The Great Mac OS X 10.4 Wish List

The best ever version of Mac OS X, 10.3 Panther, is now available. Panther includes more than 150 new features, enhancements and optimizations. However, anything that’s ‘great’ can become ‘near-perfect’ with a bit more effort, right? Read our 10.4 wish list and then use the comment section to post your own wish list for the next version of OSX. Apple engineers and product managers, take notice!

Expose’ Enhancement
Yes, Expose’ is really cool and functional. However, without mouse gestures to activate it or without a small set of buttons either in the notification area or the Dock, it makes it pretty far reaching for me. Call me lazy, but I prefer to use the mouse to do things rather than reaching the Fn keys on the keyboard (no, hot corners won’t cut it for me, they activate Expose accidentally too easily and I want my mouse buttons assigned to their normal actions, not to Expose’). Here is a mockup of what I would like.


Virtual Desktops (workspaces)
As I said above, Expose is really cool, but for some advanced users it does not completely take away the need for virtual desktops. This is because it is very convenient to have a full screen Windows XP desktop on one virtual workspace, and then have another for X11, and another for email and another for casual browsing or chatting, and another for real work. It just helps out organizing better your work with the computer. There are a few third party utilities that enable this function, but they all have their problems, mostly with X11’s window manager. If Apple was to incorporate such a feature on OSX, I am sure they would have all the developer support they needed to make it work properly. I see Expose as a complimentary to workspaces, not as an replacement.


Reach same applications’ windows via Command+TAB and Cursor Keys
On Panther, by doing Command+TAB (equivalent to ALT+TAB on most PC Oses), you get a nice-looking transparent window with the icons of the applications currently open. It allows you to select and focus on another open application. However, what it does not do is let you select individual windows that belong to the currently selected app in that application-switcher window. On BeOS, you could use the cursor keys (Up and Down) and navigate to the open windows of the same app. Sure, Expose can do that even prettier, but if Expose was the answer to everything, this application switcher utility wouldn’t have made its way to Panther in the first place.


Path Navigation
Since I tried Path Finder, I fell in love with its main feature: Path Navigation. You basically get some buttons automatically added to its window every time you navigate inside a new folder. By having the whole way in the form of small buttons, you can navigate to that already walked path, back and forward, extremely quickly. Much faster than the normal “Back” button.


Fast User Switching Icon Item
I have being talking about this in the past as well: I would have preferred the option to have a small 16×16 icon on the menu bar that, by clicking it, would drop down the list of users, instead of displaying my full name on the menu bar. Even on 1280×1024, it does not leave enough screen space for some demanding apps that span across 12-14 menu items. It’s bad enough for my name, but I imagine that someone with a full name like Alejandra Francesca Rodriguez LΓ³pez de Medina won’t be happy at all to see that on her 1024×768 iBook or iMac…


Live Backgrounds
This is mostly a gimmick, but Apple is known for gimmicks, so I am sure I am talking to the right people. The idea is to have “live” backgrounds instead of static pictures. Of course, instead of destracting objects and animations (people with no usability in mind can easily create those, there could just be some “lite” motion Flash or 3D movements, e.g. a waterfall, or a picture of a mountain under the snow which gradually changes depending on the time of day (e.g. it would look different in the morning, different in the night etc). Other more useful applications of this idea would be to have a picture of a rotating Earth with light on the parts of the planet that it is currently day (like XEarth). I am sure Apple could find some great ideas to further enhance the “wow” factor of Mac OS X; they seem to like stuff like that at the Infinite Loop… A more practical way to do this would be to allow screensavers to run in place of background images (development-wise they are the same thing). This should be easily done with a Finder hack, but unfortunately the vast majority of screensavers available are not suitable for such task as they are all destructing and flashy.


Some Theme Support
Please let me make myself clear about this: I don’t like themes too much. I don’t like the user ability to download buggy or butt-ugly themes and install them and then brag how great (==different) his desktop looks like (usually it doesn’t). However, some themability is not a bad idea. Especially if the color and widget themes in question are made all by Apple, are well-designed, have being tested for usability and accessibility, and are consistent across the board with Carbon, Cocoa, X11 and Java apps. Then, in that scenario, I say ‘yes!,’ bring it on. Otherwise, please leave it as is. ‘Less is more’ anyway.

Finder Plugins
This was my all-time-favorite from my BeOS days. Extend the functionality of the file manager with plugins. The possibilities are endless. It works on currently selected files and folders and then, by selecting these plugins, you can act on these selections (with a gui or not). Ideas for little-easy-to-create plugins: bulk renaming, Terminal-Here, ToUpper, ToLower, Unix2Dos, Mac2Unix (end of line formatting for text files), CreateThumbnail (for images), CompressIt, UncompressIt, Create DiskImage, BurnNow, Label-it, RunAsUserName, SecureDelete, SendtoFloppy, EmailThis, ViewAsHex, Diff, ConvertImage, FTPit and many-many-many more. Plugins are a very clever idea to ultimately enhance the functionality of any desktop, and it pretty much comes “for free,” as third party developers would be able to provide these with the use of a simple API.


Sherlock Plugins
This might destroy Karelia (which is a company I have much respect), but if we can get Watson’s full functionality for free, well, I will have to be the selfish consumer and say that I would love to see it all in Sherlock, free of charge. While Sherlock is a good utility, Watson is still far more complete and offers great enhancements, like multiple dictionaries, phonebook search worldwide, recipies, TV search and much more. For now, it is still Watson for me.


Scheduled Tasks
Currently, Mac OS X has two ways of scheduling tasks: 1) with the Unix ‘cron’ command and 2) Via AppleScript. None of the two are elegant solutions for Mac users though. The first one requires Unix knowledge and the second one requires some “programming,” which can be daunting for the 35-year old secretary in a small business office without an IT department, typing letters all day with her 2-inch wine-red fingernails. An easy-to-use GUI, I believe, is required and could help a lot of people automate some of their work without too much effort. WindowsXP does it, so…


Better Speech Synthesis and Speech Recognition
And speaking of natural language, what I would like to see in a future Mac OS X is some “intelligent” built-in speech recognition, so you can control your Mac via voice without the mess and restrictions of the current speech recognition system. Also, the current speech synthesis is below par, although better than Jaguar’s. I saw a demo from a company which specializes in speech synthesis and I could not distinguish if it was a person speaking or the computer (running on a Transmeta 600 Mhz CPU no less). There is still lots of optimizations and enhancements in this specific area in OSX.


WMV/ASF Safari plugin
This is a must-have for me. I need full plugin support for both QT, Real and MS Media Player formats. Very often I find myself at launch.yahoo.com and wanting to view music video clips, in WMV format. This is one thing I can not do with a Mac, and I am sure it is one less reason for any Windows user to switch. Oh, and MPlayer OSX doesn’t do the job in this particular situation; I require a browser plugin, not just a standalone player.


Undo on Safari
How many times you find yourself typing something in a text area and suddenly the text disappears because of a combination of keys you might have hit accidentally? Unfortunately, Safari doesn’t support CMD+Z to Undo the mistake. Poof, all your text is gone!


Tabs in Terminal.app
I am an SDI person generally speaking, but sometimes I do like the handiness of tabs in applications. Terminals and browsers are the only apps where I endorse them so far.


More IM Protocol support and USB cameras
I personally use Fire and/or Proteus because I need support for all four popular IM protocols: MSN, Y!, AIM and ICQ. While Fire does the job adequately, iChat does it more elegantly. I would love to see support on iChat for all four protocols, including camera and audio support for MSN and Y!. And speaking of cameras, enabling USB cameras to work wouldn’t be a bad idea for users, even if it would cripple iSight’s sales. Apple should give us the choice to be able to purchase a $30 Creative USB camera and work out of the box, we users should not be forced into the monopoly of the $150 iSight (and yes, I do own an iSight). There are some hacks to enable USB cameras to work with iChat, but these are just hacks that break from one OSX version to another.


Better X11 Integration, KDE/Gnome consistency
Not every OSX user requires X11. In fact, most will never need it. However, for us geeks, X11 is important. I use it all the time with either Fink or by displaying my Slackware’s Gnome 2.4 from my AthlonXP on my OSX’s desktop. It would have being great if X11 was tied and integrated to Quartz instead of just running “on top.” If integrated, we would be able to put our X apps in the Dock and use them as regular OSX apps. Additionally, I would like to see Apple to work on clipboard support with popular X toolkits and also create Qt and GTK+ themes that resemble the default Mac OS X widget set and coloring theme. I like consistency on all my desktops; it makes things simpler and cleaner. Additionally, I wouldn’t mind Apple shipping a CD or providing via DarwinPorts an “official” port of KDE and Gnome libraries and some related apps (e.g. KOffice, Kontact, Evolution, Mr. Project, AbiWord, Gnumeric etc). Amusingly, DarwinPorts was part of the betas in 10.3, but was removed in the final. To recap, I am not interested at all in running the Gnome or KDE desktop on top of my Finder’s, but I am interested in running some of their bundled or third party apps, to all blend perfectly in the rest of the guest OS, OSX.


Hotmail and Yahoo! email integration to Mail.app
Mail.app already supports .Mac IMAP mail accounts and while .Mac is good business for Apple, most computer users are using Hotmail and Yahoo! when it comes to web mail. I would like to see support for these protocols on Mail.app via some sort of licensing. Currently, there is a third party Hotmail plugin for Mail.app, but it ain’t stable and crashes Mail.app randomly when used.

1-client Remote Desktop
Windows XP Pro does it, X11 does it too. But Apple is charging $300+ bucks for the ability to connect to another of your Macs with Apple Remote Desktop. Currently, that price is for 10-clients and I agree with companies need to make money. However, a free, bundled version of Apple Remote Desktop with only 1-client license would be Godsend for many users! It is very important for people who want to work from home. My husband does it all the time with his Win2k laptop connecting from home to his work’s VPN and his XP Pro machine. He didn’t have to pay a dime for it and it has made his and my life much easier. And yes, I did try VNC and TightVNC on OSX. They immensely suck stability-wise and they are extremely slow compared to a real, native solution.


Database Integration between Local and Networked Apps
Note how you can share iTunes’ playlist using Rendezvous or an IP-based authentication? Wouldn’t be great if such data exchange could be achieved by more applications on the Mac, using the same secure protocol based on XML and maybe a back-end database (that could be tied to the filesystem for all that I care). This way you could share your photos, your music, etc., by using not only proprietary Apple apps, but any other third party app could make use of the protocol. Suddenly, all apps would interoperate, because they would be built upon the same structure and architecture.


Scanner sharing
Anyone knows how to share my scanner connected to an OSX machine, over the network to other PCs or Macs? I can’t use Image Capture’s preferences because it blocks the official Epson and SilverFast driver, so I would need this option on the main Preference panel (read the next page where I explain the problem).


Modern Web Presence
It would be lovely if Apple could bundle Apache, mySQL or PostgreSQL and PHP by default. For me, this is a development platform and I find it unfair that C/C++/Java/ObjC developers get their tools for free and easily-installed, while web developers will have to either buy the Server OSX edition or go through the pain of installing the software and the Apache addons manually through trial and error.


Included Virtual PC
This would be a killer feature: the ability to run Windows or Linux inside Mac OS X, for free (Windows OS installed manually by the user, not included in the OSX package of course). I can already imagine the TV ad: “Two worlds come together! Run Windows. But with the elegance of your Mac. Think Different!” A free Windows/PC emulator can solve a lot of problems for people who want to do the switch and they are set back for one reason or other other. And I believe that Apple could purchase the source of Virtual PC off Microsoft, because MS bought it off Connectix mostly for their Windows reasons (running them inside future Windows versions as emulated or grid-like). MS said that they are committed to doing more Mac versions, however, if Apple could incorporate this as an OS feature, it is a big win to guarantee more switchers. And with Apple’s marketshare declining towards 2%, this feature could help a lot. Unfortunately, RealPC was a hoax, Bochs is ranging from unusable-to-very-slow, and VMWare is not available for non-x86s (neither it can become, as it relies on x86). The only viable solution today would be to somehow license or purchase the Mac version of Virtual PC off MS. Strategically-speaking, Apple should have done this years ago already, purchasing it from Connectix. Letting someone else purchase Connectix’s IP was a huge strategic mistake.


Office Solution
Except the dated and seemingly abandoned AppleWorks and the overpriced MS Office, there are no modern and cheap office solutions today on the Mac. Only latest addition is X11-based OpenOffice.org, but until X11 becomes more integrated to OSX, I don’t see OOo taking off with the regular Mac crowd (see: no geeks). KOffice, Gnome Office and OOo can greatly help the situation here if released as easy-to-install bundles, however, X11 integration to the OSX system is imperative beforehand. Some say that Keynote is just one part of a larger, new, office solution developed by Apple, but this is just a rumor that I can’t hold on to. In the meantime, there is a “market hole” here.


Support for the .NET Platform
Personally, I believe that it would be great if Apple started working on a .NET implementation, either based on Mono, or on a licensed codebase by Microsoft. Many would think that engaging on .NET would strength Microsoft’s position and weaken Apple’s, but I don’t believe so. Apple is already ‘weak’ at 2.2% market share, and supporting the technologies of the big competitor with the 95% of marketshare would only strengthen Apple at this point. Besides, .NET is actually a good technology and, if this is what it takes to get more apps or more developer switchers, then this is what has to be done, politicalities and zealotry aside. Business is business.


DB-based 64-bit Filesystem & NL Parsing
In the file system area we see many innovations from SGI’s XFS and Be’s BFS in 64-bit and metadata-enabled fs, while ReiserFS and WinFS will soon bring database support on their backend. And there is always more exotic stuff, like Seth Nickel’s Storage concept, which allows users to search and use the file system using natural language. Also, ability to search on content rather than just metadata or filename would be good.


Application Management
I absolutely love the simplicity of uncompressing an archive and drag-n-drop the binary to your /Applications or your ~/ folder. However, there are cases where applications install preferences, plugins or drivers to the system and, when you later delete the app, these files remain to your system. This renders your system “unclean” and maybe even unstable after a while, as most of these apps come without an “uninstall” facility. I would like to see a smart way for the system to “connect” these apps with these files and, upon deletion, to clean up the system for me. Or force the developers to provide visual uninstallation methods. More users are too lazy to hunt down such files in directories they don’t normally view.

Full MIME support
ArsTechnica editors have complained about this feature for years, and Mac OS X still lacks full MIME support. Hopefully Apple will see the light soon.


Support for more DVD-+RW/R devices
Support for more DVD-+RW/R devices in iDVD than only Apple’s devices.


Better Unicode Support
One of the biggest problems in Mac OS X today is localization. Cocoa seems to have good unicode support, and it gets better with every release, but most applications written in Carbon have major problems with other languages & unicode. DTP applications, Photoshop and MS Office for example don’t work well or not at all with, e.g., Greek. Meanwhile, Rainbow.gr (the Greek Apple reseller) is selling a utility that enables Greek support on Carbon apps, but that’s an additional $200(!) on top of an already expensive machine for Greek standards ($900-$1000 salary per month on average). And that’s only for machines purchased from Rainbow (if you bought your Mac elsewhere, they won’t even sell you their hack!). Many classics and archeology faculties in Universities in Europe and the States as well as print houses and institutions are forced to switch to Windows because of the lack of support for Greek, and other languages in OS X. Greek Mac users have put online more information here and a petition here, but the problem is with other languages as well, not just Greek.


Better Backwards Compatibility
With each OSX release, many applications stop working. Out of the ~7000 OSX applications, about 5-10% of them are rendered useless until their developers recompile their apps for the new OSX. This is annoying and there is a lot of unnecessary inconvenience. Comparatively, Windows includes much better compatibility with its older applications. Even Windows XP can still run most apps written for Windows 3.1 12 years ago, and don’t forget how Microsoft took the sales by storm with Windows 95 because of their very good Win3.1 and DOS compatibility that allowed businesses to run apps dated back to 1981. Mac OS X can’t even run some apps released six months ago, e.g. the Palm Desktop, the non-Safari OmniWeb version, while I also had problems with Lost Marble’s Moho.


Better Hardware Resource Management
It is very annoying when your scanner used to work great with the previous Jaguar version and suddenly it won’t work on Panther because Apple introduced their own driver for the specific scanner and doesn’t share the resources or allow the Epson driver to take control when asked inside Photoshop.(What happens is that ImageCapture sees that the scanner is present, and opens the driver. When Photoshop comes around, the scanner is busy).


Share a FireWire Drive without Rebooting
Ability to be able to share the hard drive via FireWire without rebooting the computer (log out is ok, though, if necessary). Currently, you have to reboot the host computer and hold down ‘T’ until the firewire logo comes up.


Less bugs, more security
Panther came with its own share on bugs (read here and here). Bugs are normal in consumer software, especially when it involves interoperating with hardware created by many different manufacturers. But the fewer bugs, the better. And the more security, the better. For example, better implementation of the Airport security would be welcome: “I can never login to my buddies router by the 128-bit ascii – I can do it with hex. works fine on any other windows machine!” my friend Noviteo told me recently.


Speed, speed, speed
What can I say? I am a speed junkie. I want to be able to resize all windows and scroll in them as fast as I can on BeOS or even on Windows XP. I want to have the “feeling” of ultimate UI responsiveness. I want to feel good about my computer, not feel that it sucks and that I need to get a faster one. And when the faster one is here, is still not good enough (even the fastest dual G5 can’t resize iTunes or iMovie without ‘losing frames’ during the process).


Subscription-based, Live Support
And finally, it would be great if registered customers could get “live” support with an Apple representative via iChat and iSight audio/video conferencing and maybe with the help of the Apple Remote Desktop facility. That would be a first and a real brag for Apple and their support team compared to other OSes’ support. It is probably not a cheap solution for Apple, but if the registered customer had an extra subscription to enable him/her to get Live Support, it might be a good feature for Apple’s business.


Conclusion
So, this was my wish-list for a future Mac OS X. Some of these suggestions are critical, but overall, these wishes are mostly “enhancements,” which means that the current Panther release is already mature and full-featured for most people. And this is a good thing of course! Anyway, enough with my rambling, use the comment’s section and let me know of your wish list!

149 Comments

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