A first reaction to Mac Pro, Leopard

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This wasn’t a Steve Jobs keynote so much as an Apple keynote. The high-profile head of Apple wasn’t the entire circus, but rather just a ringmaster — and I’m okay with it. More to the point, the opening salvo of this week’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference was full of red meat and hearty potatoes for the Mac followers among us: the unveiling of a new professional desktop Mac and a brand-new version of Mac OS X. What could be better?

The Mac Pro

Back in July 2003 I went down to the Apple campus to get an in-depth look at the brand-new Power Mac G5. In the past three years, a lot of people have forgotten just how much of the talk about the Power Mac G5 was about heat and wind. No, I’m not talking about the endless flow of hot gas from Apple analysts and pundits. I’m talking about the ventilation from those blazing-hot G5 processors.

In 2003, Apple was coming off of a debacle — the "Mirrored Drive Door" Power Mac G4 was being called “wind tunnel” by the clever classes, thanks to its ridiculously loud fans. The G5 was engineered by Apple to address that problem: the company’s engineers created a desktop enclosure with four separate thermal zones and nine fans in order to keep the G5 cool, yet quiet.

Flash forward to today and the change underneath that silvery case is staggering. Two dual-core Xeon processors live in a house that’s half the size of the enclosure that the G5’s dual processors used. And the remaining space is no longer empty but for the sake of airflow: it’s packed with additional features. Space for two optical drives and four serial ATA drives? The old Power Mac G5 had to tuck all its storage on its top shelf, far way from the fire down below. And the drives in this new Mac Pro slide in on clever drive rails, making them quite a bit easier to get to than the cramped-hand fit inside the Power Mac.

More processor cores, more ports — five glorious USB ports, four FireWire ports, two Ethernet ports — and all for a remarkably aggressive price. Every time Apple comes out with a new pro tower, it’s always the “fastest Mac ever.” This Mac Pro may be the Mac with the best price/performance ratio in the platform’s history. I can’t wait to get my hands on one.

Leopard’s debut

Isn’t there a great showbiz axiom about how you should always leave ‘em wanting more? That’s how I felt about Leopard — no thanks to Steve Jobs’ teasing mention of several important tip-top secret Leopard features that the company’s not ready to announce yet. As a strategy, it seems reasonable, since holding back new features means that Apple will have some stuff left over to make a big splash when Leopard is closer, either at Macworld Expo or at shipping time. Yet as a Mac user it drives me batty, because I want to know more.

Time Machine looks brilliant — although, of course, the proof will be in how well it actually works. But still, how typical of Apple is it to create an easy-to-use interface that changes the typical behavior of millions of computer users?

The Complete Package announcement seems a bit mysterious to me, but it suggests that if you buy Leopard and don’t have a system that bears an Apple Remote, you’ll be able to buy some sort of separate remote control and gain control of Front Row. But I have to say, I was hoping that Apple was going to declare that everyone who buys Leopard gets a free copy of iLife.

It was great to see the announcement of Spaces — as someone who put this on my Leopard Wish List, I’m excited to see Apple support multiple workspaces with an interface that will take it beyond the province of the geeks and into the world of everyday users.

Finally, I wanted to highlight a feature that didn’t even make it into Steve Jobs’ very own top-ten list: an upgrade to iCal. I’ve been using iCal for about a year now, and my biggest frustration is that it’s a one-way street. I can show other people my calendars, and they can show me theirs, but there’s no way for several people to control one calendar. With the Leopard version of iCal, which supports the CalDAV standard for calendar sharing, iCal’s achilles heel seems to have disappeared. Huzzah!

Wrapping up

It’s a lot to get your head around. We’ll have much more about all this stuff in the days to come. Right now a half-dozen or more Macworld writers are busily digging into the latest announcements, so stick with Macworld.com for serious-depth looks at the Mac Pro and everything that we know — barring those super-secret features! — about Leopard.

(Corrected 8/7, 7:33 p.m.: I got my Quicksilvers and my Mirrored Drive Doors mixed up. Hate when that happens!)

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