Apples Mac OS X Leopard: A 3-D Impossible Dream

Reporter's Notebook: The Time Machine 3-D interface for backup and data recovery coming in Mac OS X Leopard is amazing. What's more astounding is that a 3-D interface really works for users.

SAN FRANCISCO—Apple Computer once again showed it still owns the secret sauce when it comes to computer interface design (and maybe even with hardware industrial design).

At the keynote address on Aug. 7 to Apples faithful developers gathered here for the annual Worldwide Developers Conference, CEO Steve Jobs "wowed" the audience with demonstrations of powerful, yet simple technology foundations and programs.

Apple even showed one with a 3-D interface that made sense.

The impressive 3-D interface demonstration was for Time Machine, a file and system backup and restoration application that will be a standard component of Mac OS X Leopard, aka v10.5.

The Leopard update is due in the "spring" of 2007, Jobs said, which means it could ship anytime during the second quarter.

"Time Machine is one of the best concepts for a backup utility anyone has ever had and one of the best user interfaces anyone has ever had," said Peter Glaskowsky, technology analyst with Envisioneering of Cupertino, Calif.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead more here about Apples rollout of its Intel Xeon-based workstation-class machine, introduced at the WWDC keynote.

According to Scott Forestall, Apples vice president of Platform Experience, Time Machine will back up and restore "everything" on a Mac running Leopard. The backup can be to a connected hard drive or to a server on the network.

Unlike the System Restore feature in Windows XP that looks at the state of Windows and the Registry, Time Machine provides a granular incremental backup for all bits and pieces of the OS, as well as data files. Users can restore the entire hard drive or just a single file.


But it was the interface that drew the audience into the program. The recovery window featured a vertical timeline on the right hand side, and two arrows that floated in the frame, one pointing towards the user (the present) and the other into the screen (the past).

Of course, the subject of the Time Machine restoration, whether a file or folder window, was presented in the center of the screen and behind it, were arrayed the older versions extending and shrinking into the past.

The windows are animated to flip forward and backward in time, similar to the Flip3D mechanism in Windows Vista.

The timeline will let users target a particular day, week or month by clicking a day or by sliding the cursor up and down.

Users will also be able to reveal the changes with the arrows that move the windows forward and backward in time.

In a demonstration, Forestall offered a number of scenarios that users commonly experience, such as recovering a file that they dont remember the name of but can recall its location in a particular folder.


With the folder displayed in icon view in Time Machine, the change was evident with the sudden arrival of the "lost" document popping visually into the folder.

Forestall checked the file in a preview window, without opening the application, and then restored the file with another click.

He also showed the program restoring a deleted contact from the Address Book and a roll of photographs in iPhoto.

"Its the first app Ive ever seen that has a real reason to have a 3-D user interface," Glaskowsky said.

"Weve seen this before with application switching and so on. But thats an OS feature, not an app. This is a real app, and its the first one that really needed 3-D to convey the impression of what youre doing," he continued.

Glaskowsky is so right. Most 3-D environments have really been terrible. In the 1990s there was a vogue to emulate "real" 3-D virtual environments for productivity, such as desks with drawers that opened, instead of folders and icon views.

And then theres Flip3D and context switching. Its all more of an effect, although Flip3D in Vista is a step forward from Windows XP. Its just not in the league with Apple and Mac OS Xs refinements.

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