Another year, another handful of shiny new toys to play with in the Apple toybox. Did that sound cynical, as if most of them can be dismissed as pretty but flashy distractions that will make little difference to your day to day computing experience?
As is usually the case with a new Apple operating system, it’s certainly the case with some of them. Of the now several hundred new features that come with every new Apple OS, they select three or four and push them hard.
Those who get the star treatment this time are Time Machine, Spaces, File Stacks, Coverflow and Quick Look. But before you get to them, you’ll see that Leopard indeed looks different. The dock now rests on a glassy mirror surface that goes as far as reflecting windows or content you drag down behind it. Instead of the bland black triangles telling you which applications you have open, you now get a pretty glowing ball. By contrast, folder icons are now flatter and more staid in appearance, and the cosmetic updates certainly make Leopard look different.
Time Machine looks fantastic. Click the application and you’ll get the lovely trip back through time you’ve no doubt seen on the video demo. It works by indexing and backing your whole system up to an external hard drive and then giving you a flashy graphical representation of the contents of those backups to retrieve or search through lost data.
It’s great as a concept but it works according to a very rigid schedule you can’t change, checking for updated data every hour. After a few weeks it had filled a 150Gb drive so many times over the oldest backup was from only two days prior. To us, backing up hourly is far too often, and if you lose data there’s a good chance it was more than two days ago. If you could change the schedule of Time Machine it’d be the perfect backup solution Apple sells it as.
Quick Look is the result of expanded file compatability in the Finder so you can scroll through documents like .doc, .pdf or slideshows without opening them, and the Coverflow feature you’ve seen in iTunes — where you sweep through tracks — is now available as a folder view in the Finder.
Spaces is a sort of ‘work mode’ setting. If you do all your browsing and email together you can open both applications in one space, then switch to another where they’re hidden but your accounts and billings are instantly visible. The other biggest change is Stacks. When you click on a folder in the dock, it doesn’t open the folder in the finder, but fans out to give you icons of the contents of the folder for you to open in turn. Once more it looks good, but is it a quantum leap in computing?
Some of the tools have great potential, but most of the major new features are little more than eye candy. We also experienced more problems than we have in any new Mac OS as well. Our chat client inexplicably refused the connect without a convoluted application of DNS settings, and the Finder reacted slightly slower to clicks and commands even though it was running on a G5 with over 2Gb of RAM.
After only a few weeks of use, we experienced more random and inexplicable application and system crashes than in any new Mac OS, and it all feels rushed. This is the least improved update to OSX so far and there’s little to get too excited about.