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Post-keynote

Sure, it’s been two days since the keynote. I’ma share my thoughts anyway, mostly on Mac OS X 10.5 ‘Leopard’. There’s been a little buzz around the web about Steve Jobs’ lackluster performance in the keynote this year, as though he’s losing it. He let three VPs from around the company carry most of the presentations, he fumbled his words, he looked a little sick. A little thin, actually, but people are getting all Chicken Little and wondering what will become of Apple if The Steve really does lose it, or retires, or worse.

Me, I would very much doubt it if Jobs hasn’t already started grooming a replacement. It could be anyone, but my money’s on Scott Forstall. He’s Vice President of Platform Experience, he’s young, charismatic, and funny. Phil Schiller’s presentation on the Mac Pro was a bit rigid, a bit nervous… standard Schiller. He does a good job of it, but it doesn’t look like he likes being on stage. Forstall, by comparison, was cool as a cucumber. I’m not necessarily forecasting the CEO position for him. Hell, I don’t know enough about Apple’s business dealings to even know if Forstall would be a candidate for CEO, but he makes a hell of a poster boy. He should be involved in keynotes more often.

Together, Jobs and Forstall walked us through their ‘Top Ten’ new features for 10.5. Several of them weren’t even ready for demo, and the ‘Top Secret’ to-be-announced features are clearly in the same boat, but what was there was impressive nonetheless. On preview alone, I’m orders of magnitude more impressed with Leopard than I was with Tiger.

64-bit application support
Not a ‘feature’ than many of us in the end-user space will give a damn about for a looong time, but good to know it’s there. Better that it’s there seamlessly, fully compatible with 32-bit code. When the day comes that we’re all running 64-bit processors and are actually using software that needs it, nobody will notice.
Core Animation
Very neat. Like Cocoa Bindings, Core Data, and their brethren, just another technology that will enable developers to produce better software, faster.
The Complete Package
Boot Camp, Photo Booth, and Front Row present for everyone. Nice for those of us with external iSights who weren’t allowed to download Photo Booth when it started shipping on Intel Macs. I’m starting to believe Schiller’s line about dual-boot being Apple’s Windows solution, and that virtualization won’t be a feature, but I’m skeptical. They say they’re not doing everything right before they do it.
iChat
Remote slideshows and presentations are pretty cool, and backdrop/photo booth effects are fun and a little tacky, but display sharing?! Holy shit. A million family support geeks’ lives are about to get easier.
Mail
The system-wide ToDo server is a very cool idea, but everything else about the Mail preview perturbs me. Stationery? Great, more (no doubt standards-ignorant) HTML email. Thank god for hidden preferences that force plain text display by default. A notes mailbox is pretty cool, so long as it plays nice with IMAP servers (I worry that it won’t), and RSS is a gimme. Next.
iCal
Not previewed in the keynote, and clearly not ready for prime time given that it lacks even a video demo on the Leopard iCal preview page, but it looks exciting as hell. Meeting auto-schedule sounds like a dream, dropboxes (WebDAV, no doubt) are something I already make great use of, and multi-author shared calendars are long overdue. Good to see their CalDAV calendar server software is open source, too.
Spotlight
Network searching, Boolean queries, and ‘quick look’ previews all sound great, if they’re presented well to the user. Better performance on application searches —doubling as an app launcher— starts to make it interesting, and instant display of recent documents tips it. A beefier Spotlight won’t make die-hard Quicksilver users switch, but it’ll be good for the rest of us. I wonder about their ‘improved UI’, though. Particularly when they haven’t even released screenshots. Either it hasn’t been done, or they’ve done something particularly amazing and really are concerned about Microsoft stealing their stuff. I tend towards the former.
Dashboard
I may actually use web clippings. As it stands, the only reason I have Dashboard enabled at all is the iCal Events widget, but the button they’ve added to Safari to show off the web clippings looks ridiculously out of place. Watch the video on the Dashboard preview page: a single black toolbar button. In Safari. Sigh. Every new feature must have its fifteen pixels of fame, and the OS just keeps getting more and more cluttered for it.
Spaces
The whole interaction model for virtual desktops always confused the shit out of me, so I’ve stayed away from them; I can’t imagine a bit of Apple flair and animation is going to change that. Some people can’t live without virtual desktops, but I’ve never been one of them.
Time Machine
Undoubtedly the big ticket feature of the preview, and maybe of the whole release. Automated nightly backups to an external drive are obviously important, but the external drive is the part most people are going to be without. Shit, I have an external drive and the backup software to exploit it, and I still don’t do it properly. Once a month or so I just drag my FileVault disk image onto the drive. A blunt instrument, and no doubt Time Machine will change that for me, but I can’t help but wonder about the interface.

The outer-space retrieval interface is fun, if not a bit tacky, but why all the animation and waiting when you’re auto-seeking the last file change? Do I really need to wait ten seconds for forty days’ worth of unchanged windows to fly by? It’s going to get tedious after the third file I restore. Really tedious. What happens when my main hard disk crashes and I replace it with a blank one? Is the backup bootable? Will the backup disk have bootable software I can use to restore everything? Or do I need to use the Leopard install DVD?

The backup technology is great, though not ground-breaking, and the retrieval technology looks impressive, but the end user experience may not be as good as it should be. The people using Time Machine to retrieve lost files or restore entire operating systems are freaked out. They’re in the worst possible mood because they’ve lost data! Don’t screw them around with fancy Core-Animation-generated starscapes, give them their data!

Universal Access
The first thing I did when this was announced was ask Joe Clark if he’d been writing any letters to Apple regarding their mediocre effort at VoiceOver in 10.4. He hasn’t, but somebody must have. New VoiceOver with better navigation? Support for refreshable Braille displays? Stereo audible positional cues? Closed captioning in QuickTime? It’s quite an upgrade.

Even as a perfectly able-bodied computer user I appreciate the Universal Access technologies in Mac OS X. Anyone can. Screen magnification at the push of a button, screen flashing with alert sounds, full keyboard access — these are things I use daily. And though I’ll not be using a Braille display any time soon (prohibitively expensive, and I also don’t read Braille), nor will I be using VoiceOver (or even text-to-speech) for more than exploratory purposes, captioning is something anyone can use. I wonder if there are (or will be) any decent tools for adding captions to your QuickTime movies, though.

Purely on speculation, my interest is piqued by the audio cues. The Leopard Accessibility preview page doesn’t reveal too much on the matter, but they’ve got my attention. It seems to me that, like screen flashing, stereo-spatial audio alerts could be the kind of thing everyone can benefit from. I can’t believe screen flashing isn’t enabled by default; if your speaker volume is down or you’re in a crowded café, it’s invaluable. A tiny nicety that I enable on every Mac I use. Anything else even close to that is a bonus for everyone.

So yeah, I’m looking forward to Leopard, how about you? Roll on Spring 2007.