With the announcement of Leopard’s release date, there were plenty of comments that the Leopard upgrade is nothing but a few bells and whistles added to Tiger. Some think that there is no reason to upgrade from Tiger to Leopard. After all, Tiger is a very refined version of OS X. Why would you need to upgrade? There are bunch of features, which if worked as advertised, actually make Leopard worth the purchase price.
The Major Changes
First is the new Finder. I absolutely loathe Finder in Tiger (and in Panther when I used that). I have used numerous other file managers to avoid using Finder with a healthy supplement of Quicksilver. I haven’t gone so far as to replace Finder fully (like some have) – but I hardly use Finder considering it is so feature-poor. In many ways Finder is well behind Windows XP’s Explorer when it comes to features.
Cover Flow in Finder also is something I’m very excited for — switching to a paperless system for household files has led to an extraordinary amount of PDFs. Going through various documents using Cover Flow and Quick Look to look inside a document without opening the actual document seems like an incredibly useful application of these technologies. Cover Flow also is a nice addition to the Finder since I am hardly a fan of using iPhoto to manage any pictures. Cover Flow is Apple’s version of Windows Exporer’s Film Strip feature. To a large degree this feature is just eye candy in iTunes, but for files, it may be of great utility.
Sharing folders and documents over the network on a Mac has never really been a problem on OS X. The problem is Mac OS X hangs when a share disconnects from the network. This is a very real problem if you use your network at home and forget to disconnect the share. When you get to a new location, OS X hangs and sometimes you may have to restart if there are time constraints. Leopard’s Finder should have a new way of dealing with networking to avoid these system-wide hangs. If it works anything like iTunes, it will be a welcome change.
Spotlight searching over the network is another feature that is really helpful. I take advantage of Smart Folders with Spotlight comments all the time. However, you cannot create a Smart Folder based on the Spotlight comments of a remote computer in Tiger. Leopard has changed this as well. Spotlight searches can be conducted over the network; search includes metadata which should lead to network-based smart folders.
The Hardly Revolutionary Features
There is some validity to the argument that there are some needless features touted as groundbreaking and revolutionary. Spaces is just a fancy desktop manager; virtual desktop managers have been around on Windows (provided by Microsoft as a free PowerToy, no less), Linux and Mac for ages now. The new dock does not impress me. The 3D look adds very little (if any) utility to Dock.app. A transparent menu bar is hardly a feature that should have been mentioned at the original Keynote which described Tiger. A built-in auto hide would have been a nice addition to reclaim a little bit more of the desktop.
The In-Between Features
Leopard also has its share of items which are a mixed bag. Time machine is a good idea, but it does require an external hard drive. A better idea would be online storage through Google since Apple and Google are working together. I will never understand Steve Jobs’ fascination with image rich e-mails. The upgrade to Mail could just be a software update in some respects and not a major revision. Boot Camp also is no longer a beta with an expiration date, so install Windows to your heart’s content. The new version still does not support NTFS – you can only write to your Windows partition if it is FAT32. Preview is also now a more powerful application. Image manipulation is included in the lightweight PDF reader. Let’s hope it doesn’t become bloatware like Adobe Reader.
Cool Features You Might Have Missed
There are a bunch of little features that are not trumpeted but I find rather cool. The DVD player has been upgraded with an “Image Bar” which lets you have access to all the chapters and bookmarks. It pretty much copies the DVD scene selection menu without stopping the movie. This is actually one of the touted features of both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray discs, and Apple is giving us these features for regular DVDs. Plus there’s finally a time slider to get to certain parts of your DVDs.
Front Row now looks like Apple TV’s sophisticated interface. There is now a clock overlay on screen savers — that’s pretty useful Now we can all use our old Macs as giant clocks! System wide grammar check saves you from having to open full word processing software to check your writing. Bonjour-based scanning (if you get one of the few mac based scanners) is also supported. This should mean you will be able to scan over your network.
An intriguing addition has been made to iChat called “iChat Theater” that allows you show nearly any file including movies to your friends. Now, I know Apple has mentioned you could show presentations and home movies with this feature, but we all know what people will eventually do with it.
I have already have put money aside to pick up my copy of Leopard. I really hope these features work as advertised. Apple spent the extra time testing Leopard; hopefully, it will be time well spent.