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The Best (and Worst) of Leopard

Before we go any further, may I say that I've been giving the Big Cat nomenclature problem some serious thought - Jaguar, Tiger, Leopard, how long can this go on? Well, I've discovered that there are a whole bunch of African feline species I'd never even heard of, such as the Caracal and the Serval. So at the current rate of development, this should carry Apple forward for at least another decade - by which time, if present trends are any indication, further species will have been discovered (or they'll all be extinct, one or the other).

Okay, to business. Apple has finally locked down the ship date for Leopard (just as Adam predicted in "It's Official: Leopard Ships on October 26th, 2007," 2007-10-16), and posted its list of over 300 new features. Now, I'm still under a non-disclosure agreement that says I can't talk about anything Apple hasn't told you. But since Apple has told you about the 300 features, I can talk about them. I can't add any new information, of course; but I can tell you how I feel about them (Apple doesn't own my feelings, as far as I can tell). Here, then, are my favorite (and least favorite) new Leopard features.

Let me start with the bad news - what I don't like. There is just one thing, really, but it's quite a big thing, namely: the Desktop's new look.

It's like the emperor's new clothes. A menu bar that's hard to read because what's behind it shows through? Why is that a good idea? And stacks in the Dock are a solution in search of a non-existent problem; the way folders behave in the Dock now (just click and the folder opens, click and hold to see a hierarchical menu of the folder's contents) is great and doesn't deserve to change. Not to mention the whole distracting silly way the Dock is now being drawn. I already dislike the Dock and do all I can to keep it hidden all the time; in Leopard, I'll have twice as much reason to do so. The new Finder window sidebar is awful too; you can see in Apple's own screen shot that the icons and text are tiny and all the colors are converging on basic gray.

Now that I've got that off my chest, here are the new features I like the most. I'm not saying there aren't other cool new features, especially within individual Apple applications; but these are the features to which I truly look forward, the ones that actually make me eager to start using Leopard:

  • Spaces. It's fun. It's easy. It works. I'm going to use it! Spaces will genuinely help me handle the clutter when I'm working in multiple applications with lots of windows open. Unfortunately, Apple's Web page on the topic doesn't do it justice - and I can't describe it for you, because I can't say anything they don't say.
  • Time Machine. Okay, maybe it's not as powerful as whatever super-snazzy network-based case-hardened backup system you're using at the office. But Time Machine is a great idea: simple, automatic backup that takes away all excuse for not being able to find some file you threw away two hours ago, or for not having an extra copy when something goes wrong. Even more important, if I screw things up really badly, I can restore the whole computer to a previously saved state. It really is a time machine! I can already feel my hair returning.
  • The Path Bar. It shows you where you are in the Finder, at any given moment. Simple, elegant, obvious, and we should have had this years ago. Yes, I know you can Command-click the title bar to get the same information; but my mom, and a lot of other users, do not know this.
  • Quick Look and Cover Flow. Together, these offer file previews on steroids. They're utterly silly ("waste cycles drawing trendy animated junk" was my first thought) until you need them, and then they are just terrific. Being able to flip through a bunch of music or photo files looking for the right one, right in the Finder without starting up any other application, is really great.
  • Spotlight, Spotlight everywhere. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't mention what I think is the most important change to Spotlight, so I'm not allowed to tell you what it is. Suffice it to say that previously I didn't like Spotlight very much, and now I do, so obviously they must have changed the thing about it that I didn't like, right? Plus, I will now be able to search the past! With Safari, I can search for Web pages I've viewed, using whatever text within those pages I happen to remember. With Time Machine, I can search for files that no longer exist. Now if I can just find that $20 bill I had a week ago.
  • Share and share alike. The new easy built-in screen sharing, and the new easy way of sharing specific folders, are going to be a boon for me in my ordinary home-networked, multi-computer environment. I also look forward to being able to view someone's desktop through iChat. Plus there's now a built-in Guest account that's automatically purged when the user logs out, making it safe and easy for me to share my computer as well.
  • Mail turns into a powerhouse. RSS, to-do items, and miscellaneous notes are now incorporated right into Mail. No need to switch to iPhoto to find a picture and add it to a message. Easy mailbox archiving. I've switched mail clients several times in the past, and these improvements might be enough to get me to switch once again - to Apple's own Mail application.
  • Improvements to AppleScript, Automator, and Xcode. Okay, these are totally nerdy, and they won't matter one whit to you if you're not a programmer at some level. But as you probably know, I wrote a book about AppleScript, with some mention of Automator and Xcode; and I've done some work with Xcode and Objective-C, such as my popular free utilities NotLight and MemoryStick. So, Nerds 'R Us! A truly Unicode-savvy AppleScript will end a text-handling nightmare that's been with us since the dawn of Mac OS X. Automator's new "Watch Me Do" feature is like making your mouse-clicks recordable. And there are lots of other toys, such as improved design, editing, debugging, and analysis tools, that will make any Xcode developer drool.

In just a few days all these improvements will be mine. (Rubs hands with evident glee.) Oh, and did I mention that instructions on using some of these features (and more) will be in my forthcoming "Take Control of Customizing Leopard" ebook? You can't have a copy yet, since Apple would have my head for revealing cool stuff ahead of time, but you can pre-order it now (and then download the full version as soon as Leopard becomes available).


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