‘Leftovers’ can be oh-so polished.

Leopard graphic from Apple/WWDC07Yes, you guessed it. The most visible highlight of this year’s WWDC keynote is a brand spanking new web site for Apple.com. That’s it folks. Nothing to see here. Move along now. Or is it?

More seriously, I bet the average Mac user is going to be baffled, still waiting for those über-features that were so hush-hush that Stevey couldn’t tell us last year, but had to wait until now to announce. You know which ones I’m talking about: those that never existed in the first place. I mean, really, is this it? If the new Finder and the new skin and the glorified back up application (aka TimeMachine) is all they’ve got then I’m seriously thinking they made a huge mistake announcing a $129 price tag for this cat. $59 would be more like it. Why? Because Leopard is such an indifferent product to the end-user it just doesn’t make sense. What gives?

Well, Leopard is what Leopard was always meant to be: a developer’s release. It’s touted to sport the most significant and numerous improvements under the hood than any other version of OS X since 10.2. The kernel has been extensively optimised, Core Animation is slated to ‘change the way applications look’ multiplying the ‘bling factor’ several times, XCode and the other Dev. Tools are revamped (new major XCode release, DTrace etc), resolution independence and many others.

The rest of the features Steve Jobs announced are cool, but very minor. They closely resemble features that never made it in previous releases, but were now sufficiently polished to be included in Leopard, i.e leftovers: The brand new Finder we were promised, but never got 4.5 years ago — I hope this one is significantly improved — see multithreading. ‘Stacks’, originally rumoured back in spring/summer 2002 to come along with Jaguar, they were even part of the Jaguar betas for a while as ‘Piles’, but were pulled from the final version for reasons unknown (to me at least). The virtual desktops, UNIX converts (among others) have been craving for, ever since 10.0 hit the stores in March 2001. An assortment of minor, largely uninteresting improvements to iChat and the abuse err. milking of Apple’s Coverflow acquisition. One noteworthy ‘improvement’ is the homogenisation of the User Interface; at last Apple can — at least try to — be consistent with its own HIG, although I reckon the chaos with custom widgets will continue for many years to come, if not forever.

What will undoubtedly cause many to raise an eyebrow (or two) is Apple’s release of Safari for Windows. It is baffling why Apple did not release iChat for Windows, but did so with Safari. iChat on Windows would certainly make it a much more useful application than what it is now. Port iChat to Windows and add MSN support.

There are few reasons for which Apple might want to release Safari on Windows. It doesn’t seem like a trojan horse, in the sense that Safari alone, despite it being by far the fastest and technically superior browser out there, cannot convince someone to drop Windows and get a Mac. Then, there’s no immediate monetary gain to Apple from doing so. There must be some other reason, and some may argue that Apple did it to promote Safari as a viable alternative, pushing for its adoption and thus increasing its browser market share so that more of the Web works great with the Mac and the iPhone. I don’t buy that: Safari and Firefox are both highly conformant to standards and pages written for one work great on the other, with very very few exceptions. Apple has nothing to worry about when it comes to compatibility on the Web: Safari does it like the best of them. Actually, Safari is — and has been for years — the best of them. :)

I cannot but think that Apple made a mistake with Leopard. By taking so long to release it and having people believe (well, those that actually believe Steve, anyway) that there were numerous ‘top-secret features’ to be announced it raised expectations. And in the end, it doesn’t matter how much polish you put onto it, if there’s no substance, well, there’s no substance. And while the part of the Mac users that drool every time they see anything coming out of Cupertino will probably do so again, to many budget conscious end-users Leopard will probably seem lacking the substance it should’ve had given the time it took to develop it. It seems nice, it’s certainly an improvement, but it’s probably not worth it. Then again, the improved performance, the brand new over-the-top (but hopefully useful) Finder and the prospect of amazing new apps using Core Animation alone might be enough to convince some that are not getting a new Mac to shell out for it. For those of us that have followed OS X from day one, it certainly seems like Leopard equals a lot of under the hood work, Core Animation and a bunch of leftover features from previous releases. Needless to say, if you’re a developer Leopard is a must. If not you can probably live without it for the time being, but this will most certainly change once third-party applications start depending on its new APIs. And something tells me that won’t take too long.

[Update: John Gruber at Daring Fireball has some interesting things to say about the keynote. One thing that never crossed my mind and that he absolutely nails, is search revenue as a reason for porting Safari to Windows.]

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7 Responses to “‘Leftovers’ can be oh-so polished.”

  1. papo says:

    the keynote was actually bad in terms of ‘show us the money’.
    I still believe Leopard is going to be a decent OS and we are going to have fun with it, though I wish Steve was more creative today!

  2. cosmix says:

    Papo, you’re right. The keynote was mediocre at best. I have no doubts that Leopard is going to be a great OS. I wasn’t really disappointed by the presentation and/or lack of features, as I was fortunate enough to know many of them in advance. For those of us following OS X since the beginning (or rather even before the beginning :) ), it is absolutely clear that Apple bundled a bunch of previously rejected/incomplete features together and along with Core Animation (perhaps the most interesting addition to Leopard along with ZFS (if it happened after all), the new development tools esp. DTrace, and — of course — resolution independence) decided to present them all as 10.5. I think the features are cool, but generally minor. As I said, this is clearly a developer oriented release in that it lays the foundations for things to come and does not include ground breaking features out of the box. To cut a long story short, I guess Apple is keeping its more ‘interesting’ features (if any) for 10.6/later. :)

  3. Mark Papadakis says:

    I think Apple is not keeping anything for 10.6 or 10.7 for that matter. In fact, I am willing to bet they didn’t have a single new other feature to talk about ( perhaps not even in paper) when they first talked about Leopard and those new ones ( Finder, QuickLook and the new desktop+spaces ) were drawn from the design boards of years past ( just like you said ) or they simply went ahead and did the obvious ( finder ).

    Having said that, I love Leopard. There is probably nothing more I could ask from Apple for a new O release, other them actually sticking to ZFS and hooking up screen sharing with iChat, as opposed to be dependent on the computers sharing facility of Finder.

    As far as the WWDC event goes, I am truly let down by the total times iWork, iLife and the new iMac were mentioned ( zero ). I love those products and I was expecting announcements on that front ( core-animation enhanced effects, this and that ).

  4. cosmix says:

    I think Apple is not keeping anything for 10.6 or 10.7 for that matter.

    I know. I was trying to cut them some slack as I’m often criticised (by people that should really know better) that I’m too harsh on Apple. :)

    I lean towards your opinion: they had nothing, Steve just talked bull, as usual, trying to postpone disappointment; the thing is, developers are — typically — not as stupid as your average fanboy.

    Still, as I wrote above, I too think that Leopard is going to be great; perhaps not worth it (for those concerned with its price) straight away — it doesn’t offer anything groundbreaking — but nevertheless great. And that’s not because of its new features, but because it’s based on what’s already there: A great codebase and a great ecosystem. I’d like to believe that Apple has interesting stuff to present in future versions in its arsenal; Sadly, I don’t think it does as it lacks the capacity for basic research that it had twenty years ago. That’s too expensive for them and they’re already stretched too thin.

  5. kostis says:

    I know. I was trying to cut them some slack as I’m often criticised (by people that should really know better) that I’m too harsh on Apple. :)

    Not harsh, Just bitter and cranky and pessimistic : )

    It’s true that it’s harder for them to innovate, but it’s pretty much harder for anybody, even MS with their MS Research division. What would a truly revolutionary next-gen OS be like? No one knows. Until somebody comes up with something, we’ll be stuck with evolutionary upgrades.

  6. cosmix says:

    Not harsh, Just bitter and cranky and pessimistic

    Oh come on Kostís, stop beating a dead horse. The remark wasn’t really directed at you anyway: Your opinion stopped counting after the zillionth bitchy rant about the PS3 and Sony at Spitaki. :)

    The keynote sucked really hard and Leopard is only going to be great because it’s the ‘evolution’ of an amazing OS and — most importantly — because the third party apps are going to carry it with (what’s hopefully going to be) impressive use of Core Animation and increased requirements for its APIs. As a product, for the end-user, it’s not much better than Tiger. I wouldn’t even call it evolutionary. Tiger was evolutionary, in lieu of Spotlight, Dashboard and whatnot. Leopard is an eye-candy laden Tiger with an over-the-top backup and a Finder that thinks it’s iTunes.

    My post was sarcastic — sure — and conveyed my mild disappointment (even though I knew in advance of the — lack of — features). Cranky, bitter and pessimistic? Well, only if you’re naive (and/or indifferent) enough to not get it. :)

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