First Look: What we wanted in Leopard: Request vs. reality

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In the run-up to Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote presentation, a group of Macworld editors sat down and produced a list of the features they hoped to see in Mac OS X 10.5, code-named Leopard. Now that Apple CEO Steve Jobs has given us a partial peek behind the curtain, it’s time to assess our wishes against what Apple will deliver in Spring 2007 when Leopard is set to pounce.

1. Improvements to Spotlight

We’ve made no secret of our frustrations with Tiger’s Spotlight search feature. Not least among those frustrations is Spotlight’s inability to perform complex searches. Leopard’s version of Spotlight changes that, allowing you to conduct Boolean searches using And, Or, and Not conditions. In addition you will be able to search using specific file attributes—by author, type, or keyword. However, Jobs mentioned nothing about improving Spotlight so that it easily finds files by a specific title—Aunt Betty’s Pasta Recipe, for example—as the Mac OS’s Find feature once did.

2. Built-in launcher

Speaking of Spotlight, Apple appears to have addressed our next request for a built-in launcher. In a feature that appears to be similar to the most basic capabilities of Objective Development’s LaunchBar, in Spotlight you will be able to enter the first few characters of an application’s name, have it appear as the top hit, and launch it by pressing the Mac’s Return key. No word from Apple if, as with LaunchBar, Spotlight will track your habits and understand that when you type

you mostly likely intend to launch iCal rather than iChat.

3. Finder fixes

Jobs and the other Apple execs who demonstrated some of Leopard’s new features flashed to the Finder from time to time in order to access documents and open applications. In those brief glimpses there was no hint that the Finder’s appearance will be radically altered. The Dock, Sidebar, and Smart Folders remain. As for Rob Griffith’s requests—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—we’ll have to wait and see.

4 and 5. Windows compatibility and integration…or virtualization

Apple has released Boot Camp, a beta release that lets an Intel-based Mac run Windows XP. As well as Boot Camp works, its major failing is that you have to boot your Mac into one operating system or the other—there’s no shared space where the two platforms can coexist.

In Leopard, I’d hoped to see Apple offer greater integration between the Mac OS and Windows running on an Intel Mac—allowing users to quickly switch between each operating system or, at the very least, creating a space where you can store items that can be accessed by both operating systems. Rob Griffiths hoped that Mac OS X 10.5 would let you create virtual CPUs, ones where you could run any flavor of Windows as well as Linux much as you can with Parallel’s Parallels Desktop for Mac.

From all indications, Boot Camp will continue to work in a way that requires you to boot your Mac into one operating system when you want to run Windows, and another when you want to use the Mac OS. Thankfully for those seeking concurrent operating systems, Parallels is here to stay and VMware, a big name in virtualization, has announced its intention to support the Mac in a forthcoming release (Microsoft, however, has left the game, announcing that it will not develop a new version of its Virtual PC.)

6. Virtual desktops

Leopard’s Spaces feature grants our wish. With Spaces you can create multiple work environments—one for a podcast, another for a Web page you’re creating, one more for the many open pages in your Web browser, and yet one more for iPhoto editing, for example—and easily move between them with a keyboard shortcut or the click of your mouse.

7. Make a true media center

If Steve Jobs had ended his address with a “one more thing” and unveiled a true media center Mac, our wish may have been granted—but he didn’t and it wasn’t. While he did say that Front Row would be updated, he didn’t specifically spell out how. Until he does, we’ll continue to get along with our TVs, TiVo, and ancillary AV gear.

8. File and account security

FileVault, OS X’s automatic encryption technology, was once the kind of marquee feature that made the cut for a Jobs keynote. Not this time. No word on FileVault’s fate.

9. Restore more

I asked for a feature similar to Window’s System Restore—a way to “rewind” your Mac to a state and date when it was happier. And, by gum, Apple gets darned close with Time Machine, a backup/restore feature that allows you to locate and recover files from your Mac’s past. Scott Forestall, Apple’s vice president of platform experience, demonstrated how you could use Time Machine to locate and restore a file that’s been moved from a particular folder. Using Time Machine you can not only restore that file, but previously saved versions as well. Apple’s OS X Leopard Sneak Peek page tells us that you can restore single files, groups of files, whole folders, and even your entire system with a single click.

Unlike Windows’ System Restore, Time Machine requires an additional hard drive for storing and restoring your backed up data.

10. Smart locations

We’re still in the dark about whether Leopard will provide an OS 9-like Location Manager that automatically changes certain system settings—default printer, mail server, and network settings, for example—based on where you are. A later look inside Leopard’s System Preferences may provide an answer.

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