you’ve ever used it. When you startup your computer and run it for the first time it stares blankly at you while it loads for 20-30 seconds depending on how many widgets you have open. There is an option for an easy way to generate widgets from live webpages which I thought was actually quite cool.

Enhanced iChat: You can show photos to another person while talking in iChat, which is decent (why, oh why, couldn’t they have come up with a whiteboard in iChat?). There are tabbed windows, nothing new.

Other misc stuff – video as a desktop background, XCode 3.0, dramatically enhanced parental controls (yeah, right).

I couldn’t believe it when the coverage ended and it left me feeling totally hollow. Long story short, there is not a single thing in Leopard that will make me wait for it, or even buy it. Except, of course when it’s a few months into Leopard and all the new Mac apps start mysteriously requiring OS X 10.5.x. Apple is known for it’s innovation but remarkably little of it showed today. Although I don’t use Spotlight and Dashboard all that much, when they came out with the release of Tiger, it was exciting, a whole new way to use the computer. That feeling isn’t there with 10.5. The Leopard, as showcased, is lame.

Update: If my post was too wordy for you, give AC’s hilarious poem on the same subject a try!