My thoughts on Leopard

Apple announced the final bits and bobs that will be in Leopard, the next release of OS X, at the Apple Developers’ Conference yesterday. I thought it would be interesting to note my thoughts on it down, amongst several thousand other people. I’m not sure whether I can re-publish screenshots from Apple’s site — I presume not — so you’ll have to follow the links for pictures and videos.

Before I begin, I can’t resist a slight moan. I was disappointed with the Safari 3 beta version for Windows. It’s simply woefully incomplete for a beta: it doesn’t support proxy servers yet. It also crashed when I tried to browse to our internal TWiki site. Somewhat uninspiring.

I wasn’t overly impressed with Time Machine when I first saw it. Recently, I’ve grown to see its value more. I’ve been coding the ruby for dx13 without a version control system, which feels a little foolhardy and scary, even on such a small code base. I realised the value of Time Machine when it struck me: this is how normal people use computers all the time. They can’t go back to yesterday’s or last week’s version of their all important document. Why have we, as programmers, been working in a world where we can go back to any version of our code base, and yet we haven’t before produced a simple, home-user version of this? Now everyone need not be so scared of Word; if it screws up, they can go back in time.

Most of the Finder, Desktop and Spaces features feel like progressions. On the one hand, they take OS X back to way ahead of Vista in eye-candy, on the other they are not miracles of innovation. I think their combination will be far greater than the sum of the parts, however, and together they will create a very pleasant environment to work in. Stacks and Quick Look are prime examples of this, making working smoother and faster, even though not breakthroughs in themselves.

Taken together, the new features in Leopard at the UI level are a larger jump from Tiger than Vista is from XP; they really can change the way you interact with the computer out-of-the-box.

I found the Dock’s new reflective appearance interesting, mostly because it means that the Dock’s window must now be aware of other windows (so it can reflect them). In a compositing window manager, windows are usually completely oblivious to other windows, so this is quite a big change. I wonder if this is a special Dock thing, or whether other applications will be able to do such things: an ability for software to be able to read details from your bank’s website when you view your statement (using OCR to read the grabbed window, for example) sounds like a recipe for trouble.

Update: I’m aware it’s easy to pull screen grabs from any operating system using basic API calls, therefore this point isn’t correct. I guess I was blinded by the compositing manager… I remembered this about ten minutes after I posted, but unfortunately I was having a beer in the sunshine by that time! So an update too late to appear intelligent, which is better than nothing. Smacks head.

Overall, I think there are enough new features and polished old features (finally Finder gets previews that look nice!) to justify the upgrade. All the features together will make an environment that feels safe and pleasant to work in, which is what an operating system is there for. Top marks for concentrating on the user, unlike some others (I’m looking at you, Vista).

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