As expected, I used the money Apple overcharged me for my phone to get OS X Leopard, and I’ve been really impressed with it so far. I don’t agree with most of the criticisms that have been made against it — I actually like the new Dock — and I think in just about every category, it’s an unqualified improvement. In some cases, an outstanding improvement.
But I’m kind of easy to please, since I was sold from the moment I saw the installation movie. (You can see it at the bottom “It’s hot” link in the Ars Technica review by John Siracusa. I don’t want to link to it directly). Is it shallow to base my overall impression of an operating system on a 1-minute intro movie? Of course. But then, that’s a big part of the appeal of Apple. You take for granted that they’re going to get things right under the covers; what sets them apart is the amount of effort they put into making the experience enjoyable. Right down to the gratuitous flair; the thing that finally convinced me to switch back to Macs after using Windows for so long was seeing a movie of the Dock magnification in action.
So onto the functionality: QuickLook is perfectly implemented and has instantly become essential. Spotlight is so much improved that you can finally see its potential in changing the way we use computers — random access instead of browsing. CoverFlow in the finder, and the “stacks” on the Dock, are a little useless, but don’t get in the way, either. Spaces is generally well-implemented and nice enough but not essential. Accessing networked folders, especially Windows ones, finally makes sense. Overall, things look more consistent. There’s a feeling of things being not overwhelmingly “Oh my God I never knew such bliss from browsing files” better, but just better.
Except for Time Machine, which is a perfect example of how Apple gets it right. First, they recognize the problem: nobody backs up their files as often as they should. (I do it once a year at most, and I should technically know better). Then they take each one of the reasons why, and they come up with a solution.
You have to buy or download separate software to do it, so they include it in the OS. Backing up to CD or DVD media is extensive and time consuming, so they make it work with external drives, and any external drive. The existing stuff is usually complicated to set up, so they make it bone simple — you plug in a drive, and it starts. There are usually tons of confusing options and settings in backup software, so they give you one big on/off switch. It’s always tedious to do the actual backup, so they do it all in the background (after the lengthy initial copy). Actually recovering files from a backup is tedious and error-prone, so they integrated it into the Finder and made it painless. When you realize you’ve lost a file, you’re in a state of panic and frustration, so they put all their UI and presentation energy not into the backup stage, but the restore stage — it’s straightforward and actually kind of fun to use.
And on top of all that, it does intelligent incremental backups that don’t take up a ton of space, and it still presents it as if it were a normal disk hierarchy, letting you browse through it outside the fancy Time Machine interface. It’s just an outstanding job all around.
There have also been a ton of improvements to the development side of things. XCode just feels a lot more substantive and less like an open-source development app. And looking through the Interface Builder has all kinds of new items you can drop into your apps, with extremely sophisticated stuff you get “for free.” Matt Gemmell’s blog has a post about all the stuff that’s included with Leopard that developers formerly had to do “by hand,” and it’s pretty astounding. It also makes me wish I weren’t in the middle of deadlines, so that I had some time to play around with it. I wrote a simple image editor a while back, and it looks like Apple has included all the functionality of my editor in a simple widget that you can drop into any app.
Speaking of unnecessary flair and not having enough time, another of my favorite features of the new OS X is a screensaver. You can now choose any of your iPhoto collections, albums, folders, or events, and have it generate photomosaics using all of the pictures in your iTunes library. It’s really cool, and I must have spent an hour today just staring at it.