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Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Previewed at WWDC 2006

At Apple’s 2006 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) today, Steve Jobs teased the assembled developers with details of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, the next major release of the Mac operating system that is due to ship sometime in “spring” (which we in the United States consider to be roughly the March to May 2007 time period). Jobs offered overviews of ten new or improved features to be found in Leopard, and coyly referred to other “top secret” features that weren’t going to be shown so as to not encourage copying by Microsoft’s Windows Vista developers (who received a fair bit of competitive ribbing at WWDC). Developer preview versions of Leopard were given to registered attendees of WWDC; we’re concentrating here on the promised new features that end users will see, so those interested in Xcode 3.0, Leopard’s 64-bit application support, and new CoreAnimation framework will want to look elsewhere for immediate details.

Time Travelers Meet at this File — Perhaps the most interesting development in Leopard as previewed by Steve Jobs is Time Machine, which promises a sort of file journaling – automatic incremental backups of an entire file system of any changed files at whatever time you pick. In Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, Apple added hard disk journaling, in which changes to directory structures were noted in a special file that could be retrieved on a crash, dramatically reducing the chance of directory corruption and reducing repair time. With Time Machine, Apple is extending this concept to individual files and more. Jobs claimed that a complete Time Machine backup could be used to restore an entire machine, system and all. Neat as it is, the concept isn’t new; Time Machine sounds similar to Rewind, an application offered for Mac OS 8 and 9 by Power On Software.)

Time Machine can back up specific folders or files, too, and it can write data to a hard disk or a server, although Jobs didn’t define whether that meant a network-mounted drive or a client-server software pair. In his demonstration, a series of receding screens represent restore points for files that you’re looking at, with a star field to indicate motion over time. Jobs located a file he had previously deleted by zooming back through time (either by clicking arrows or a timeline along the edge of the screen), and then clicked Restore to retrieve the file. A QuickTime movie on the Leopard preview site shows a similar example. A black hole or a wormhole appears behind all the zoomed files: watch out for that deletion event horizon when all files become infinitely long.

It’s unclear from details released to this point whether you can force Time Machine to keep a certain number of backups (and no more) of particular files or folders, or whether you can, for security or privacy reasons, delete all backups for a particular file. Time Machine can be tied into individual programs, and it’s already part of the next version of iPhoto (which was used in the demo). Individual photos could be restored or reverted within the application using Time Machine’s interface, without rooting around in iPhoto’s Trash or having to sort out where a particular file is located. The example of Address Book in the QuickTime video is even more compelling: you see where an entry was deleted and can restore that. Many programs that have internal representations of data within a database would benefit from Time Machine integration, too, by backing up objects rather than an entire database.

Although Time Machine may introduce a host of related effects, including system slowdowns, and massive backup files when you modify, say, 2 GB MySQL tables (now we understand why the new Mac Pro offers up to 2 TB of storage), for users that simply want the state of their system constantly recorded for easy retrieval after a catastrophe, there’s nothing like this on the Mac.

Time Machine doesn’t appear to mimic a much-loved Windows XP feature (if any feature in Windows XP could be so described) in which you can set a system restore point or in which Windows XP automatically creates one. With that feature, you can roll back to a previous working configuration when inevitable hardware driver conflicts occur. Deep Freeze from Faronics provides those features for Mac users.

Does Time Machine threaten EMC Insignia’s (formerly Dantz’s) Retrospect? It would seem not, given Retrospect’s client-server architecture and scheduling tools that probably won’t be found in Time Machine. Rather, Time Machine makes moot Apple’s own Backup software, which has always been a kludgy and difficult package, even with its recent improvements. Better still, Time Machine will be an integral part of Leopard and won’t be in any way tied to .Mac, although one could back up to a .Mac iDisk or to other online storage that offers appropriate network volume mounting that Time Machine will recognize.

Spaces Offers Virtual Desktops — Working on a single monitor and wishing you had more screen space for all of your open applications and documents? Although we’ve been promoting the virtues of multiple monitor Macs since 1991, not everyone can afford more than one monitor, or the necessary desk space to accommodate it. To help users avoid the clutter that Steve Jobs so famously hates, Leopard will introduce Spaces, a virtual desktop feature that will enable you to group applications while working on tasks, so you’ll only have to look at the windows that apply to what you’re working on at any given moment. With typical Apple flair, your screen view rotates horizontally, vertically, or even diagonally to show the “hidden” monitor you’d like to work on next.

Like many features Apple has introduced for Mac OS X over the years, Spaces isn’t a new concept; Unix windowing systems have long offered multiple virtual desktops so you could focus on one thing at a time, and third-party software such as VirtueDesktops already lets Mac users switch among multiple virtual monitors.

We’ll be able to switch Spaces by clicking an application’s icon in the Dock (which will switch to the Space that application is living in), bring up an Expose-like thumbnail browser for selecting a Space or for dragging applications from one to another, or use keystrokes to rotate among the Spaces.

Spotlight Gets Brighter — Not everyone is a fan of Spotlight, particularly those of us who mostly want to search for filenames and who find that Spotlight usually produces far too many results to be useful. Although relatively few details were available, it appears that Spotlight in Leopard may prove a bit more helpful, thanks to the addition of Boolean search terms (AND, OR, and NOT) and the capability to search on metadata like author, type, or filename extension. A feature called QuickLook will provide a way to preview items in the results list without opening an application, and if you regularly work on multiple Macs on your network, you’ll appreciate the capability to search across multiple machines simultaneously.

The Universe of Access Expands — A few years ago Steve Jobs mentioned in a keynote address that Apple was “in the market” for new text-to-speech options to replace the aging voices such as Victoria and Fred that have been essentially unchanged since the Mac OS 9 days. Apparently he got what he wanted, because Leopard will feature a new synthesized voice called Alex that’s dramatically better than both the current Apple voices and the current Windows voices. Among other subtle cues, this voice uses periodic “inhaling” sounds that add to its realism. It will also be available in several different languages, including Japanese and Chinese. The Alex voice, which even sounds clear when sped up dramatically, is one of the key features in Leopard’s improved accessibility offerings. VoiceOver in Leopard, which makes use of the Alex voice, will also feature improved navigation, positional cues delivered through stereo speakers or headphones, and greater customizability.

For the first time, Leopard will also offer direct support of Braille, using third-party Braille displays. Rounding out the accessibility improvements, QuickTime in Leopard will feature closed captioning support for a synchronized text track alongside audio and video.

Mail Call — The Leopard version of Mail will add several new features designed to enhance productivity and visual appeal. First is a template-based system that looks and acts remarkably like the interface for iWeb, Pages, and iDVD. Working from a predefined stationery file, you’ll be able to drag in images from your iPhoto library, type or paste in text, and get a nicely formatted newsletter, announcement, invitation, or greeting. Mail will send your message as HTML, readable in most modern email clients. (Enhancements to the plain text messages that make up the vast majority of email communications, if any, were not mentioned.) In addition to starting with a template, you can apply a template after the fact to a message you’ve already composed. The new version of Mail will also provide a facility for you to create your own templates.

Mail will also offer Notes, which enable you to write notes to yourself that appear in your Inbox (as well as in a separate Notes mailbox) without having to email them. Notes support full formatting, and can contain images, PDF files, and other media content.

In addition, in the Leopard version of Mail, any email message – or any selected text within a message or note – can be turned into a To Do item with a single click. These To Dos can have due dates, priorities, and alarms, and the capability to create them will be available as a system-wide service. For example, iCal and Mail will share the same To Do list, and third-party developers will also be able to contribute or access these To Do items.

Mentioned on Apple’s Web site but not demonstrated at the keynote was RSS support in Mail. You’ll be able to subscribe to RSS feeds and have the articles appear in your Inbox; using Smart Mailboxes, you can also sort, group, or filter news articles. Presumably this is in addition to, rather than a replacement of, the RSS support in Safari.

A More Dashing Dashboard — No Tiger feature was as polarizing as Dashboard: many people love it (as evidenced by the more than 2,500 widgets now shipping), and many people hate it (or just ignore it). The keynote crowd’s initial reaction on hearing that Dashboard was one of the top 10 new features in Leopard was muted at best, but by the end of the demonstration, there was hearty cheering. What got everyone excited was a new feature called Web Clip, which will enable anyone to create a custom Dashboard widget from a portion of any Web page in seconds, with no coding at all. After navigating to the desired page in Safari, you’ll click a toolbar button, which opens Dashboard and brings up your page in a new widget. Resize and reposition this widget to show just the portion of the page you’re interested in, click Close, and you’ve got a new, dynamically updating widget that can display auction progress, a webcam, news headlines, or any other Web content (as long as the X-Y coordinates of the Web content don’t change). You’ll also be able to choose any of several themes to adjust your widget’s border. Advertisers won’t be happy about this feature, which will likely be used to extract content from ad-laden Web pages.

For developers, Leopard will also include Dashcode, a tool to assist in designing, developing, and debugging widgets. Continuing the Leopard theme of templates everywhere, Dashcode will include templates for common widget content such as RSS, podcasts, and images, which can be modified or expanded as needed. Dashcode will also feature a parts library for common controls such as search fields and buttons. Finally, Dashcode will provide visual editing of HTML and CSS, as well as a JavaScript editor and debugger. Looking for something to ease widget development now? Check out Widgetarium, from Gandreas Software.

iChat to Add Screen Sharing and Effects — Apple’s iChat instant messaging client, which provided audio and video chats in Mac OS X 10.3 and added multi-user audio and video chats in Mac OS X 10.4, promises to leap further ahead with several new capabilities, some reflecting most-requested features (or features already found in other chat clients) and others reflecting new technologies not found in anything but high-end collaboration software.

Multiple logins – the capability to sign on to more than one AIM or Jabber account at the same time – leads the list of most-requested features, along with invisibility (being able to hide from any but certain buddies), the capability to auto-rejoin chats if you’re disconnected, and tabbed chatting, similar to the tabbed browsing feature in Safari. The latter will be a boon to anyone who regularly chats (separately) with more than one person at a time, and it matches similar features in such third-party chat clients as Fire and Adium. Other promised features that may or may not float your boat include animated buddy icons and enhanced parental controls.

More impressively, iChat in Leopard will also add the capability to share what’s on your screen with chat buddies, such as slide shows from iPhoto or Keynote presentations in a virtual presentation room, or even full screen sharing. Apple says you’ll be able to “browse the Web with a friend, or pick the perfect plane seats with your spouse,” all while using iChat’s audio chat feature to compare notes. We’re more intrigued with the possibility of using full screen sharing to simplify remote tech support tasks.

Photo Booth’s capability to squash your face and apply other effects to your image has proven so popular among younger iSight users that Apple has added real-time Photo Booth effects to iChat. Although we imagine this will hold limited amusement value for most of us, we know some five-year-olds who’ll never get tired of turning on the funhouse mirror effect while chatting with aunts and uncles.

Perhaps something the rest of us will use more often is iChat’s backgrounds feature, which magically replaces whatever’s behind you in the frame with any still image, or even moving video, so you can appear to be on the beach or in Times Square while chatting with friends, or seem to be in your own office while playing hooky! (If these features sound intriguing to you, you don’t have to wait until next year for Leopard, since many of them are available today in Script Software’s $20 ChatFX utility. Happily, as he posted on the Script Software blog, Julian Miller and the folks at Script Software aren’t bitter about having a future version of iChat that copies their original ideas. No doubt by then they’ll have a new version of ChatFX to do still niftier stuff, and we’ve heard that they’re working on support for Skype and Yahoo Messenger.)

iCal Goes Multiuser — Apple’s iCal is popular with individuals, but it’s seldom used by workgroups that need to maintain shared calendars – for instance, we use Now Software’s Now Up-to-Date & Contact for that. iCal’s single-user focus will change with Leopard, thanks to support for the CalDAV standard. Apple claims that iCal in Leopard will enable multiple people to share a single group calendar, complete with access controls, and it will be possible to view the availability of group members before sending meeting invitations, although a new AutoSchedule feature attempts to find the best time for everyone to meet. Meetings can also be organized around resources such as particular conference rooms or projectors, and if you want people attending the meeting to preview a particular document, you can share it with them by simply dropping it on the event.

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