Leopard Curiosities

Using Leopard for a couple of weeks now – a few more scattered impressions here. Haven’t had time to explore all the nooks and crannies. I spend 95% of my time in Mail.app, TextMate, and FireFox/Safari. Haven’t even launched Time Machine – need to clear a partition on the NAS, and even then, not sure TM is the way to go – we’re pretty happy with SuperDuper for backup, and its images are bootable/restorable, which is something I wouldn’t be eager to give up.

No accident that the Ars review spends the first few pages on UI annoyances. Nice finally to have the look and feel consistent across all apps, but the semi-transparent menu bar is a UI disaster if you use a background with mottled textures, like “stones.” Knew it wouldn’t be long before some kind of hack came out to restore the opacity. Leo ColorBar to the rescue – not only gets rid of transparency, but also lets you tint the menu any color, which I’m liking:


Ditto for the Dock: I never asked for a mirror. And replacing black “running app” triangles with little glow lights? Cute, but I was tired of them in a couple of days. All gratuitous eye candy. TigerDock lets you return the Dock to something closely resembling… the Tiger Dock. Dock Delight gets your triangles back.

The one thing I thought I missed the most from BeOS days was having multiple workspaces – I used to keep email and browser on one virtual desktop, photo and video apps in another, etc. Spaces was the single Leopard feature I was looking forward to the most. Somehow, in BeOS, the workspaces concept just worked. The first thing I noticed about Leopard’s Spaces was that, unlike in BeOS, there’s no way to assign different wallpaper or background colors to different desktops – they all look the same. Important visual cue, missing. And BeOS also let you run workspaces at different resolutions, which was a great way to test web designs. Not in Leopard.

But I soon realized that somehow, in the intervening years, the perceived need for multiple workspaces had gone away. Between Expose’, the Dock, Cmd-Tab, utils like QuickSilver, and showing/hiding apps, the Mac offers so many ways to switch apps effectively while keeping the desktop clean that the need was effectively gone. After using them for a few days, I realized that all Spaces was getting me was an additional animation when switching apps. I turned Spaces off.

Guess I’m giving the impression of not liking Leopard – but that’s not true. Just getting the annoyances out of the way. Lots to say (mostly good) about changes to Mail.app, iCal, and other features… will save those for another day.

Music: Trifactor :: Sequence Of Our Hearts

Safari’s RSS Puzzle

Every few months I get tired of Firefox chewing memory and hanging every 2-3 days, and decide to return to Safari. It’s a dilemma: Safari’s speed, elegance, and stability, or Firefox’s wealth of plugins? For now, I’m going to put speed and stability first and make Safari primary again. I can switch over when I need to do something Safari can’t do.

As long as I’m tweaking the apple cart, decided to finally check out the Safari 3 beta. Love the new in-page search, love the resizable text fields, love the speed. But the RSS reader? Unchanged, as far as I can tell. What’s going on here? Over at my O’Reilly blog I’m letting Apple have it over Safari’s anemic RSS tools:

OK, geek boys and girls, pop quiz: How do you use Safari’s built-in RSS reader as a feed aggregator? Go ahead, take a minute to figure it out. Take 5. Whatever you need. I’ve got time.

Apple – Whatever you do with RSS in Leopard, please turn up the voltage on the de-confusifizer. RSS is important technology, and consumers aren’t going to get excited about it until you simultaneously show them its power and make it simple. Isn’t that what you do best?

Music: Pete Townshend :: Forever’s No Time At All

Why Safari?

The video demos of new features in OS X Leopard are pretty chill — OK, more than chill — some of them are downright amazing. But I’m trying to wrap my head around the release of Safari for Windows.

With iTunes for Windows, it was a slam dunk – you can’t sell iPods and tracks to people who can’t reach your platform. But with Safari, it’s not so clear cut. What are they selling? Ostensibly, it’s about giving Windows developers access to the browser that will be running on the iPhone. But I’m not buying that that’s the whole reason. Developers are just too small an audience to warrant the work it must have taken to do the port, and to support it going forward.

There’s the old “gateway drug” argument – give Windows users enough tastes of Mac elegance – and in this case a faster browser than anything available on Windows right now (Apple claims Safari 3 is twice as fast as Internet Explorer 7 on Windows, and 1.6 times faster than Firefox 2) – and eventually they’ll wander over to take a closer look at the whole enchilada*. But how many Windows users are going to care? Those who care enough about security and extensibility to try another browser are already using FireFox, and Safari doesn’t have FF’s thriving plugin landscape going for it. Speed alone isn’t going to cut it.

So… they’re going to end up with a tiny percentage of developers and geeks running Safari on Windows. And this benefits Apple how? Maybe I’m wrong – maybe the need to provide a platform for Windows iPhone developers is reason enough, but somehow that doesn’t ring true. I think there’s another shoe ready to drop, lurking stage left.

* Update: I wrote that bit about “elegance” before seeing any reviews of Safari/Win after it was released into the wild. Now that the opinions are starting to roll in, I think it’s safe to say that this beta was released long before it should have been. By all accounts, Safari/Win so far appears to be a steaming pile of $%$%!@ with little to recommend it.

Free Opera

Not sure how many people are using the Opera web browser these days, but if you’ve ever hesitated to try because it isn’t free, the company is celebrating its 10th birthday by handing out free reg strings for all platforms. Get ’em while they’re hot.

Opera has always been great, and I remember how grateful the BeOS user community was to see the BeOS port of Opera. But in these days of free Firefox etc., there isn’t a whole lot of incentive for people to try unheard-of browsers. Still, Opera has always been famous for its strict adherence to W3C standards, so it’s an important element of a webmaster’s toolkit.

My Lame Powers of Prediction

In January 2003, I predicted that major browsers would have RSS readers built into them within six months, which would have put the first release of such a feature at around July 2003. Obviously, that didn’t happen. At WWDC today, Apple unveiled the major features in Tiger (OS X 10.4). Among them is an integrated RSS reader for Safari. That puts my prediction off by a year. Except that Tiger won’t be out until 2005, so make that 18 months. My crystal ball must have been hit by a stray neutrino.

A few readers have written me over the past week speculating about whether HFS+Finder in Tiger would more closely resemble BeOS’ spectacular BFS+Tracker combination, given that Dominic and Pavel have been working at Apple for the past year and a half. The answer is… sort of. Spotlight is going after metadata in a big way, and is making system-wide, instantaneous search on any type of heterogenous data seamless. The “Keywords” feature may or may not be similar to BFS’ Attributes. The key to making Spotlight as fast and flexible as BFS+Tracker will be, for me, whether attributes, er, keywords, are 100% customizable into arbitrary metadata forms, whether the metadata indexing is fast, automatic and efficient, and whether Apple finally releases a complete cousin to Be’s incredibly powerful FileTypes panel.

Also cool in Tiger: The very slick Dashboard (did Apple purchase Konfabulator?), full videoconferencing in iChat, and a powerful-looking scripting front-end called Automator. Oh, I wouldn’t mind a 30-inch aluminum-encrusted display, either.

Update: The Register confirms that Apple didn’t buy Konfabulator – they pulled a Watson on it (thanks Michael). I got a kick out of one of the propaganda posters Apple apparently has out at the WWDC: “Redmond, start your photocopiers.” Which is especially ironic given all the copying that Cupertino is apparently doing.

Music: Pat Kelly :: I Wish It Would Rain

On Safari

It’s funny – an Apple-branded web browser is the last thing I thought I wanted out of Expo, but I’m already head over heels for Safari. Earlier this morning I was wondering why they would have chosen the lesser-known KHTML rendering engine over Gecko, but after feeling its speed and reading that the codebase is less than 1/10th the size of Gecko’s, I get it.

Safari’s bookmarks implementation is a thing of beauty. I’ve wondered since the mid-90s why no one ever seemed to get bookmark management right, but think Apple has finally cracked the egg. The one aspect of bookmark management I miss from BeOS is the ability to add keywords to bookmarks and then find similar bookmarks via live keyword queries. But if you make sure you give good descriptive titles to your bookmarks, the existing Find function works just fine.

They copied all the hotkeys over from Explorer, so everything works as expected. Even the almighty Cmd-click to open a link in a new window.

I’m always surprised to see how many people gripe about the brushed aluminum look. Personally, I’m sick to death of looking at white stripes and would be happy if every app on my system went brushed aluminum. However, it does seem like Apple has violated their own guideline to use brushed aluminum for apps that replace real-world devices. What device does the browser replace?

Music: Sham 69 :: If the kids are united