Leopard: Evolution, Not Revolution

As you have surely noticed by now, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs held his keynote speech yesterday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. So far, the responses have been mixed; I have seen a lot of excitement, but also a lot of disappointment. Personally, I am not really sure where I stand.

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The keynote kicked off with what may be the most significant announcement of all: the return of the Macintosh as a gaming platform. Electronic Arts announced that many of its top titles will be simultaneously released on both Mac and PC, which is a major step up from how things used to be. In addition, living legend John Carmack hinted at a major Mac related announcement in the future, which will most likely be quite similar to EA’s announcement.

Forget the transparent menu bar, virtual desktops, and the iPhone’s glorified scripts applications: the gaming announcement was the most significant part of the keynote yesterday. PC gaming has been a Windows thing mostly, and seeing two of the great gaming houses commit themselves to the Mac is about as great a validation as a gaming platform you can get. This will open up a whole new can of possible switchers.


Steve Jobs showed 10 of the 300 new features coming in Leopard. Most of these are things we already saw a year ago at WWDC, so I will skip those, mostly.

Time Machine is still not what I expected it to be; contrary to Previous Versions/Volume Shadow Copy in Vista, it requires an additional internal or external hard drive, and while this makes sense if you look at Time Machine as a purely back up solution, it does not make sense if you look at Time Machine as a revision control system. I tend to look at Time Machine as the latter, and hence I want to be able to access previous revisions of my files without dedicating an entire hard drive to it. I was hoping ZFS would be used for this, but contrary to what Jonathan Schwartz said, there has been no official word on ZFS, yet.

This, by the way, does not mean I do not like Time Machine; I just think it could have (should have?) been a lot more.

Steve Jobs said that Leopard would have a new desktop, so I expected something really ‘big’ to appear on the presentation screen. Instead, we got a transparent global menu bar, and a dock that appears to be copied almost exactly from Sun’s Project Looking Glass. It looks very slick, but to call this a new desktop is stretching it – to put it mildly.

The really interesting feature of that new desktop is the Stacks feature. The idea is, as usual, anything but new (let’s face it, it is a glorified directory on the dock, I can do the same thing on just about any OS’s panel), but the implementation is done in the usual Apple way: slick, sexy, and probably, infinitely useful.

A third feature I want to touch on is the new Finder. Long overdue, but now, they have finally done it. I personally never had that many problems with the ‘old’ Finder (apart from how doing anything related to networking would bring Finder to a halt), but I have heard a lot of complaints about it. Personally, I think the new Finder looks better, and the sidebar appears to be a lot more useful and flexible.

I am not sure about the use of the Cover Flow view, though. Of course, it looks slick and all, but I do not see the usefulness. I can see this being useful for browsing directories full of photos and image files, but for other files, I’m not so sure. However, this could very well be one of those things you really need to try first hand in order for it to make sense. In other words, I will reserve judgement on this feature until I have used it.

Another ‘feature’ worth mentioning is how Leopard will be 64bit, top to bottom. Initially, there was some confusion; will Leopard still run on 32bit machines? There is no explicit mention of this, but common sense obviously dictates that Leopard will indeed still run on 32bit machines, despite the lack of any specific remarks concerning this issue.

Steve’s claim that Leopard will be the first 64bit operating system capable of running 32bit and 64bit applications side-by-side is of course completely bonkers. Windows’ 64bit versions have had this capability since Windows XP 64bit Edition (for the Itanium, 2001), which was later perfected in Windows XP Professional x64 Edition in 2005.

Concerning drivers, Apple does have a point. Windows’ 64bit version require special 64bit drivers, while Leopard can run both 32bit and 64bit drivers.

I saved the best for last: for me, personally, one of the biggest ‘features’ is the consolidation of all the different Mac OS X themes into one, standard theme. I would have preferred if they chose another theme than the plastic look (I do not like it all that much), but it is already infinitely better than having 35093 different themes on your desktop. I hope application developers will adopt the new style and update their applications as quickly as possible.

…but not revolution

Overall, I think Leopard will be a fine, solid release, just like Tiger was. It will bring a lot of refinements, some welcome new features, while also resolving some long-standing issues such as the Finder and the lack of graphical consistency. On top of this, Leopard will see a plethora of under-the-hood changes (Core Animation, dtrace, ZFS, and so on) which alone will make Leopard a very worthwhile point (!) release.

However, where are those top secret features? Steve surely cannot say with a straight face that Leopard’s top secret features are a transparent menu bar and a prettier dock with reflections and directories on it? Do not get me wrong, I will buy Leopard the moment it becomes available (just like I did with Tiger, during a release party), but overall, it does not seem as if Leopard is as revolutionary as Apple made it out to be.

The only question remaining for me is how well Leopard will sail on my old PowerMac Cube. Apple has done an amazing job when it comes to performance; each release was actually faster than the previous one, and I hope Leopard will continue this excellent trend.

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