For about a year now I’ve been a Mac user. Despite the fact that my MacBook Pro behaves in more or less the same way as my old Dell – it crashes, has to be restarted every now and then and needs to have parts of the hardware replaced – I’m a happy Mac user. In October Apple is releasing a new version of their OS X operating system and in a two-part series of entries I’ll have a look at some of the 300+ innovations Apple is bragging about and try to figure out if there really are any good reasons to upgrade.
I’ll focus on the application I use frequently and new features that look useful for me personally. My first impression of Leopard when it was first presented was that there was no way in hell I was going to upgrade, so you might say this analysis is somewhat biased. And I’m sorry if I hurt the feelings of any Apple fanboys, but that is the problem with the internet and freedom of speech1. Sometimes people do not share your opinions.
Apple’s main focus when it comes to desktop innovations in Leopard is the visual changes: The menu bar is now semi transparent, and the dock is reflective. The main productivity enhancement for the desktop is Stacks, a feature that lets you organize similar files in a better way:
Create Stacks from anything you want to access quickly from one place: a handful of documents, a group of applications, an entire folder. Files you download in Safari or save from an email are automatically directed to a Stack in the Dock, and when the download is complete, the Stack signals that a new item has arrived. When you want to see the files in a Stack, all you have to do is click — Stacks spring open from the Dock in an elegant arc for a few items, or in an at-a-glance grid for more.
Interesting, but not groundbreaking since you can get very similar functionality in Tiger today, as described on Lifehacker. Overflow ($14.95) is also an application worth a look if you to accomplish Stack-like behavior.
Are the Desktop enhancements worth the $129 price tag? Transparency and a reflective dock: Definitely not.
Finder has also gone through a visual overhaul in Leopard where the main new addition is heavy use of CoverFlow. It’s a neat idea, which gives you the opportunity to preview documents, images, movies and more. It even lets you preview multipage documents, allowing you to browse through the pages right there in Finder. The CoverFlow view also works with Spotlight and a few pre-built searches are available on the Finder sidebar, which also looks different and better organized.
Are the Finder enhancements worth the $129 price tag? No. Really.
Quick Look is an entirely new feature in Leopard, not just an attempt to enhance an existing Tiger feature. It’s basically just a larger version of the CoverFlow preview; you don’t have to open the associated application to look at the contents of a file. Quick Look works with nearly every file on your system, including images, text files, PDFs, movies, Keynote presentations, and Microsoft Word and Excel files and is accessible from Finder and Spotlight with a bang on the space bar.
Now with both Finder’s CoverFlow view and Quick Look letting you preview files without launching the associated application, I’m starting to wonder about Leopard’s memory footprint. Even if you’re not launching Word to look at Microsoft text document, Leopard still needs to launch the Word rendering engine. If you’re unorganized and have one folder with all your stuff, ranging from JPEG vacation images, Excel sheets and movies, how does Leopard solve rendering engine loading times vs memory usage?
Is the Quick Look feature worth the $129 price tag? I say nay.
Leopard Part I Summary
So far it looks like I’m standing by my first impression; there is really no reason to upgrade to Leopard. That said, I should point out that these are only three of the many enhancements and innovations in Leopard, so there is still a good chance that Apple can still convince me to put $129 on the counter in October.