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

Make a true media center

Apple has introduced many innovative technologies and applications in the last number of years, but the company still lags behind in one increasingly important area—the media center. I’m not talking about a multimedia management application such as Front Row—I want to see Apple integrate a full-fledged media center into Leopard.

The problem with setting up a media center on a Mac right now is that it requires the user to set up and configure multiple applications individually and then try to pull everything together manually. Apple needs to step in and make this process seamless for the user.

The biggest missing piece in Front Row is support for recording television in a TiVo-like fashion; Apple should build this functionality into Macs, offer it as an add-on, or work with a company like Elgato Systems to support TV-tuner hardware within Front Row. In addition, you should be able to buy songs, videos, and movies directly within the interface, so you can watch content or sync directly to your iPod, all without leaving the Mac media center.

I hope Apple takes Leopard as the opportunity to dominate the home-media market like the iPod has dominated the portable music market. If anyone can do it, Apple can.—JIM DALRYMPLE

File and account security

The FileVault automatic encryption technology could definitely stand to be more reliable and easier to use in OS X 10.5.

FileVault, OS X’s automatic encryption technology, held some promise but it was just unreliable enough that most users avoided using it. For example, some users have lost data when FileVault was in the middle of encrypting something and the Mac’s power suddenly shut off. What’s more, FileVault places your data in a single encrypted disk image. Should that image become corrupt, you risk losing lots of files.

Let’s hope that Apple takes FileVault back to the drawing board, improving reliability so that there’s no chance that data will be corrupted (or if it is, that a secure backup exists somewhere).

FileVault can also be a bit confusing for some users. Set a Master Password? Then turn on FileVault? A simple setup assistant would be a welcome addition here.—CB

Restore more

It’s not often that I wish for Windows features on my Macintosh, but I would like to see Apple implement System Restore in the Mac OS. This is a feature that “rewinds” your computer to points where it was happy and stable. Should your data become corrupt or your hardware confused because of some action you’ve taken (installed a dicey hunk of software, for example) you could restore the Mac to a point before you took that ill-advised action—if this features winds up in OS X 10.5, that is.—CB

Smart locations

I’ve been a full-time Mac laptop user for years now. I move between two main locations, my house and the Macworld offices, almost every day. My MacBook is smart enough to intuit where it is based on a few small pieces of information, most importantly the name of the wireless base station it’s connected to. It just can’t do anything with that information—and Apple should give it those powers.

If my MacBook knows it’s at home, it should be able to set my home printer as the default printer, update my iChat status to “At Home,” mount my local file server, run an AppleScript or four, and even change my default mail server. Thankfully, Location X does this now. But this should be a fundamental part of Mac OS X.—JS

Smart users

Do you use different Macs in different places? Don’t you wish you could bring your personal information, and key applications, along with you as you go? That’s the concept behind Lexar’s PowerToGo, a USB flash drive with built-in Windows software that lets you store all your preferences, documents, and even some applications, and take them with you from place to place.

I wish the Mac had something like that, and I wish Apple was the one to implement it. The Mac’s already got support for multiple users, and can even store user data on a remote file server. So why not on a keychain drive or an iPod? That way, when I plug into my Power Mac G5 at home, I can feel truly at home, and not like a stranger on a strange system.—JS

Improve VoiceOver

Apple performed a great service for the vision impaired when it included VoiceOver, a screen reader, in Mac OS X 10.4. Similar utilities were expensive and not intuitive to use. VoiceOver helped with the first issue—it’s free with every copy of the Mac OS—but it still needs help with the second. Apple packed VoiceOver with options; things should be simplified.

For instance, VoiceOver’s Navigation tab carries three navigation options, four cursor tracking options, and two text selection tracking options. Before forcing this level of control on users, why not offer a couple of presets that configure VoiceOver in ways that most people will use?

Also, the voices included with recent versions of the Mac OS are robotic. Companies such as Cepstral have demonstrated that you can create more natural sounding voices. I hope to hear some of those voices in Leopard. And when those voices do speak, I’d like what is spoken to be more immediately useful—for example, I do want to know the name of the button my cursor hovers over, but I don’t need to know that it’s “tab 2 of 5.”—CB

Expand Disk Utility’s powers

Disk Utility
Apple’s Disk Utility is a useful program, but it could be even more so. While Disk Utility is capable of repairing disks, it can really only fix simple errors. For more complex fixes, the user is left to purchase TechTool Pro and/or DiskWarrior. It’d be great if Apple bundled similar functionality into Disk Utility. You’d still need to reboot from another drive (or the installer CD), but it would be nicer than relying on a third-party application.

This is especially important as both OS X and the hardware that we use to run it keeps changing—as of late June, for example, neither DiskWarrior or TechTool Pro was available in a Universal version for Intel-based Macs. If the tool were provided directly by Apple, we wouldn’t have such issues.

I’d also like to see Disk Utility gain the ability to create and resize partitions on the fly. OS X is clearly capable of doing this—Boot Camp will do it to allow for the installation of Windows on Intel Macs, and third-party tools such as iPartition work on PowerPC Macs. I’ve always partitioned my drives, for better organization and data integrity (I could lose a partition without losing the whole drive), and I’d love it if it were simpler to do.—RG

More from Mail

Apple’s Mail gets better with each iteration and my hope is that it will continue to do so. I’d like that next version to offer more extensive rules—both conditions and actions—so power users can better filter and sort their mail. Adding a Change Subject action would allow you to automatically tag, file, and forward incoming messages.

The Accounts preference could use some work as well. For example, allow users to download just the message subject or a few kilobytes of each message rather than giving them only the option to be prompted when a message exceeds a certain size.—CB

Smart syncing

Mac OS X’s integration with .Mac’s iDisk feature is impressive. If you drop files into your iDisk, OS X keeps a copy of those files on your Mac and automatically synchronizes them with the .Mac server.

It’s a great feature—and I want to be able to do it with any folder on my drive. Let me pick a folder and synchronize it to a folder on a mounted file server or a remote server via WebDAV or FTP. Because as nice as .Mac is, it’s a whole lot slower than the file server sitting on my local network. —JS

Keeping tabs with iChat

iChat needs some serious usability improvements, and now’s the time. The clever utility Chax has hacked some cool features into iChat—like the ability to display multiple chats in one window via a tabbed interface. But it really should be Apple’s own engineers and user-interface designers who take a crack at this one. I’d also like to see iChat be able to optionally save audio and video chat files, so I can have a recording of my chats without resorting to external utilities. Most importantly, iChat needs to spread its wings, connecting to other chat services while also maintaining its strong links with AOL’s Instant Messenger network.—JS

We hope that an updated version of Automator includes more sophisticated options like variables, conditionals, and branching.

Automator II

Automator was a great step forward for Apple—bringing AppleScript into the hands of regular Mac users. But more could be done. Of course, integrating AppleScript into more applications is a greater variety of application is necessary, but once that’s done, how about bringing a Record function into AppleScript/Automator that really works?

Far too often you open Script Editor, click Record, perform a series of actions, and the results pane tells you little more than that you’ve switched to another application. Given AppleScript and a teachable Automator, programs like QuicKeys and iKey shouldn’t have to exist.—CB

More Automator updates

While we’re at it, it would be great to see an update to Automator that included some slightly more advanced programming tools—namely variables, conditionals, and branching—so that Automator actions don’t have to be limited to having a one-track mind.—JS

Capturing moving pictures

OS X has always had pretty good screen capture tools—you can take screenshots of the whole screen or a window, and have those shots go to the hard drive or the clipboard. But what I’d love to see in OS X 10.5 is a built-in screen movie capture tool. For anyone who writes, or does tech support for relatives, or who plays video games, capturing a screen movie can be a valuable tool—for showing others how something works, or just for proving to your friends that you really did kill that level 17 Jwarbatic Slather Beast with your bare hands and a Twinkie.

As of today, on PowerPC Macs at least, Ambrosia’s Snapz Pro X is the best solution for capturing screen movies. Snapz Pro X does a very good job at capturing movies of onscreen actions, but I think Apple could build in a perfect tool. It’d be great if I could just tell my relatives, “Hit Shift-Command-5 and record a movie of what you’re seeing on the screen,” instead of trying to debug things through iChats and/or e-mail. I can’t very well ask them to all go buy a relatively expensive tool just to make things easier for me. Well, I could ask, but I’m pretty sure I’d get a very low response rate!—RG

Bring back Sherlock

I expect one of two things to happen with Sherlock in OS X 10.5. Either the Web services app will make a triumphant return, or it’s going to vanish into the ether. Unfortunately, I think the latter is most probable, and that’s too bad.

Rather than managing a whole mess of open Dashboard widgets, why can’t we have the option of a single application that bundles features into one window?

With the demise of Karelia Software’s Watson—a sorely missed Web-searching tool that could find eBay items, airline travel times, phone numbers, and other data—Sherlock is really the only Web services application out there. Watson was an amazing program for its time, simplifying and streamlining the process of accessing the wealth of info present on the Internet. It’s apparent that Apple sees Dashboard as the successor for Sherlock, as many of Apple’s widgets duplicate features found in Sherlock.

But from my seat, there’s a big difference between using a nicely-written OS X application that has many features bundled in one window and opening 15 Dashboard widgets. The application is easily managed; the collection of widgets, not so much. I long for a usable replacement for Watson, and I had hoped Apple would pick up the slack with Sherlock. That hasn’t happened yet, and sadly, I don’t think Leopard is going to end my longing… but one can always hope.—RG

Pop-up innovations

Tiger brought us Dashboard, and scores of Dashboard widgets have appeared on the scene in the ensuing months. But Dashboard is still far more limited than it should be. Sure, it’s a clever idea to hide Dashboard widgets on an invisible layer that only appears when you press F12—but as the saying goes, out of sight means out of mind. I find myself rarely using Dashboard widgets, mostly because I never remember to press F12 to see what’s going on.

So it’s time for some more Dashboard innovations from Apple. First off, you should be able to (legally and officially, not by exploiting hacks or bugs in the system) drag widgets off of the Dashboard layer and into the regular Mac interface. But let’s go beyond that: Why not give Dashboard programmers the ability to interact with the regular Mac interface when the need arises? For example, what about a widget that floats to your Mac’s surface when something important happens?

Speaking of floating notifications, lots of clever Mac applications now support Growl, a system for generating system notifications—largely in the form of small floating windows that briefly appear when something important happens. Once again, this is a place where Apple could really inspire some interface innovation by creating something like Growl and providing it as a resource for all Mac software to use.—JS

Tabbed Terminal

I use Terminal a lot—for everything from using SSH to connect to my home Macs while traveling to uploading files to the Mac OS X Hints server to installing open source software. As such, I usually have a large number of Terminal windows open. Even on a large screen, it can become problematic keeping them all straight, especially when they have identical background and font colors.

Instead of managing 20 separate windows, I’d love OS X 10.5’s Terminal to offer the option for tabbed Terminal windows. The open-source application iTerm has tabbed windows, and they’re amazingly handy. Unfortunately, the program was last updated in February, and there are a few minor issues with it.

For now, I use iTerm when I’m going to be doing a window-intensive Unix session, and Terminal the rest of the time. But if Apple were to add tabs to Terminal in Leopard, I could rid myself of another application.—RG

PowerPC or not to be?

I don’t know what new features Steve Jobs will have up his sleeve when he pulls back the curtain to reveal OS X 10.5 at August’s Worldwide Developers Conference. But there is one prediction about the OS X update code-named Leopard that I’m absolutely confident about making.

Mac OS X 10.5 will run on both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs.

As for the next major version of OS X after Leopard? Well, I wouldn’t get my hopes up, PowerPC users.

The history of Apple—indeed, of any company that plies its trade in the tech biz—is one of cutting off legacy technologies once they grow too onerous to maintain. Consider the last major transition the Mac platform underwent. In May 2002, Steve Jobs declared OS 9 as dead as disco —a little more than a year after OS X’s debut. By 2003, the company stopped selling new Macs that could boot into OS 9.

It’s a little too soon for Apple to take a similar tack with PowerPC-based machines. Still, you have to figure the clock started winding down on those models the precise moment Jobs announced the transition to Intel-supplied processors. Indeed, while Leopard will likely run just fine on a PowerPC machine, a feature such as the promised Boot Camp integration will most definitely not. And while I can’t definitively say whether other, as-of-yet-unannounced Leopard features will only work on Intel machines at this point in time, if I may paraphrase the Magic 8-Ball, all signs point to yes.

But I wouldn’t rend my garments just yet, PowerPC owners—that PowerMac G5 or PowerBook G4 has a few years of life in it before Apple cuts you off from future OS X updates. Apple has indicated that the August showing of Leopard will be a preview, not a full-fledged release. Let’s assume we don’t see a shipping version of OS X 10.5 until at least Macworld Expo in January 2007 or, more likely, spring of that year. Since we no longer live in an age of annual OS X overhauls, let’s also assume that it’s another 18 to 24 months after that before OS X 10.6—Fisher Cat? Siamese? Meerkat?—arrives. By my estimate, then, it’ll be 2009 by the time Apple issues its last call for PowerPC Macs. (“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t compute here.”) And that assumes that OS X 10.6 is, in fact, the last call. Or that OS X+1 isn’t warming up in the wings, for that matter.—PHILIP MICHAELS

[ Senior editor Rob Griffiths runs the Mac OS X Hints Web site. Senior editor Christopher Breen offers Mac troubleshooting hints in his Mac 911 weblog. Jason Snell is the editorial director of Macworld . Jim Dalrymple is Macworld.com’s news director. Philip Michaels is the executive editor of the Web site. ]

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