First Look: 23 things we want in Leopard

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

Subscribe to the Help Desk Newsletter