At today's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, Apple CEO Steve Jobs demoed the first feature-complete developer beta release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, showing off slick new features, including what appears to be the most significant overhaul of the Finder in some time. At last year's WWDC, demos focused largely on marquee features like Time Machine, Spaces, Mail, and Dashboard (see "Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Previewed at WWDC 2006," 2006-08-07). Today Jobs also shocked the Mac world by announcing the release of a test version of Safari 3 for Windows XP and Vista, and then wrapped up by explaining how developers will be able to create applications for the iPhone, due at 6 P.M. on 29-Jun-07.
Although Jobs claimed 300 new features in Leopard, he chose to focus on only a few in the keynote, and didn't cover the new features in Mail or iCal, or Mac OS X's accessibility capabilities, which were previously revealed. Jobs reiterated a shipping date of October 2007 for Leopard.
Basic Finder Improvements -- Eye candy is important to Apple these days, and Leopard provides plenty of it, with the new translucent menu bar and a reflective "floor" on which Dock icons sit. These features are likely due to Core Animation, a new API that simplifies the process of creating sophisticated animations.
Computer makers, processor makers, and operating system developers all conspire to make sure that each new update to an operating system's interface includes something that requires more horsepower. Not so much that it hobbles older computers, but enough that it can wow existing owners into buying new hardware. Multi-core processors make it somewhat easier to justify burning processor cycles on trendy 3D effects, too.
Stacks, a new element of the Dock, should appeal to clean-desk types irritated by Mac OS X's inability to handle piles of things. As far as we can tell, a stack is a new way of looking at the contents of a docked folder; you can either fan out the contents to see (and select from) them, or you can view them in a grid if there are too many for the fan display to make sense. The newest document is always placed on top of a stack.
In essence, Stacks brings back the tabbed folder functionality from Mac OS 9, although with a modern look and feel. In a bid to end piles of downloads scattered across your Desktop, Jobs said that a default stack named Downloads will automatically capture downloaded files, notifying you when new ones arrive.
Another Finder improvement is Quick Look, which provides a fast preview of any document in the Finder. Pressing the spacebar with a file selected presents a preview of the file's contents. This preview includes the capability to play QuickTime movies and page through multi-page documents. Apple will provide Quick Look support for common document types, like Microsoft Word and Excel, PDF, text, movie, and image files, and will offer a plug-in architecture for developers to build their own Quick Look preview interfaces. Clearly, Steve's documents are prettier than ours, but Quick Look may still prove useful for examining documents quickly without having to launch the associated application.
The popularity of iTunes is having a notable effect on the Finder, with an iTunes-like sidebar that contains top-level items labeled Devices (disks), Shared (networked computers), Places (folders), and Search For (essentially smart folders). For those who enjoy the iTunes Cover Flow feature that lets you browse by album art, Jobs said that the same option will now be available for Finder windows, letting you browse through items and even play QuickTime movies in the interface.
Spotlight extends its reach in Leopard to search networked Macs and PCs, providing a fundamental enhancement to the technology. Leopard's Spotlight will also feature Boolean searching, exact phrases, dates, ranges, and absolute dates. Oddly, it will reportedly also perform simple calculations (much the way you can perform calculations in LaunchBar, we suppose). It remains to be seen if these improvements will cause those of us who find Spotlight relatively useless now to change our minds. Because Jobs said this new Spotlight feature will search PCs, Apple may need to release Spotlight for Windows, too, perhaps in a challenge to the various desktop searching programs like Google Desktop.
Finally, a shared computer listed in the Finder's sidebar can be accessed not just for file sharing, but also for remote control, just as though you were in front of it. Apple didn't stop there. The awkwardly named "Back to My Mac" feature allows remote access to other Macs for which you have authorization over the Internet, with Apple's .Mac service managing the connection. Several products - including LogMeIn, a beta of which was released last week for Mac OS X (see "LogMeIn Adds Remote Control for Mac," 2007-06-11) - allow remote control connections to computers behind home and corporate gateways that assign private network addresses. Private network addresses are typically non-routable, unreachable from the rest of the Internet.
The More Bits the Better -- Jobs said Leopard will be a 64-bit operating system that will also support 32-bit applications. In a slight jab at Microsoft, which has sold 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows separately, Jobs said that Leopard will have a single version that can handle both kinds of applications.
The advantage of 64-bit processors when they have operating system support is, in part, their capability to perform mathematical operations on larger chunks of data at a time. That can produce substantial improvements in computationally intensive tasks, which invariably include the display of new, fancy interface elements - Quick Look, Cover Flow, etc. - and serious application tasks, like creating movies in iDVD or playing games. Apple is unique in selling mostly computers that feature 64-bit processors. Until now, the real underlying power hasn't been used to its full advantage.
Boot Camp Changes Little -- Leopard will, as expected, have Boot Camp built in, but only as a complement to Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion. By "built in," it appears that Apple means you'll be able to switch to Windows by choosing Restart in Windows from the Apple menu. But Leopard won't require that you end your session on the Mac side; instead, it goes into "safe sleep" mode so when you return, you'll be right back where you left off.
Nonetheless, this approach to Boot Camp means that Apple chose not to compete with the third-party software offering virtualization capabilities. That's unusual in the sense that Boot Camp, by forcing the user to reboot into Windows, isn't a very Mac-like solution to the problem of needing to run the occasional Windows application.
Both Parallels Desktop, with Coherence, and VMware Fusion, with Unity, offer far more integrated approaches, but Boot Camp is free with Leopard. Jobs did say that Apple is helping both companies, and both are working hard to provide seamless compatibility with Windows partitions created by Boot Camp so you can use either Boot Camp or a virtualization program without duplicating your Windows installation.
On the other hand, Boot Camp enables full use of all hardware drivers and peripherals in Windows, along with 100 percent of the potential processor power. Virtual machines can never achieve that efficiency - although they can get close to it, depending on task - and specific hardware that uses software that bypasses the driver abstraction layer may never be supported on a virtual machine.
Spaces -- With Spaces, Leopard users will be able to create and switch among multiple desktops, each with different active applications. Such capabilities are by no means new, but by integrating Spaces into Mac OS X at a low level, we suspect that multiple desktops will become significantly more popular among normal users. It appears that Apple has done a particularly good job with Spaces, making it simple to switch among spaces, drag windows from one space to another, and more.
The attraction of Spaces comes in part from the constant demands for attention inherent in today's Macs - it can be difficult to concentrate on writing, for instance, when people can interrupt via iChat, when email is constantly flowing in, when Web pages update automatically, and when various other distracting applications are constantly at the ready.
Dashboard & Web Clips -- Jobs claimed that over 3,000 Dashboard widgets have been written, making the technology a success. However, creating a widget currently requires a bit of programming, whereas with the new Web Clip feature of Dashboard, anyone will be able to cut out a regularly updating part of a Web page - perhaps the comic of the day, a Google Analytics usage graph, or CNET's "What's Hot" treemap of popular and timely articles - and turn it into a Dashboard widget.
iChat -- Leopard's iChat may be one of the most compelling improvements for many of us. First and foremost, audio quality has been improved through support for AAC-LD (AAC Low Delay) encoding. iChat in Leopard also offers tabbed chats, as are currently available via Chax, and in a bit of a silly but fun move, Photo Booth effects that can be applied to live video, as well as bluescreen effects behind (and overlays in front of) someone in a video chat, much like Script Software's ChatFX.
But what's really interesting is that you can now share iPhoto slideshows via iChat, along with Keynote presentations and videos. Plus, anything you can display with Quick Look can be shown in iChat, making it possible to show others documents in real time. We're looking forward to using iChat for remote presentations with Mac user groups; we've done a few that way already, but it's nearly impossible to flip back and forth between video and showing something onscreen. Even better, anything you show with iChat can be saved, audio chats as AAC files, and video chats as MPEG-4 files. The podcasting world may explode, thanks to the added ease of recording live audio and video.
Time Machine -- This year's demonstration of Time Machine wasn't particularly detailed, but Jobs revealed one previously unannounced feature that's notable. It turns out that Time Machine can back up multiple computers to a hard drive connected to an 802.11n-based AirPort Extreme Base Station (2007 release). Network backups are far easier and more efficient (if slower) than schlepping a hard drive between Macs - it would be nice if an initial backup could be made while the drive was connected locally, and then attached to the AirPort base station for remote backups. Time Machine will let you change the disk to which you're backing up, exclude items you don't want backed up, encrypt your backed up data, and set time limits on how long versions of files should be kept to avoid filling up the destination drive. It remains to be seen if it will be easy to store a Time Machine-based backup drive off-site, as is ideal to protect against fire or burglary.
Winning Hearts and Minds (and Browser Market Share) -- The classic "one more thing" announcement was a shocker, with Jobs announcing that Apple would be taking advantage of the experience in porting iTunes to Windows to release Safari 3 for Windows XP and Vista as well as for Leopard and for Tiger. Although this seems like an odd move, given that Apple won't make any money from a Windows version of Safari, it may be designed to encourage Web developers working in Windows to create sites that will display properly on the iPhone, which itself will be running a version of Safari. The public beta version of Safari 3 was released today.
Security and standards support may provide another rationale for Apple porting Safari to Windows. A long-standing complaint among security experts has been the many holes in Internet Explorer that allow exploitation of a user's computer by simply visiting a Web site. Internet Explorer 7 solved some of this problem by creating a kind of walled garden in which browsing takes place, but it's a hack on Microsoft's part. Plus, Web designers have long been irritated by successive versions of Internet Explorer that fail to fix fundamental problems in the browser's CSS support. A single line of simple CSS that works correctly in Safari, Firefox, and Opera on all platforms can require several lines of additional code to work in multiple versions of Internet Explorer.
It's ironic that Apple is releasing a browser for Windows, given that Microsoft released Internet Explorer for the Mac in 1996. Internet Explorer was the Mac's default browser until early 2003, when Safari was unveiled, after which the program saw no more development effort before being discontinued in 2006. See "Microsoft Unveils Internet Explorer for Mac," (1996-01-22), "Internet Explorer for Mac in Maintenance Mode" (2003-06-16) and "Internet Explorer Officially Fades Away," (2006-01-09) for more on Internet Explorer for Mac's history.
Jobs didn't let last week's appearance with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates at the Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference stop him from poking fun at Microsoft's multiple versions of Windows Vista. Jobs announced - apparently to a little initial shock - that Leopard would be available in Basic, Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate versions, all of which will cost $130. (It's a joke - there's only one version.) This is the same price as all previous versions of Mac OS X.
The release of the beta of Safari 3 for Windows, the potential of Spotlight for Windows (based on Jobs's comments), and continued development of iTunes, Bonjour network discovery, QuickTime, AirPort Utility, and other programs continues to change Apple's role vis-a-vis the Windows platform. Apple is a very serious, top-level Windows software developer now with tens of millions - if not more - customers using their software for Windows.
If, as our illustrious editor in chief, Tonya Engst, has suggested, the iPhone is the new network computer, then Windows and Mac OS X become equally viable platforms for interacting with the iPhone, just as is true for the iPod.
Developing for the iPhone -- Speaking of the iPhone, Jobs's final announcement was that Apple has come up with a new way for developers to create applications that can run on the iPhone, a question that has been much debated since the iPhone was first announced. Apple's approach is to leverage the Safari engine to enable AJAX-based applications that can communicate with the Internet and integrate with other iPhone services like placing calls, sending email, accessing Google Maps, and so on. And that's all without the need for Apple to publish and maintain a software development kit.
In retrospect, this approach makes perfect sense, and lets Apple make it possible for anyone (well, anyone who could create an AJAX-enabled Web site) to create an iPhone application without actually opening the platform up for development. Apple's Scott Forstall, vice-president of the iPhone division, demoed a corporate address book that took less than 600 lines of code and a person-month to write and test, but which enabled remote lookups via LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), direct dial, direct sending of email, and more.
From June to October -- With all those announcements out of the way, we can sit back and contemplate what it will be like to use Leopard come October. Or at least, those of us for whom the iPhone will simply cost too much can ponder Leopard - everyone else will undoubtedly be too busy playing with their iPhones on the subway, while stuck in traffic, or at the beach to notice the intervening months.