Thoughts on Mac OS X Leopard

When Panther was first announced, I remember pre-ordering it and waiting eagerly to install it. I had the same excitement when Tiger was announced and I pre-ordered it too. However, when Leopard was announced, I was not that excited about it. I am not really sure why. It could be a combination of things. For me there wasn't anything really enticing about Leopard that warranted a head-first jump into installing it. When Panther came, there was Expose and I could really see myself using something like that. In fact, I use Expose daily and I cannot imaging working without it. And when Tiger came, there was Spotlight which I thought was going to be really useful until I realized how slow it was. But there were other redeeming features of Tiger that made the upgrade worthwhile.

When Leopard came out, there were a plethora of new features like Time Machine, Spaces, Coverflow, Stacks and Quick Look. Time Machine by itself was not really compelling since I did regular backups often; however, Time Machine is an excellent way to showcase the underlying technologies built-in OS X to support it. But, I was actually rather disappointed with the cheesy space interface. Spaces is not something that I was eagerly anticipating. I was never a real fan of virtual desktops since every implementation that I had tried seemed to have some annoying feature that just drives me nuts. Instead I prefer to use the "Hide Application" command to keep things tidy. Coverflow is something that I don't think is useful at all. Period. In fact, of the 4 browsing interfaces available in Leopard, I only utilize the Icon View and List View. Fortunately, Stacks and Quick Look are actually pretty useful. In fact, I was using a poor man's version of it in the Preview View of an older version of Cocoatech's PathFinder. The Preview View allows you to quickly view PDF and Images in the file manager itself.

Moreover, some of the other 300 features of Leopard such as the new functionalities of Mail and iChat are just plain ridiculous. For instance, how frequently would you want to send a fancy HTML message from Mail? How many times do you want to use a fancy background for your iChat sessions? Nonetheless, Leopard seems to be the best selling version of Mac OS X to date with 2 million copies sold during the opening weekend. So, there must be people out there who really do care about those features (not including developers who are probably interested in the new development tools that Leopard offers).

Those rather non-compelling features of Leopard and the fact that I was using software that might break on it prompted me to wait three weeks before installing Leopard. So I installed it yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see the 10.5.1 update released today. Surprisingly, despite all the rants from the early adopters about how hideous the Leopard user interface is, it did not really bother me. The translucent menubar and the 3D dock complement the new theme of Leopard pretty well. What I did notice was that Apple Mail gets more hideous with each incarnation. Naturally, the first thing I did after installing Leopard was change the tacky wallpaper of the galaxy. Also, as usual with every OS upgrade, I did a clean install of Leopard so I don't run into any weird problems caused by my previous configuration. Regardless of what other people might tell you, doing a clean install is always beneficial. The slight inconvenience caused by having to migrate your data manually from your backup is easily alleviated by the peace of mind that you wouldn't suffer from all the cruft that has accumulated from your previous OS.

I have read about some rather compelling features that Leopard has to offer for developers. The Objective-C 2.0 language now supports garbage collection and that is really nice. Xcode is also supposed to have refactoring support built-in. And there is better support now for Ruby, Rails and RubyCocoa which I use extensively. So these are the features that are really appealing for me as a developer. I look forward to playing around with those next week during Thanksgiving break. So for me, Leopard seems to be an OS that is mostly catered for Developers and they had to throw some of those features on top of it to attract the normal users. And it is in this area that Apple still has the last say. If you are a developer who wants to use the latest tools, you have no choice but to upgrade. And hopefully convince enough of your customers to upgrade with you.

Here are some of the tools that I use on a daily basis and how they fare on Leopard:

After a few more months, more people will be using Leopard and probably all the tools will be updated by then. However, the fact remains (as with Vista) that it is getting harder and harder to actually make compelling features for the OS. Most features can easily be implemented by developers given the right API. So what new features should actually be part of the OS? And would those features be compelling enough to get people to upgrade?

comments powered by Disqus