First Look: 23 things we want in Leopard

You don’t stay on top by standing still. Rather, you keep your edge by continuously looking to deliver something better, whether it’s by improving what you already have or adding something altogether new.

Apple seems to understand this concept as well as anyone. Since introducing Mac OS X in 2001, the company has put out a series of major updates, each one improving upon its predecessor. OS X 10.2 brought greater stability and usability to the operating system. OS X 10.3 added enhancements such as fast user switching alongside built-in features including iChat AV and Exposé. And OS X 10.4 introduced even more features such as searching via Spotlight, simplified scripting through Automator, and a new layer of widgets courtesy of Dashboard.

That pattern of enhancements and improvements figures to continue later this summer, when Apple gives us our first look at OS X 10.5. At the Worldwide Developers Conference in August, Apple plans to provide a sneak preview of the next major update to OS X, code named Leopard. Apple is typically tight-lipped about what to expect from Leopard, so we have no idea what new and improved features await us in August. But that’s not stopping us from coming up with a list of things we’d like to see in OS X 10.5.

We posed that very question to a handful of Macworld editors and contributors: What do you want to see in the next version of Apple. The answers ran the gamut from enhancements to existing features to entirely new capabilities. We don’t know if Apple will follow our suggestions—or come up with even better ones—but we can’t wait to find out what’s store with OS X 10.5.

Improvements to Spotlight

spotlight icon
It’s safe to say that Spotlight was the marquee addition to OS X 10.4. In OS X 10.5, I hope an equal amount of attention is paid to greatly improving the built-in search functionality. Don’t get me wrong: The basic concept of Spotlight is excellent. But I’ve found the implementation to be less than perfect.

Spotlight works well enough for simple searches. But the real power of this feature should be more accessible to the typical user. I want to be able to run searches on phrases, with AND and OR operators, and parentheses. With such features, you could build a query such as:

Find all Word documents with the phrase "cd ~/Users" where (date modified is within a month) and (directory is Monthly Column or directory is Special Features).

There are utilities out there that let you do much of this today, but I want a nicely integrated Apple solution.—ROB GRIFFITHS

Built-in launcher

Many OS X users are familiar with programs known as launchers— Butler, LaunchBar, and QuickSilver represent three of the better-known entrants in the category. These utilities make it very easy to launch applications, open documents, and do other file-related tasks. In OS X 10.4, Apple included a rudimentary launcher—Spotlight. You can search for an application’s name using Spotlight, then highlight it in the results list and press Enter to launch it.

Unfortunately, Spotlight searches tend to return a ton of hits, and so it may not always be easy to find the program you wish to launch in the list of results. It can also be somewhat slow to use, since it’s searching the index of every file on your machine to find the program you want to run.

Apple could fix this in Leopard pretty easily—just create a new “launcher” shortcut key, and have it access a restricted version of the Spotlight index. The restricted version of the index would do away with the indexed content, since a launcher would only have to work on filenames. A preferences panel would let you specify the types of things you’d like the program to launch, from applications to documents to iTunes to Address Book contacts and more.

Do I think this will happen? Maybe. Clearly such a thing wouldn’t offer the same variety of features found in the third-party utilities, but for many users, a simplified launcher may be all they need. Once you’ve tried launching things with a few keystrokes instead of multiple mouse movements, it’s hard to go back to the “old way” of doing things.—RG

Finder fixes

One of the major sticking points for me in OS X is the Finder. It’s the last real bit of legacy code in the system, with its origins dating back to who knows when in the mists of time. Unfortunately, the Finder is really showing its age, too. It’s quite easy to bog the Finder down with things that shouldn’t affect it—opening a folder with 3,500 items in it, for instance, or discovering what happens if you’re connected to another machine’s shared folders when that machine goes to sleep.

There are also a slew of new features I’d like to see in the Finder—a sortable column-view window, easily customizable contextual menus, selectable colors for column view window backgrounds, some way to browse the Spotlight metadata directly in the Finder, and more powerful Smart folders (just to name a few).

At present, I find myself using Path Finder quite a bit, as it already has many of these features (and more). However, as with Spotlight, I’d prefer an official Apple replacement for the Finder.—RG

Windows compatibility and integration…

Boot Camp is a wonderful band-aid and Apple should be commended for allowing a Macintosh to run The Other operating system. That said, it’s still just a band-aid. And even Apple would concede that having to completely shut down one operating system in order to use another is a far from elegant approach to running Windows on your Mac.

If Leopard is going to welcome Windows to the Mac, please let it do so completely. For example, allow users to easily move files between the two operating systems. Make it possible for applications in each OS to share data (such as items copied to the Clipboard). And let Disk Utility support Windows-compatible formats.

If an integrated windowed environment—one similar to Microsoft’s Virtual PC and Parallels’ Parallels Desktop —can’t run Windows at darned-near-native speeds, find another way. Perhaps a scheme similar to fast user-switching that lets you quickly dash between operating systems (while still sharing files through a common storage space).—CHRISTOPHER BREEN

Apple could follow the lead of Parallels Desktop and let you switch between the Mac OS and Windows without a reboot in Leopard.

…Or virtualization

If you’ve got an Intel Mac, there are two ways you can run Windows on it. As Chris noted, the Apple-provided solution, Boot Camp, requires a reboot before you can boot your Mac directly into Windows. This method has some nice benefits, including full hardware support and accelerated graphics—if you want to play PC games on your Intel Mac, this is the way to go.

But a much better solution, at least relative to most typical office and home-use needs, is represented by the aforementioned Parallels Desktop, which is something known as a “virtualization solution.” Parallels Desktop isn’t designed to just run Windows on your Intel Mac. Instead, it’s designed to take advantage of the Intel processor’s ability to create “virtual” CPUs, and then to run an operating system of your choice on that virtual CPU. Parallels lets you run Windows XP Pro, XP, 2000, 98, and almost every other variation of Windows out there. But you can also install and run many different Linux systems as well, and run them all at the same time. You give up some level of hardware support, and you lose accelerated 3-D graphics, but you get about 90 percent of the native speed of the systems, all without a reboot.

So what will Apple do with virtualization in OS X 10.5? All we know is that the company plans to make Boot Camp a part of OS X 10.5; it’s been quiet on any virtualization solutions that may be in the works. It’s possible that Apple may go after the Parallels market and include some virtualization technology directly in Leopard. If it does, then the Mac will truly be the jack of all trades—you’ll be able to run many versions of Linux and Windows directly within OS , or reboot via the final version of Boot Camp for those times when you need 3-D graphics or full hardware support in Windows. Sure, you can do all that today via Parallels, but in OS X 10.5, such capabilities may be built directly into the system.—RG

Virtual desktops

Unix has had it for a while. VirtueDesktops is one of the utilities that bring it to the Mac. It’s the concept of virtual desktops , which is sort of like Fast User Switching within a single user. Anyone who keeps a whole lot of windows open in a whole bunch of different applications knows that it can be quite a mess. With virtual desktops, you can assign different applications to different workspaces, and keep them completely separate. For example, your e-mail program can take up the entire screen in one workspace, while you’ve got a collection of Microsoft Office documents open in another. Switching back and forth between those workspaces with a keyboard shortcut is a whole lot easier than meticulously hiding and showing the applications you want to see.

Although this feature seems a bit esoteric, it’s actually one that could be a major productivity boost if it was brought to mainstream users. (And if you toss in the ability to switch to a virtualized version of Windows as one of your virtual desktops, as you can do today with VirtueDesktops and Parallels, you’d really have something.) If there’s anyone who could make virtual desktops a easy-to-use feature for regular people, it’s the OS engineers at Apple. So bring it on!—JASON SNELL

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