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Friday, October 19, 2007, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Road to Mac OS X Leopard: Dashboard, Spotlight and the Desktop


New Desktop Features in Leopard: Spotlight

The pace of new development in Spotlight, Dashboard, and the Mac Desktop has continued in Leopard. Spotlight can now index and search network file server shares, and supports a richer query vocabulary. The menu bar Spotlight field will also calculate math equations as fast as you can type them, making it a quick alternative to launching the calculator (below).

Leopard Desktop


If you type a few letters that match an application, Spotlight presents that app as the default highlighted result, so it can be launched with a tap of the spacebar. This makes Spotlight an alternative to standalone launchers. If you type a word that doesn't match an application, Spotlight assumes you want a definition and presents an instant result inline. Tap spacebar to open Dictionary and look up the topic in Wikipedia. The new Spotlight also indexes the text of web pages in your browser history, so it can find subjects you've recently researched. Spotlight finds everything, fast.

If you're looking for files instead of answers, Leopard's Spotlight menu bar search can also serve as a shortcut to the search field in Finder windows. File search results default to bring up phrases found in file content, but if you're searching for a file by name, Spotlight presents an option to rapidly narrow down results that way, too. Spotlight also searches your backups through integration with Time Machine. Perform a search, activate Time Machine, and select any point in time in the past to perform your search. You can also simply search your Time Machine drive directly.

The new reorganization of the Spotlight interface makes it far more useful because it's easier to find what you're looking for without having to think about how to do a search "properly." It simply searches correctly by default.

New Desktop Features in Leopard: Dashboard

The other side of Sherlock's ghost also gets some significant updates. Users who like widgets but don't know how to program now have two tools for building their own. The first is integrated into Safari; simply select a region of a web page with the Web Clip tool, and you get a functional Dashboard widget that updates as that page does. Apple also includes DashCode with the Xcode developer tools for building more involved widgets.

Leopard Desktop


DashCode provides a series of widget templates (above) that make it easy to build a simple RSS feed widget, a countdown timer, or begin from another basic starting point. Fill in the blanks, select preferences, drag in graphics, and DashCode builds you a functional widget. You can also venture into adding your own code and make full use of its integrated development environment with a source code editor for HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (below), as well as a JavaScript debugger. A decade ago, NeXT was licensing the forerunner of these tools for $2790 per seat; they're now free with Leopard.

Apple has also thrown in some new widgets of its own, including a movie and theaters widget for looking up show times, viewing trailers, and buying tickets. Widgets can also now be synced between systems using .Mac. It can't be too far off before new widgets start sprouting on the iPhone as well. With the recent announcement of an official iPhone SDK, efforts invested into DashCode should port directly into new iPhone applications.

Leopard Desktop


Other New Desktop Features in Leopard

Despite the placeholder icon that sits in the Dock, Dashboard is actually run by the Dock itself, which was profiled separately. The Dock, along with the Finder, combine with Spotlight and Dashboard to present a lot of new desktop functionality that is greater than the sum of its parts. To make room for all of that extra stuff, you can activate Spaces as the latest expansion of Exposé, and drag your windows off into their own virtual desktop regions.

A variety of new things in Leopard clearly go beyond just checking off marks on a list of required features. New graphical flourish, from the reflective Dock to the subtly translucent menu bar, frame the desktop background picture and add dimension to the desktop. The menu bar's drop down menus, along with other popup menus such as the Dock's, now sport aesthetically appealing rounded corners, and use translucency and blurring to create a look similar to vellum paper. The help menu is animated and alive, with a floating arrow that drifts around the features as it points them out.

Leopard's variety of enhancements, from the major new apps and functions to the ornamental eye candy and the thoughtful refinements, all add up to an experience that calls back to the first pioneering efforts to deliver a graphical desktop, and Engelbart's vision for augmenting human intellect using advanced computing interfaces. Leopard looks poised to push a lot of users to rip the brick off their pencil and investigate the Mac platform.

Check out earlier installments from AppleInsider's ongoing Road to Leopard Series: Safari 3.0, iCal 3.0, iChat 4.0, Mail 3.0, Time Machine; Spaces, Dock 1.6, Finder 10.5, Dictionary 2.0, and Preview 4.0.