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Friday, November 02, 2007, 08:00 am PT (11:00 am ET)

An Introductory Mac OS X Leopard Review: Present & Future Value


The Compounding Value of Mac OS X

After plotting out a new course to retake education, target consumers, and expand into professional and prosumer creative markets, Apple began delivering Mac OS X releases in 2001.

Leopard


Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah (above) demonstrated a lot of potential but had limited mainstream appeal; existing Mac applications didn't yet take advantage of its new Quartz graphics engine, which was actually slower than the classic Mac OS 9. Applications that made use of QuickDraw 3D weren't supported and couldn't just substitute OpenGL. However, the new system did allow Mac hardware to run Unix code, and it could run the classic Mac OS environment in a compatibility box about as fast as it ran solo, thanks to OS X's low level improvements, including virtual memory.

Leopard


Mac OS X 10.1 Puma (above) was a free update that solved some problems of the initial commercial offering, and added some features the system was missing over the classic Mac OS, including DVD playback. Much of the value in Mac OS X was still untapped potential, and much of the improvements centered around integration with Mac OS 9. Mac OS X received an additional seven free updates leading up to the next reference release.

Leopard


Mac OS 10.2 Jaguar (above) in 2002 could officially "bury" the corpse of Mac OS 9, devoting Apple's entire efforts into a single operating system product. It offered major advances in speed that made the system usable for a broad audience. It also added support for Bonjour (then called Rendezvous), an implementation of AppleTalk networking features that extracted their value to run over standard Internet Protocol networks.

Jaguar bundled Ink services from Newton, and adopted the open source Common Unix Printing System to streamline and standardize its printer device support. It added new and revised applications, such as iChat, the revamped Finder, and shortly after its initial release, it also bundled the free iCal. Jaguar was updated eight times after its release.

Leopard


Mac OS X 10.3 Panther (above) delivered major new value in a series of more flashy features, including Fast User Switching, Exposé, and the new iChat AV for video conferencing. It also revised the overall look and made numerous usability improvements, including support for file archives, fax support, security features such as FileVault, and revised its developer tools under the name Xcode. Panther was updated nine times for free after its release.

Leopard


Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger (above, an early developer preview from WWDC 2004) introduced even more marketing features for its reference release: Spotlight searching paired Apple's existing V-Twin search technology with file system metadata indexing ideas inspired by the BeOS. Dashboard expanded upon the concept of Exposé to add a new widget environment.

The VoiceOver screen reader expanded upon Mac OS X's existing accessibility features, and Automator made it easier to setup simple workflows or to use complex AppleScript in more sophisticated ways. Apple added support for RSS syndication, enabling website feed parsing in Safari, podcasting support in iTunes, and photocasting support in iPhoto.

Entirely new plumbing in QuickTime 7 delivered major advances in compression for users, improving iChat and movie playback while also enabling Apple to expand its moves into broadcasting and content markets with its Pro Apps.

Tiger developments also accommodated the move to Intel processors. It has been updated ten times since its release.

Leopard


Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard similarly added lots of new marketing features while also adding new potential value for developers to unlock. Time Machine isn't just file backups, its a way to manage changes within collections back through time and perform system queries at dates in the past. Spaces isn't just a virtual desktop, but also integrates into Exposé, making it far more assessable to non-technical users.

Without following Apple's marketing names, it's sometimes difficult to describe where one feature beings and another ends. Enhancements to Core Video and Core Graphics benefit overall operations, QuickTime and iChat specifically; iChat Theater incorporates Screen Sharing and Quick Look features to distribute views of documents. Mail, iChat, Address Book, and iCal all integrate in ways that make them more useful than just single applications, but the design behind these apps doesn't limit users just to what Apple provides. An improved chat, contacts, or calendar client can take advantage of the underlying system-wide calendar store, contacts, or Core Image effects to provide alternatives that build upon what Apple bundles. Every new or expanded feature adds value not just in itself, but throughout the entire system in ways that benefits lots of applications and enables future developments.

On the server side, Apple has moved beyond just offering Mac OS X Server as a platform for running Unix server applications with a nice user interface; Leopard Server introduces a set of significant new advances with the internally designed iCal Server, Wiki Server, and Podcast Producer, all of which are designed to make Apple's hardware more attractive to educational and corporate users.

The Future of Mac OS X

Is there any room left for Mac OS X 10.6? Steve Jobs noted in a recent interview that Apple plans to keep its development pace of Mac OS X going at around an 18 month schedule. That makes it likely that 10.6 will be demonstrated at next summer's WWDC, and released in early 2009.

Expect Apple to evolve its user interface, with a focus on behavior rather than just appearance. While desktop Macs are unlikely to get touch screens, subcompact new portable systems that sit between the iPhone and the MacBook in Apple's product lineup may be the first devices to really use resolution independence in a desktop-oriented environment, shifting from a mouse pointer and windows to an interactive touch interface closer to the iPhone's.

Users in a desktop environment are less likely to give up the efficiently of the pointer, so new standardized conventions that minimize the interface to focus on data are likely to appear. Safari already banishes the majority of the menu bar to direct attention on its web page content. More context sensitive controls like those presented in iWork applications are also likely to find wider adoption.

Larger displays will at some point demand a replacement of the standard menu bar with a solution that allows the user to call up menu functions without making a pointer pilgrimage to the top of one of their displays. More context sensitive options for these commands may help, or even an Exposé mode that exposes menu bar functions (and the underutilized Services hidden away in the application menu) with a hot key or a mouse gesture. New plugin architectures could help to solve problems such as document format conversions, or add new file views to the Finder. And how about a rotating Dock to allow the user to select from sets of applications and Stacks related to the given task?

Leopard Gets An A

It's easy to invent new ideas for Mac OS X because everything in the system is already designed to work together cohesively. It's not a mishmash of old and new tied to lots of closed legacy ideas, but a continually renewed set of interface concepts designed to make features accessible, using open existing implementations as much as possible.

Leopard easily delivers more value to the Mac than any previous release. That makes it interesting to see what Apple will do for an encore. Over the next year, buyers can also expect regular improvements delivered for free about every six weeks. With Apple now selling twice as many Macs in a quarter compared to 2005, and nearly three times as many as it sold per quarter in 2004, Leopard should get a quick reception among new Mac users. It should also grab a lot of new interest in the Mac platform, both from consumers and in business markets that see the value Apple offers.

Check out earlier installments of our Leopard Review Series:

An Introductory Mac OS X Leopard Review: Meet Your New Desktop
An Introductory Mac OS X Leopard Review: Mail and iCal
An Introductory Mac OS X Leopard Review: Address Book and iChat
An Introductory Mac OS X Leopard Review: Core Graphics and the New UI
An Introductory Mac OS X Leopard Review: Developer Tools

Also check out our earlier Road to Leopard series:

Road to Mac OS X Leopard: QuickTime, iTunes, and Media Features
System Preferences
Parental Controls and Directory Services
What's new in Mac OS X Leopard Server
Dashboard, Spotlight and the Desktop
Safari 3.0
iCal 3.0
iChat 4.0
Mail 3.0
Time Machine
Spaces
Dock 1.6
Finder 10.5
Dictionary 2.0
Preview 4.0.


Where to Buy

Leopard can be purchased from online retailer Amazon.com, which does not charge sales tax and is offering an instant $20 off Leopard single license and $10 off the family pack, bringing the costs down to $109, and $189, respectively. Amazon is also offering deals on Leopard Server.