What is coming in Mac OS X 10.5, code-named Leopard? Does anyone outside the executive suite in Cupertino really know? Putting aside the half-baked rumors and hoax pages floating around Web, the truth must wait for Steve Jobs keynote address at the companys WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) in early August.
But that shouldnt stop us from dreaming.
While the current Tiger version was updated this week, its easy to see some scruffy bits in its coat. Or rather, missing features in the interface as well as in whats under the surface: troublesome performance at times and spotty integration of its services and applications.
Heres a short list of OS X improvements that I would like to see in Leopard:
1. More support for small businesses. While the enterprise may be the hardest nut for Apple to crack, SMBs (small and midsized businesses) may take to the new Mac platforms Intel compatibility and its powerful but user-friendly OS. Apple is leaving money on table in this market.
However, the Mac platform needs an application or an integrated suite that provides the functions of Microsoft Outlook on the Windows platform.
While the integration of Apple Mail, Address Book and iCal functions are fair for single users, its way below the level needed for business users.
In a business, people need to seamlessly share calendars, set group appointments and link to shared files and resources. This isnt available now on the Mac.
Perhaps services for iCal and Mail, for example, could be added to OS X Server. Even better, let companies run their own .Mac servers, which could support its services within an organization, such as iDisk integration and file sharing.
If thats out of Apples business model, then it really must shape up .Mac services for business customers. (Apple should do this anyway since the service is shaky at times for current individual users.)
On the other hand, Apple should also offer a full Exchange client in Leopard. Or add the equivalent compatibility to the existing information management applications. It should let a Mac user connect to the same services that Windows users find in Outlook and without giving problems to Windows admins.
And before you mention them: Microsofts Exchange clients for the Mac are either behind the times or crippled. Microsoft cant be trusted with Mac connections to Exchange and other Windows services.
2. Improved Windows support through virtualization. Apple execs have made plain that the Boot Camp Assistant will move out of testing stage around the time of Leopards release. However, we want more.
Running Windows on the new Intel Macs is the last argument for switchers. Support for Windows removes another barrier to entry to the platform. Even better, the Windows performance of business machines such as the MacBook Pro is very good.
Instead of rebooting into Windows with Boot Camp, we should have an Apple supported virtualized environment for Windows XP and Vista. This capability is offered now through third-party software from Parallels; and VMware has it working in the back room.
To be honest, I would prefer Apple to offer a Windows compatibility environment such as the Wine project for Linux.
This would let Mac users simply install a Windows program and run it in a window on the desktop.
“That would be like getting an early birthday present—people would be overjoyed if that happened,” one IT manager in a mixed shop told me.
However, Apple cant afford to rile Microsoft right now (or at any time, really). Microsoft can see the advantage of Mac users running copies of Windows on Intel Macs. But something like Wine would set off fireworks in Redmond.
Make Automator Fit for
So, for the Leopard time frame, we can hope for Apple to provide virtualization support beyond cut and paste, such as transparent communication services between virtualized OSes and OS X applications.
3. Make Automator fit for ordinary people. One of the great advantages of the Mac platform is its natural-language scripting language, called AppleScript.
In the scheme, applications expose their features in a very granular way and users can call on these functions in scripts to get their work done. Of course, not all applications open all the features to the Apple.
In Tiger, Mac OS X 10.4, Apple introduced an easy scripting environment called Automator.
This application lets users script “Actions” and then tie multiple scripts together into workflows. This is all great stuff, but still too tough at times for everyday use by ordinary users. Most Actions are scripted by professionals. It must be made more accessible and easy to use.
4. Refine Spotlight searching. We all know that searching for stuff on your hard drive and on the network is great, but the results retrieved by Spotlight are often troubling or difficult to understand. It needs help.
Perhaps this is just a manifestation of the general trouble with search technology, but this application can be better. I dont know if I can express exactly what must be done to take Spotlight to the next level, however, I know it must improve.
Even just a means to search for a string of text in a file name would be a help.
5. Fix the performance of the Finder and the networking stack. Apple has spent a lot of time in Tiger providing useful new features and integrating others. However, the Finder is still acting erratic at times, balking with some actions. While its pretty, its performance hasnt kept up with advancements of other parts of the OS.
The handling of mounted network volumes is a case in point. The time the Finder takes to figure out whats happening with remote volumes when it wakes up is ridiculous. Sometimes the computer is stalled for minutes and all productivity grinds to a halt. And you cant force quit.
Of course, in Terminal mode, these issues dont crop up. So its something with the interface.
In a similar vein, John Rizzo, author and editor in chief of the MacWindows resource reminded me of the problems with Tiger upgrades, VPN clients and SMB networking.
When Tiger was released it took months before VPN clients were working properly. And with each update, SMB networking is troubled.
Is it too much to ask that Apple fully test on Windows networks—any and all Mac OS X releases—before they ship?
Yet, fixing things is the hardest task to get done in an OS update.
Can we imagine Steve Jobs, standing on the stage in his usual black turtleneck and blue jeans, and telling the world that fixing the Finder and Spotlight and networking in Leopard was the best the company could do for its users and well worth the wait?
Thats hardly a sexy message.
What we will get are features we never knew we needed. Im sure I will like them. Still, the fixes would be welcome.
Do you have any suggestions for inclusion in Mac OS X Leopard? Send them in here.
David Morgenstern is Storage Center editor for eWEEK.com and was formerly the editor of MacWEEK. He can be reached at [email protected]