Look What the Leopard Dragged In

Mac OS X 10.5 LeopardWhen I sat down to write this entry about the recently revealed final product details for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, I nearly described the operating system upgrade as being ‘much anticipated.’ But then I wondered, “Is it really much-anticipated?” No, in fact. The iPhone was this year’s darling, and Leopard’s so-so feature list doesn’t seem to hold much potential for grabbing the spotlight back. It may also be no accident that the product’s animal namesake also happens to be the smallest of the of the four so-called ‘big cats.’

Sci-Fi Fans Unite

Which is probably for the best, because it may deflect attention away from the packaging for this latest upgrade. I’m not going to pull my punches here: it’s cheesey as heck. That’s right, I said cheesey.

Apple’s designers have borrowed the boldly elegant “X” from the packaging of its predecessor, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, and placed it against the goofy, sci-fi-fueled, airbrushed nebula of stars from Leopard’s Time Machine feature. Why they did this, it’s not clear, because it looks horrific. Apparently, Leopard’s most lucrative potential customer base may all be devotees of the plasticky, bombastic and yet still naïve era of science fiction we call the Nineteen Eighties. Cue up your Betamax copies of “The Last Starfighter” and “Enemy Mine.”

Mac OS X Font Panel

The Forgotten Font Panel

Anyway, while skimming the features, I instinctively zeroed in on its list of typography improvements. They’re modest in number and ambition, and Stephen Coles provides some interesting early commentary on them over at Typographica. I have to say, though, that the biggest disappointment for me is that Mac OS X’s awkward and frustrating Font panel is still not fixed; it remains highly counter-inuitive and functionally limited, if not broken. I wrote about this over two years ago, and with no apparent improvement in Mac OS X 10.5, the problem is likely to persist at least until Leopard’s successor is released. It’s a crime how bad this crucial piece of functionality is, and how Apple just doesn’t seem to care.

Missed Product Tie-in

Finally, I guess I’m a little disappointed that Leopard’s final feature set doesn’t in any way seem to be composed of cinematic dramatizations of Garibaldi-era Sicilian history. A little bit of Visconti might have helped the packaging quite a bit.

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more about the whole Sci-FI theme. It’s painfully corny. I’ve been complaining about it for over a year now, since we first saw that backdrop to Time Machine. Luckily, I think it’s all in desktop backgrounds and other things that are easily changeable.

    From what I can tell, the new Mail.app alone will be worth the price of admission, for me. Having notes and to-dos built in and stored on IMAP, plus the (presumed) syncing of those to my iPhone will be absolutely wonderful.

  2. I’m quite excited over the new features from Leopard. I guess that the new feature Spaces is the most interesting from my part. It would help out a lot to have different desktops to work with.

  3. Yep, the sci fi theme seems decidedly non-Apple, and very Unix/Slashdotty.

    I actually feel the same about Leopard’s feature set as I did about Tiger’s: there really isn’t a whole lot in there that’s useful. Panther, in my mind, was the last major OS X upgrade and that was mainly because it sped everything up about 10x. Tiger was mostly a yawner and Leopard seems to be as well. Not that there’s nothing going on there, but it’s a *minor* version upgrade, not a major one.

    As for me, Time Machine is really the only thing that radically changes my computing situation. I never back things up and I’ve never been burned by that carelessness, but now with Time Machine, I am instantly saved from myself. I like that a lot.

  4. I personally have no problem distinguishing the Leopard branding from 1980s movie posters. I think it’s a stretch to make a connection between the two, just as it’s rather overblown to call the design “horrific”.

    Perform this simple test: grab one of the big Leopard images and either desaturate it or spin the hues around. Does it still seem as offensive? My guess is the nay-sayers are simply not fans of so much pink and purple on a mainstream product – not exactly a strong position to argue from.

  5. Aesthetics aside, one ‘topic’ which has yet to receive significant attention is Time Machine and it’s need for an additional drive.

    It’s logical to assume such a requirement being a sort of back up program and all, and Apple does make a brief (one line) mention of this in the Tech Specs section of the OSX homepage. But there’s no suggestion as to what size said hard drive should be relative to the main drive, nor any noting of what happens should a second drive not exist. And I know of at least a dozen people, all with iMacs and MacBooks, but without external drives, eager to upgrade in a weeks time for the specific purpose of utilizing Time Machine.

    In the past six months we’ve witnessed the backlash over Apple’s decision to reduce the price of the iPhone, to offer a rebate as a gesture of goodwill, and more recently cut the cost of iTunes Plus downloads. I suspect more disparaging commentary once people realize they need to extend their machines in order to utilize the functionality of the new OS, thus allowing at least one idiot analyst or tech pundit to equate the true cost of Leopard to be at least US$300.

  6. I couldn’t agree with you more about the Sci-Fi themed packaging and overall I’m the least excited about this upgrade in terms of look and feel then I have been about any of the previous upgrades. I played around with the developer preview, and usually I’m all excited to get my hands on the new Apple eye candy, but this time around I’m actually wishing I could get a few of the features without some of the new visual “upgrades”. The new dock and the transparent menu bar being the biggest offenders.

  7. Yeah, the must-have upgrades are over, it’s back to a slower evolution. The major point releases are starting to feel exactly that. I doubt I’ll bother upgrading until I buy new Macs, there’s nothing in there that makes me want to drop $130.

    As for the branding, well, let’s just say we all have work we thought was a good idea at the time, but look back and cringe at. Even Apple’s not above that.

  8. I really do agree with you about the horrible Sci-fi nebula theme they have going.

    At least the purpley-pink pallete looks slightly [really, just slightly] better than the greeny-yellow pallete.

    I really can’t believe Jobs would’ve signed off on that.

    This whole post is full of disjointed ideas. Maybe I’ll go and lie down.

  9. In regards to Steve’s comment above about Time Machine’s requirement of an external drive – I don’t see how you can call anything a backup if it’s not going to an external drive of some sort, and given the size of people’s data nowadays another external hard drive makes perfect sense. On that basis I don’t see how people can really complain about a backup system requiring an external drive.

    It would be great if it could do the backup to some kind of online backup space, of course not .Mac as the data allowance wouldn’t alow it.

  10. I’m quite looking forward to Leopard. There’s a few features that I’m really interested in – like improved networking and spotlight, the Japanese-English dictionary and thesaurus, improved iCal and Back to My Mac (something useful for .Mac!!), and I’m keen to see how Time Machine and Spaces pan out.

    I agree on some of the aesthetic decisions. I’m not over the moon about the new dock, but I can live with it, but the new menu bar is horrid. And the continued proliferation of Mail.apps lozenge buttons – ugh. And yes, the space stuff is a shade corny (but is obviously there to advertise Time Machine as the big ticket feature, just like Panther was all about Spotlight (although that was a little more subtle).

    It’s my understanding though that there’s been a lot of development under the hood, which will facilatate features in a lot of software that couldn’t be done before. It seems there’s been quite a few developers who have been holding back their next versions and making them Leopard only.

  11. The only reason anyone would want to upgrade is because it will run a whole lot faster on newer hardware. That of course is due to the changes under the hood, but again, the visible feature set is disappointing.

    Something that I would have loved to see was a better integration between iLife and the OS. (Not that I use it often, but it would have been nice to to be able to access your media from any app.)

    Although I am looking forward to Time Machine and Spaces. I used third party apps for this for ages, but it is nice to see it tied up with the system. Still: The time machine nebula is horrible.. Arghh

  12. As a hater of all things sci-fi, I’m not that offended by Leopard’s use of the galactic themes. And, I think it’s an appropriate enough theme for Time Machine, too.

    Macs are no longer the “secret” of the arts industry. Regular people use them now too. And in the spirit of the iPod and the iPhone, Apple is looking for ways to totally overhaul an interface to make what would otherwise be a complicated thing (iterated backups) one which even my grandmother could do.

    I have to say that, all in all, Leopard seems like it will be a good upgrade. It polishes and adds a number of features that I’ve been waiting for, so I can’t complain.

  13. The Leopard packaging is straight out of the future! Honestly, Khoi, I think you’re being a bit harsh. I think Apple is trying to appeal to Windows users, not science fiction fans.

    The OS aesthetic tweaks and the new Finder (with Quick Look) alone are worth it for me. Everything else is a bonus. If a developer-designer can make an application look better, and in turn I enjoy using it more, than its worth the upgrade.

    I just wish Apple gave us upgrade pricing. Sheesh.

    Dominik — Apple’s feature page says “Access iLife content from any Mac OS X application. Now the iLife Media Browser is integrated into the Open panel.”

  14. Reminds me of 2001 more, and pink/purple is clearly the way to go, would you rather it was blue? Vista has ripped off the abstracts so it makes sense to distance from that.

    As for the font panel, point me to an operating system with one that is better and maybe we can start to criticise it.

    The feature set looks great to me, makes tiger look pitiful. Core Animation alone will change everything

  15. A rather curious ‘new feature’ seems to be that we’ll no longer be able to open an app simply by dragging a file onto its dock icon – we’ll have to press the spacebar at the same time (see here). It could be that I’m reading this wrong, but Apple explicitly say:

    ” Just drag a file, hover over any application in the Dock, and press the Space bar — the application opens instantly.”

    I know this sounds like an incredibly banal complaint, but I’m perplexed as to why they’d make such a basic OS-level function (that we’ve been used to for years) harder to perform. I guess the answer must be that the standard drop-onto-a-dock-icon must be reserved for something new… but what?

  16. The universe theme was their second choice that they had to go with, as negotiations with Flying Toasters fell through.

    I’m unexcited about the changes as well. Oh well. Makes it easier to not be tempted to shell out the bucks for a new desktop.

  17. I too avoid Sci-Fi because I don’t like it (“hate” is such a strong word). I’ve never seen a full episode of Star Trek, have seen all six Star Wars movies probably less than ten times, and I’ve even stopped watching Heroes.

    I think the packaging is fine, as is the whole “Time Machine” idea. People don’t back their data up. If it takes Apple making something “cheesy” to get people to do it, by all means I’m for it!

    I also think Leopard is a more substantial upgrade than you may think. Spaces alone will change the way some people use their computers, just as Exposé did before that. Yes, Mac OS X is in its “refinement” stages, but that’s a good thing. No longer are things massively changing (and breaking) from release to release.

  18. I expect this release to be the most themed release of OS X ever. It really is all over the place.

    Besides the insanely ugly active window drop shadow, the transparent menu bar will have to be hacked back into sensibility. Thank goodness there’s this.

  19. @ Elliot: I think Apple’s wording is lame here, but the feature of dragging to launch an app still works.

    I believe what Apple means by “open” is that the application, if already launched, will “come to the front” or “unhide itself” in Leopard when you press the space bar. Currently, in 10.4, there’s no way to do this by dragging to the dock. Apple typically draws a distinction between “launch” and “open,” though it’s pretty subtle (or “murky” depending on your viewpoint).

    In other words, they’ve added to the functionality, not subtracted from it.

  20. All I can say is ‘Enemy Mine’ was Lou Gossett’s greatest performance ever. Even better than ‘Iron Eagle’.

  21. I’m really sick already of the mirrored-floor look that Apple is applying to everything, including now the Finder.

    I first saw it with mac.com’s (or dot-mac?) slide show, and it’s distracting and at times confusing. The last thing I want is a reflection of my dock. Two steps forward and one step back.

  22. You might harp on Font Book for being counter-intuitive, but at least the thing works. Prior to my upgrade to Tiger (embarrassingly late, I might add) I was using Suitcase to manage my fonts, and it was just plain awful: frequent crashes, absurdly long startup times, and spotty font activation.

    The point you didn’t mention here is that as designers, we’re not going to have to go in to the font panel very often because it will offer system-level automatic font activation. That, for me, is the big ticket item. No more messing with unreliable application-level plugins that call on another unreliable application to auto-activate. Now it should be seamless.

    Should Apple pay more attention to the design of its font management tools? Absolutely. But a GUI overhaul in a system utility isn’t something we couldn’t see before the next major upgrade. Be a squeaky enough wheel, and Apple will likely address the issue.

  23. The whole space thing reminded me of screensavers circa Windows 95. Even so, I’m excited for the new features in FontBook, Suitcase is just too bloated for my home studio needs.

  24. Sean: I think you’re confusing the Font Book with the font panel (or pane). The former is a standalone application, while the latter is a feature of every Cocoa application. It was the font panel that I was talking about. I never touch the Font Book. Or Suitcase. I just move stuff in and out of the Fonts folder in my Library directory. It helps that I basically always use the same typefaces.

  25. If they were going with an 80’s vibe they probably could have taken it all the way and spelled it “Leppard” and then maybe fit the bottom of the box with bright purple spandex pants with tassles on the sides.

  26. Meh, I guess I’ve been staring at that stuff for too long, because it’s kind of grown on me. I still think the Time Machine interface is pretty cheesy (I laughed the first time I saw a screenshot, assuming it was a placeholder), but it’s actually not a bad metaphor given the visual representation of the interface (windows marching off into eternity), and it’s not horrific. As for the “space” branding for the product itself, I actually think it’s kind of fun (remember, that’s part of Apple’s brand personality too) and it’s a hell of a lot less cheesy than a jaguar-print X. 🙂

    As for the feature list, I think we’re overdue for a “polish” release of OS X. I think Tiger was the first release that really felt complete, and it makes sense for Apple to focus on polishing the core features, optimizing everything under the hood, and focusing on a few high-impact new features like Spaces, Time Machine and retooling the Finder. Too much of the software I use is driven by marketing desires to add a boatload of new features to sell to upgraders so much that they seem to ignore cleaning up the mess they’ve left of their core tasks.

    I’m sure I’m reading my own motivations into it, but the fact that the Leopard “300+ features” reads more like a litany of “improvements” to existing features actually makes me pretty excited to get my hands on it. I do share your frustration that a rework of the font panel didn’t make the list, but considering how few of the apps I use for design actually make use of it, I’ll just keep on avoiding it.

    People won’t be lining up around the block for Leopard, but I have a feeling it will be as significant a product (if not more) for the company in the next year as iPhone.

  27. I’ve got to agree about the font panel – I switched over to iWork ’08 from MS Office and while overall I love apple’s productivity suite over microsoft’s, the font panel is probably the biggest pain of the whole thing – I think the color panel is up there with it though…

  28. Khoi. I’m self-employed as of July, but I’m still an Apple shareholder. 🙂

    Didn’t mean to come off so disagreeable. I think that stuff is cheesy as hell too, I think I just got innoculated in the mother ship and got all my complaining about it out earlier, when nobody was listening.

  29. Oh, sorry! I was just ribbing you because I thought you were still employed at Apple. And I don’t think you came off as disagreeable at all… heck, reading back on my post, I’m the disagreeable one.

  30. Khoi: I was confusing the two. I personally never use the font panel if I can help it, so I just assumed you were talking about Font Book. My bad!

    I would make sense that you wouldn’t need Font Book. You use, what, Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, and Georgia, with Cheltenham and Imperial thrown in when a print file comes your way? 😉

  31. I gave up on Apple’s Font Book a long time ago. I also gave up on Suitcase. Never bothered with the other majors.

    The answer? Linotype Font Explorer X. It’s easy, it’s powerful, and it’s FREE.

    The best part? It allows you to turn off those annoying font requests every time you open a file (this means YOU, Microsoft Office).

    Check it out: http://www.linotype.com/2493/fontexplorerx.html

  32. why all this sci-fi bashing? last starfighter and enemy mine rocked. aqua is so “today”. we *need* a forward thinking aesthetic to hang our hats on. viva dr. who!

    re: font panel. yeah, it blows.

  33. Aaron: Still witty, don’t worry. I think any dig at a designer for using Arial is funny, especially in the context of CSS. Sadly, there is nothing we can do but sit there, defenseless and full of shame, and take it. If I had to humorlessly defend myself every time I used “font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;” I think my head would explode!

  34. You know, I just got The Last Starfighter from Netflix last week and rewatched it for kicks…

    Wow, what a ground-breaking film for SFX! Considering that the movie was made in ’84 and they had so much of the action as CGI it was pretty cool. Of course, the graphics then look like rough pre-visualization nowadays. (K, that sounded way too geeky…)

    Also, I’ll second Ryan’s plug for FontExplorer. I use it at home and if I could dump Suitcase at work I would in a heartbeat.

  35. In Italy Visconi’s classic was released as “Il Gattopardo” while OS X is going on sale as “Leopard”, like everywhere else. Not that this would be the reason why they “missed” the product tie-in. Given the obvious homage to HG Wells in the name of (what some are describing as) the best feature, it’s a wonder Apple didn’t go in for some even more cheesy 1960-style sci-fi.

  36. @ Ricky Irvine:
    I consider the price to be “upgrade pricing”. Every single copy sold is an upgrade, since you can’t buy a Mac without a copy to begin with.

  37. Well, geeks always appreciate Star Wars… On a side note, the real breakthroughs are with iChat and its ability to share desktops, presentations and key backgrounds for efficiency and fun.

    The other amazing feature is multiple desktops. That’s the way a computer should have worked right from the beginning. Thanks grandfather UNIX.

    It seems you’re just focusing on the negative. I agree with the counter-intuitive font selector (I would add color as well).

  38. The Font Panel is still horrible. x_x

    Anyway, there’s no “Garibaldi era” either, as Garibaldi arrived in Sicily around May of 1860 and left on July of the same year.

    The period you were referring is called “Risorgimento” and I wouldn’t make jokes about that for a matter of taste 🙂 since it’s an important part of Italy’s history, as much as American Civil War is for Americans.

  39. I am actually very, very excited for Leopard. I think it’s hard to define why it’s going to be so great — because the features I’m most excited for are the little refinements throughout the OS. There’s no one big feature I want — just little ones.

    For example: terminal workspaces & tabs, data type detectors in Mail, synchronization of todo/notes with my IMAP server, address book integration, quick look (!!!), searching remote computers, and of course time machine.

    To me, it’s much like the refinement that German engineering has brought to it’s cars in the last five years. With little features like adaptive cruise control, leading headlights, and seats that fold up all the way to let passengers in the back. It’s the little details you can’t scream out loud — but the details that you end up loving and using the most.

    On a side note: it’s that exact level of refinement that was stripped away (not not-implemented) from Vista that makes it such an incredibly frustrating operating system.

    As for the packaging: as long as I can open the box, I’ll be happy. (Which is not something that can be said for Vista or my recently purchased Microsoft Expression Blend).

  40. This is very interesting. Although I am not a Mac owner, I find this upgrade really interesting. Now I want to buy a Mac. Yes, I agree the Time Machine name is kind of corny, but overall I think Apple is aiming at 1) Efficiency and 2) Integration. And I think even though many features don’t aim at Design work directly, its making it on the designers.

    Efficiency: I think being able to browse through your computer files like a iTunes photo album is quite convenient. With the Quick Look you can even read the contents of your file w/o actually opening it. Furthermore I love the new iChat system that I believe is superior than Windows remote XP. This comes in handy with anyone collaborating on any sort of design work. Being able to video chat, look at files together, and make real time changes.

    Integration: Email integration with popular web mail services, to do list that is updated in your own iCal. And the Quick Look and Album Viewer is not limited to the time machine or specific folders, but through all machines with leapord OS X. I think this can come in handy when you have volumes and volumes of files that can be hard to manage.

  41. I totally agree with you on the Font Panel. It continues to be the greatest disappointment of OS X. I’m not saying a Fonts menu in the menu bar is the solution, but it was a whole lot easier to select a font that way and it didn’t take up a bunch of screen real estate. Surely the company that can create the Stacks feature in the Dock can develop a much improved way to access and select a Font from any application.

  42. Aside from the typographic functionality failures, the font panel is a perfect example of a separate issue — floating panels themselves. I can’t be the only one who frequently attempts to command+w that thing and ends up with “Save before closing?” dialogs popping up on an unexpected window. There are some third-party apps that allow you to close floating panels that way, but it’s anything but consistent. And there’s no active visual state (because, I suppose, they’re always active), so it quickly becomes difficult to tell what’s going on. Maybe this has been fixed in 10.5? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow!

  43. Would you guys stop crying about the packaging, and focus on the features? There’s a lot to offer this go ’round, and the only thing I really agree with in this article is that they are all mostly “minor upgrades,” as opposed to “major additions.” There are a few key and major additions, and if they’re not meant for you, get over it and stop complaining. Not every operating system upgrade is meant to break your jaw. Personally, our company won’t even be upgrading to Leopard I imagine, as I don’t really see why we would. But on the same hand, if there’s no reason for us to upgrade, then there’s no reason for us to sit around and complain about that. Clearly, the features it offers weren’t released for us specifically.

  44. Overall, I’m disappointed by the cosmetic changes made in Leopard. The first thing I did was change the backdrop from the starfield back to the old blue swirls and added a white bar to the top of that image to correct the opaque menu bar.

    [On that note, I may have been doing something wrong but the fix for the opaque menu bar linked above didn’t seem to work correctly for me. It just made the text more opaque.]

    And I’m pining for the bright blue desktop folder icons from Tiger and before. A lot of the UI elements just seem too dark now. Can’t wait for someone to come out with a fix to revert those back!

  45. I’ll take a sci-fi scene over a furry letter X and aqua buttons anyday. I actually think the Leopard box is the less cheesy of all them so far. Space is always cheesy to some, just like horror movies and love stories. Knowing the features and the OS now I would really like to know how you Khoi would brand it if given the opportuntiy. Not to be critical of your work (I absolutely love your website) but I would assume you would have a Helvetica black X on a white background with grey text that reads “the future is now” or something. Seriously, I am really curious as to what you would suggest as better branding for this product.

  46. The sci-fi thing is cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is good design. I’m an unrepentant modernist, but I’m still ok with a fun design from time to time. Besides packaging is just packaging – it’s meant to be thrown away (witness how much smaller the Leopard box is than previous versions of OS X: less landfill used, less materials wasted).

    Leopard’s feature list is actually more substantial than most of the other OS X versions have been. I’m not sure where this meme of “there’s nothing new in Leopard” got started, but it’s just not true. Less for consumers, possibly, but more for developers, which will mean… more for consumers in a few months.

    As for the type panel, I agree, it sucks. But I don’t have to use it very often, so it doesn’t bother me. If it bothers you, have you filed a bug? That’s the only way things get changed – there isn’t someone at apple assigned to collecting feedback from every blog on the internet, you have to give them feedback directly.

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