Sure, Apple's 'Leopard' Is Overhyped -- But Here's Why It Matters Anyway - InformationWeek

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10/25/2007
05:27 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Sure, Apple's 'Leopard' Is Overhyped -- But Here's Why It Matters Anyway

The Apple community is giving Leopard the lite version of the hype orgy that the iPhone received four months ago. All this for a mere software dot-release. It's easy for a sensible person to dismiss the whole thing as flummery, but in fact there are some meaty new benefits to Leopard that are worth looking forward to.

The Apple community is giving Leopard the lite version of the hype orgy that the iPhone received four months ago. All this for a mere software dot-release. It's easy for a sensible person to dismiss the whole thing as flummery, but in fact there are some meaty new benefits to Leopard that are worth looking forward to.

Leopard is all over the Apple blogs. And Apple is exercising its dramatic flair, putting Leopard all over its Web site and devoting the home page to a big, second-by-second countdown clock to Leopard's availability.

But Leopard isn't all hype. There's some intriguing new features that make the operating system worth looking forward to.

For those looking for a sneak peek, check out this video guided tour of Leopard. In the tour, "John," a hairy-armed man who says he's an employee of an Apple retail store, and who obviously raided Steve Jobs's wardrobe for black mock-turtle shirts, provides several minutes of overview of what to expect in Leopard.

The Mail client is getting the upgrades that I'm most looking forward to. Nothing huge and monumental, just a few of the quiet little feature upgrades that make using a Mac a pleasure.

"Data Detectors" will allow Mail to automatically detect text, including contact information and invitations to events, and automatically insert that information into, respectively, the Address Book or iCal calendar.

The new Mail application will include a notepad that allows users to jot notes to themselves. Users can include to-dos in the notes, and have those to-dos automatically synced with the to-do manager in iCal. The Mail application seems, to me, to be an odd place to include a notepad, but John the video guy explains that it's designed for people who now send e-mail messages to themselves as reminders.

I'm hopeful that the notepad in Mail will synch with the same application on the iPhone. Right now, there's no simple way to get notes from the iPhone to the desktop, other than mailing them. And the iPhone calendar doesn't include a to-do manager. I'd love for that to change when Leopard comes out. There's no real evidence that it will -- but there is a tantalizing hint: The notepad application in Mail looks, in the video demo, like the notepad on the iPhone, with the same yellow legal-pad background and handwriting font.

Apple plans to upgrade the iChat chat software with new video-chat capabilities which will make video iChat more appealing as a collaboration tool. Users will be able to share their desktop screens while in video chat, and everyone in the chat will be able to make changes to the shared desktop.

In the demo in the guided tour video, the shared desktop takes up most of the video window, with the other person's face occupying a small corner of the window. The demo reminded me of my early days as a reporter -- my first editors would call me over to their desks when editing my articles, and have me sit next to them, and they'd explain each change as they were making the changes. (The editors would then look over at me pityingly, as though they were trying to remember how drunk they were when they made the foolish decision to hire a lox such as myself. Good times, good times.) I don't work in the same office as my editors anymore, so I don't get the benefit of that kind of close interaction. Video chat, and desktop-sharing, like the technology demonstrated in Leopard, can help bring those days back.

Some of the other new features in Leopard already have been covered in depth, in many places, so I won't belabor them:

  • The Dock gets a new look, like a flat surface with icons standing on it.

  • A feature called Stacks allows users to see a single icon in the dock representing an entire folder. Click on the icon and the contents of the folder displays in a fan. That's handy for users, like me, whose desktops are normally a disorganized collection of downloaded files and e-mail attachments.

  • The Finder gets Coverflow, like iTunes, where you can browse through thumbnails of documents in a folder like riffling through a stack of papers (of course, you use your mouse for the riffling, rather than your thumb).

  • Finder gets an improved sidebar to access files and folders on the Mac and local network. The sidebar also includes Places, for frequently accessed folders, locations, and saved searches. The Finder is starting to look a lot like iTunes.

  • Quick Look lets you see the contents of documents without opening the application that created them.

  • Time Machine lets you back up and restore the entire Mac to an external USB or Firewire disk, and then access old versions of files, or folders, or roll back the whole system to an old state, using an innovative 3-D interface to visualize time.

  • Indeed, 3-D is further integrated into the operating system in a lot of ways. Time Machine, Coverflow, and the Dock are all examples of 3-D interfaces. Even the drop shadows that designate the application window on the desktop that has the current focus are more prominent.

  • Spaces is virtual-desktop software that allows the user to save settings of application windows for different tasks, and switch between them. For example, a Web designer might have one Space (or desktop) containing just Dreamweaver for design, and a Web browser to view the results of work, while other applications -- Mail, a word processor, etc. -- live on other virtual desktops.

  • And Boot Camp, now in beta, becomes part of Leopard. That's bad news for some of the people using the current beta software for free; they'll have to upgrade to Leopard for $129 to continue enjoying Boot Camp.

Leopard goes on sale at 6 p.m. local time in all time zones tomorrow. I plan to be at the Apple Store tomorrow night to pick up copies for me and my wife.

How about you? Are you looking forward to Leopard?

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