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ATPM 13.07
July 2007





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by Mark Tennent,

Furs Thoughts About the Big Cat

Steve Jobs’ keynote speech at Apple’s worldwide developers conference (WWDC) opened more, er, err…, windows into the domain of the Leopard. The complete speech can be viewed here. Full details of Leopard here.

Most of the “new” features have been around for some time as add-ons for Mac OS X, but Apple has pulled them into the operating system. The new Downloads stack, was such an obvious idea that I immediately renamed and moved my own “Just In” folder from its usual place on the Desktop and into the Documents folder. I then dragged its icon into the Dock. Voila! Not a stack, but almost, and hovering over the Dock’s icon opens the folder.

The new Finder Jobs announced has been needed for years. Until now, the OS X Finder has stayed almost as clunky as in OS 9, with a few new twists. Try copying or deleting a huge library of typefaces, for example, and the Finder rapidly bogs down. If connected servers close, the Finder stops until it has determined the drive has actually disappeared. In such cases it’s usually quicker to force-quit the Finder and relaunch it.

One thing I can never understand is why it is considered easier to navigate via icons rather than a list of filenames. Perhaps a folder containing only a few files is OK, but as a book designer, a job involves hundreds of images, text files, and so on. They reside inside sub-folders and often across different hard disks with only an alias or symbolic link connecting them with the main job folder. Using icons in such cases would make it virtually impossible to find specific files. In the same way, the new iTunes-style album cover navigation facility will be of limited use on large folders as it is it is to select iTunes tracks by flipping through the cover art from a well-stuffed music library.

Apple’s new Back to My Mac facility seems an answer to many problems for people who work at multiple locations. Any Mac user with a .Mac account will be able to access her main Mac from another Mac anywhere else in the world. This is because her Mac stores its IP address at .Mac. She will be able to search and retrieve anything from her home Mac via a secure tunnel. Nothing new, perhaps, but a lot easier than SSH or a VPN.

My partner, for example, often has to work away from our office and usually has to remember to take files with her and upload them to her .Mac account or our FTP space. Jobs didn’t give details about how the .Mac account would know about internal IP addresses and DHCP routers, but presumably Apple has that covered, perhaps by using UDP punching.

Recent changes to the .Mac service have given it a much-needed turn of speed, although it can still get the Finder into a tizzy, so I prefer to use a WebDAV application such as Transmit or Goliath to access my iDisk. On the other hand, Mac-using clients think it’s really helpful to be able to drop large files into my iDisk’s Public Folder. Once they have done it for the first time, the server stays in their Recent Items list, so they have almost instant access to my iDisk. This is far better for many than firing up an FTP program or using a browser-based and JavaScripted upload tool.

Time Machine, the new backup application, will bring into the OS a lot of the functionality of third-party programs we use such as Silverkeeper and SuperDuper. According to Steve Jobs, the overwhelming majority of users do not back up their Macs. This is probably because they have nothing to back up to other than CDs or DVDs. Time Machine will not help this. As demonstrated, it still needs a second drive to save files to. It will, however, back up system files, and this is extremely welcome. Anyone who has searched through preferences and other Library folder items trying to solve a problem application will know what a painful process this can be. Time Machine will solve this by keeping earlier versions of those files that have since become corrupted.

The new facilities in Mail look tasty. As designers, we are often called on to make HTML newsletter e-mails, and the best solution we have found so far is to use Netscape’s built-in HTML editor, which can save in e-mail format. Mail’s editable template-based solution looks to be a better method and opens the door to a new industry in the same way RapidWeaver did for Web site creation. On the other hand, the worst thing about Mail is that it will encourage people to send us HTML newsletter e-mails.

As Jobs would say, one last thing—the price. For the extra facilities, new applications, and features, 64-bit computing, multicore support, and free developer tools as well, $129 is incredibly cheap. Jobs joked about all the versions of Windows, but it is an important point if Apple is to gain market share. As a new owner of a Mac capable of running Windows, I was put off the idea simply by the price of the various versions available. For a little more I could buy another computer with Vista aready loaded.

Leopard looks like the cat’s whiskers. I can’t wait.

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