OS X Leopard and how Apple sells features

I managed to acquire Leopard for my Mac mini and have been putting it to use for almost a week now. Initially I was a bit underwhelmed, probably because of all the hype, but after spending some more time with it I’m really liking some of the changes put into it though I haven’t had a chance to really get to know all of the new features Leopard has to offer.

Right away I was put off by the color scheme. I was really liking the colors used in Tiger for selected menu items and the title bar on windows. The menu bar also being translucent doesn’t excite me and I’ll probably install this utility to disable the transparency, but I’ll give it some more time. The glass shelf dock looks fine to my eyes except for the odd shadow behind the icons. They are shadowed as if light is shining up through the glass shelf, it ends up creating an effect that just looks like a poorly drop shadowed image. It just looks wrong and would be much more pleasing if there was no shadow at all, or a very subtle shadow similar to how all windows in OS X are shadowed.

I also really like Finder’s new look and threaded goodness. It mimics iTunes’ sidebar and doesn’t lock up while doing operations in the background. This works very well. One thing that really makes me scratch my head however is network drives. In Tiger’s finder, a networked drive would, by default, show up on the desktop as a connected drive and also as a connected drive in the finder’s sidebar. In Leopard, the network drives appear on the desktop, but in the Finder it simply shows all available servers or network devices and which ones you’re connected (via an eject button). When you click the server, you see all of the available shares which you must then double click to access the share. This is really dumb to me because it implies that you are mounting the share AGAIN even though it IS mounted as indicated by the icons on the desktop. It adds a rather click as well. You also cannot drag and drop a share to the sidebar, only folders within the share which prevents you from “fixing” the inconsistency between what finder shows and what you see on the desktop.

Despite the goofiness of Finder there is a lot to like about it. The iTunes like sidebar, the automagically finding of all network shares and VNC servers on the network is a great touch. Network shares are now remounted on login and done so quickly. Many, if not all, operations are done using threads so mounting a slow network share (say, over a VPN) doesn’t cause finder windows to pause or miss a beat at all. Same thing when a share mysteriously goes away. Cover Flow works very quickly considering I’m using Apple’s lowest end Mac mini (though it is only 2 months old).

Another feature I literally just got up and running is Time Machine. I have a 120GB external USB drive that I took the time to copy the files off of and reformat as HFS+. Time machine’s interface is ridiculous in how flashy it is yet at the same time it feels so tightly integrated it doesn’t matter. Many a Windows fan will point out that Vista has a very similar feature called Previous Versions that is “better” than Time Machine and I have to say that I agree with them in this regard to some extent. Time Machine is a combination of both Previous Versions AND Backup/Restore in Vista. While it makes backup very simple, it requires the use of an external drive. This is fine for desktop systems but a larger number of their systems sold today are laptops. If you’re on the road and you need a file restored, your out of luck. This is where I have to say that Vista’s Previous Versions plus separate backup system makes a bit more sense in that you can separate the two tasks. Time Machine doesn’t allow you to do that.

There is a lot of other stuff that Apple has put into OS X that is worth mentioning but there are so many other places that come to the same conclusion I have you might as well read it there. What I’d rather hit on is how so many of the features in OS X would be simply glossed over if Steve Jobs hadn’t made such an effort to point them out. Cover Flow is a prime example of what I’m getting at. Cover Flow is just a flashier version of the Thumbnails or Gallery view (or whatever it’s called in Windows). It is functionally no different yet it is seen has this huge revelation, a second coming of file system browsing. While the feature IS nice, it isn’t as news worthy as SJ would have you believe.

Same thing with stacks. I’ve been doing the equivalent of stacks in XP for years by dragging folders to the taskbar and then placing them close together. This causes the taskbar to display an arrow that you can click, giving you a menu of what is in the folder. The key difference is that Microsoft didn’t advertise the snot out of that one idea, they left it there for you to figure out on your own. Apple on the other hand took the time to educate their buyers saying hey, look at this. Look at this great time saving feature we added. While they do their best to make it flashier, it’s not that amazing of a feature.

Okay, so I have that rant out of the way. If you can get past the ridiculousness of the Apple marketing team you’ll see that, indeed, OS X really is a nice OS. Leopard improves things that really matter while at the same time not departing from what OS X always has been. Contrast this to Vista where things are so different people are rebelling. While I like to believe 2008 will be a major year for Apple or Linux my gut feeling is that Microsoft’s momentum is just too great and it will remain a Windows world.

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