Leopard Looms Quietly

Opinion: Apple's silence about its upcoming Leopard OS is no reason to panic.

The Apple news has been all about iPods and iPhones for a while now, what with a complete line refresh of the former and price drops and European introductions of the latter. But some eagle-eyed Mac users have noticed that the calendar is rapidly creeping up on October, the month Steve Jobs promised—after a delay from its original date of June—delivery of Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X.

Yet theres been a dearth of news on the topic. Is there cause to be worried? Not so far.

1. Recently, a statement made to Reuters by Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe Systems, didnt reassure a lot of creative professionals who live or die in Photoshop, Illustrator and other Adobe products.

Chizen said Creative Suite 3, the current version of Adobes premier application collection, "hasnt fully been tested under Leopard," and that Adobe had not yet received a "final" copy of the new operating system. (This "final" copy could be a GM, or gold master, which can be available days or weeks before the packaged, consumer version.)

But: All this means is that Apple has not yet released the GM of Leopard, not that development is behind pace. Tiger, the current version of OS X, went GM on March 31, 2005, with the retail release on April 29. To meet the October deadline, Apple still has a few weeks.

And as for possible compatibility problems with CS3, in the words of one developer, "Major Apple OS revisions always break things. Those of us developing on the platform accept this and move on." Not that there werent compatibility issues with Vista.

2. As many have pointed out, there are still the "secret features" Jobs originally hinted at mid-2006.

At Apples Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco in 2007, Jobs showed off 10 Leopard-only features, but few of them were actually new to the audience, leading many to suspect that either Apple still had some major surprises or development difficulties had forced the abandonment of features—not to the degree of Microsofts Vista, but still.

Exacerbating this worry has been the reaction of developers to many of the features that were shown.

New folder designs have been called failures; the Dock redesign has been met with comments such as "disgust with many of the unnecessary changes which represent steps backward in usability" and "junk"; and the transparent Menu bar has lead many developers to ready hacks to counter it.

This leads to theories and worries that, due to these features sheer awfulness in some developers minds, the Leopard team will have to spend many man-hours going back over ground, causing more delays.

But: Those who lived through the Tiger betas can recall serial interface changes, both good and bad. And even publicly demonstrated user interface elements, such as Mac OS X 10.0s original Dock, received overhauls post-release. And the "Top Secret" features? Well, its not like Jobs has never been known to have a flair for the dramatic; in this case, if some fantastic new features dont emerge, itll be at the cost of angering some customers—but theyll still be customers.

3. For most of September, Apple did not release any updates to its developer build of Leopard.

This was seen by some developers as potentially troubling. Any time there are changes—either at the UI level or in the operating systems underpinnings—developers need to test their applications against them. Silence on the OS front is not reassuring.


Click here to read more about developers eagerness to examine Leopard.

But: The week of Sept. 17, Apple updated the developer version of Leopard to v.9A528d, and aside from "general fixes" and a new version of the automatic Software Update feature, no radical changes appeared, and no developers are saying that they see significant changes in how their products behave—though that doesnt mean certainty for final product compatibility (see No. 1).

Wheres the hype?

Those used to watching Microsoft, with years of teasers and promotion of the next, greatest OS product, may not understand the lack of hype from Apple prior to Leopards release. Where are the ads, the rock song co-branding, the Astroturf?

But thats like faulting Apple for not pursuing the enterprise market, or for not making a $299 Mac. Thats not the market Apples after; thats not the game it plays. Apple, under Jobs, sees itself not as selling sodas to the masses, but as providing targeted goods to a knowledgeable audience.

Remember, Apple announced Tiger only 17 days before that OS release. Weve got until Oct. 14. Then worry.


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