Apple Mac OS X Leopard unveiled

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Now we’ve all calmed down a little from the rollercoaster ride of Steve Jobs’ Keynote Speech at WWDC06, it’s time to step back and take stock of the next generation of Apple goodness that’s coming our way over the coming months.

Mac OS X Leopard

After the mockery of a certain Redmond copycat, we got down to just a few of the new and improved features of Mac OS X 10.5, codenamed Leopard.

Here’s the highlights and my initial thoughts on them:

Time Machine is Apple’s take on backing up files. They discovered that only about a quarter of computer users actually backed up their computers, and of those, only around 4% actually used dedicated backup software.

Time Machine does away with the need to remember to back up by automatically backing up files every time they’re changed, either onto the same hard disc or onto another drive or server.

It’s incremental backup on speed, all controlled from the Finder. A time line on the right-hand side of the screen can be scrolled up and down, and Finder windows with the state of the system at that particular time will zoom (thanks to Core Animation) into view. Entire systems or single files can be restored simply.

The system sounds great considering how few people actually bother or know how to comprehensively back up their system. It will be interesting to note how much drive space the whole thing takes, and how much effort it is to really delete something.


Mail has been a part of OS X since the start, and it’s evolved
but not as fast as some would like it. Whilst it’s a good system, even
in Tiger it hasn’t felt as integrated or as feature-packed as it could
do, and many Mac users have used third-party e-mail clients instead.

A
lot of emphasis seems to have been placed on the presentational
elements of the Leopard Mail upgrade, with HTML-compliant styles and
easy insertion of graphics and photos.

Also included is the ability to turn any text into a to-do item, and
keep notes within the Mail application. There’s better integration with
iCal (Mac’s calendar application).

I was a little disappointed not to hear mention of improved spam
control, because in my opinion Mail is sadly lacking in learning and
adapting to the deluge of spam that comes in. Maybe it will have
improved – but if it has I’m surprised they haven’t mentioned it.
Still, there’s a few months left to build in some algorithms.

iChat has been upgraded to allow much greater flexibility in
presenting and collaborating with other people, including some very
nifty overlays, desktop sharing (take over someone elses Mac desktop to
allow collaboration), and do full-screen presentations of iPhoto albums
or Keynote presentations.

A lot of this is going to take serious processing and graphics power to
look good and smooth – but that’s fine given today’s other
announcements. It’s very, very impressive for Mac-to-Mac communications.

Spaces
is a completely new way of working, with multiple desktops. Think of it
a little bit like Exposé but for entire desktops. It’s going to be
interesting to see how this works – it’s hard to explain in detail
without being able to get a hands-on trial of it.

Dashboard has evolved. Whether it’s the app you love or hate
(some can’t get enough of those widgets, others see it as a waste of
resources) Dashboard has become easier for developers to create widgets
for. There’s also a new feature whereby end users can turn any part of
a web page into a standalone widget that updates just as the original
site would.

I don’t use the Dashboard as much as I could, but it does have
significant potential, and this opens the way for more innovative
widgets.

Spotlight is a great feature but one that always needed to
improve in features. It’s great for finding things on the Mac it’s
installed on, but doesn’t currently have many advanced search functions.

Leopard’s Spotlight will allow searching across multiple Macs on a
network – something I’ve wanted to be able to do from the one machine
since I first saw it – as well as getting more advanced search
functionality.

iCal has improved with group scheduling and document sharing. I
can’t get too excited about it really, but then I’m not really into
scheduling in a big way. This doesn’t sound like a massive update.

Accessibility has been stepped up a few notches, with a new
synthesised voice called Alex, support for Braille devices, screen
positional audio cues, object navigation, and closed captioning support
in QuickTime.

I have to say ‘Alex’ still doesn’t sound as good as I’d hoped – I’ve
heard better computer-generated voices online – but it’s acceptable. A
female version would be nice.

Everything’s gone 64-bit. Without getting technical, basically the
whole of the system will run 64-bit applications, but it’ll also run
32-bit apps without messing around switching operating systems. Being
64-bit, it means new Intel systems are free to use the Xeon processors
and future 64-bit procs.

Finally, Core Animation
takes the Mac’s graphical user experience to another level. If you
thought Tiger’s graphics were impressive, wait ’til you see Leopard’s.
Not only is it good news for the end user, but developers will
apparently find it much easier to code graphical effects to enhance
their applications. It’s the power behind a lot of the improved systems
like Time Machine and iChat.

So there you are, a brief roundup of some of the features Apple have been kind enough to share with us so far.

Andy Merrett