Mac OS X Leopard: Just a Pretty Vista Knockoff

by Tanner Godarzi Nov 02, 2007

Let me say this now: Leopard is good for an upgrade, but there is no wow, nothing that would excite me to switch to a Mac when compared to Tiger. It’s merely an OS update that was       meant to fill the evolutionary void and is reminiscent of Vista: delays, “overhauled” interface as a touted feature, and not many compelling features that would really make you want to upgrade.

And yes, I am comparing Mac OS X Leopard to Windows Vista, but please put your pitchforks and burning weapons down for a moment. I’ve been playing with Leopard since Saturday and there are some things I do like about this update, but before I start echoing other bloggers, I have to lay down the similarities here between Cupertino’s OS and Redmond’s main competitor.

Just Another Pretty Face 
Leopard, like Vista, has been pushed back so a usable product can be released to the masses, but outside developments show how much of a toll other priorities can take.
Vista was delayed not due to a massive code rewrite as previously speculated but due to code compatibility issues, primarily with 3rd parties. A valid reason, but we can see the effects of the delay today in an evolutionary upgrade void of features that would make someone’s mouth drop. I am not dissing Vista in any way (as much as some of you may want me to) but it filled in a peg in the ladder which was enough for Microsoft and their user base.
The same can be applied to Leopard. Apple needed more resources to develop their iPhone platform, which was an OS X install stripped down for a radically different computing environment. Making OS X play nice with the iPhone was no easy task, but a monumental one; plus the ongoing development put strains on Apple’s development team, causing them to push their shipping date back twice.
As with Vista, what caused the delays has left its mark on the next generation OS, and while it may pique the interests of developers, it’s not as tempting as Tiger was to Panther users or Jaguar to Classic users. Leopard was meant to fill in a gaping void, but Apple delivered with minimal results (from an average user’s perspective), making the decision to upgrade a debatable choice.

No “Wow”
While Steve Jobs gallantly gave his keynote during WWDC ‘06, he taunted Microsoft’s efforts in developing Vista with his own herculean team and crack shots at the Redmond based company. Although only 10 features were shown off in fear that Vista would somehow mimic Leopard blow for blow, it’d be the best thing we’d get from a “wow” standpoint.
Time Machine, full 64 Bit compatability, Core Animation, and Mail Stationery are all worthy additions to the Mac platform, but how it was presented during WWDC left us wanting more. We interpreted these 10 somewhat notable additions as an appetizer in preparation for the full course, one that would totally blow anything Apple had shipped before out of the water.
Sadly this would not come to be. These 10 additions would be bunched in with Steve’s “Top Secret Features” and regurgitated next year before Leopard’s second publicly announced delay.
Notice the similarity now between the two OSes? Other priorities can really scatter any progress made on a project, something Apple and Microsoft have had to learn the hard way.
The “wow” factor lacks in Leopard. Sure Time Machine rocks—its automated backups and those new stationery templates in Mail will truly revolutionize how I write email—but Steve left us wanting for more and more then left some of us hanging, mouths gaping in either despair or astonishment.

More Evolutionary Than Revolutionary
Leopard unintentionally filled a void created by the previous OS release before it to continue the evolutionary chain without disruption. And that’s just what Leopard is, an evolution of OS X rather than a revolution.
Apple has continually stepped up their game by making OS X more and more appealing to the average user and hard core Mac geek alike, but they’ve delved from that normal path to focus more on developers. This isn’t bad in any sense, and Leopard is by no means something thrown together in order to meet the bare minimum requirements.
It was something that needed to happen, to fill in the needs and wants of certain users, and Apple did that by throwing developers a bone and making Leopard more friendly for 3rd parties.

Major Changes
However, Leopard has undergone significant changes which will eventually outpace the PowerPC platform and reduce it to nothing more than a ball and chain to an archaic means of using a Mac. Leopard will pave the road for truly great things when Apple utilizes Intel processors to their full extent.

Leopard resembles iTunes in appearance, which is a great direction to go in for many reasons. But in my opinion, Apple may have taken it a bit too far by making it a complete clone of the popular media management application.
First off, iTunes is easy to use, it’s simple and does what it does well while being able to handle your digital life without much fuss. Incorporating iTunes’ interface within the Finder is a logical decision to aid switchers in grasping the Mac platform while retaining some familiarity with Windows.
Having an easy to use and universal interface accessible anywhere is a selling point considering it’s based off an application that millions of people use and love. This allows Apple to tout iTunes as Mac OS X for Windows with the Mac, a sandbox for users to prepare or persuade them to switch.
Although radically different, the unification of every window to resemble iTunes does get annoying after some time, coupled with the default space-like theme thrust upon you from the start. Brushed metal is no more, with darker grays that will stand out even though they’re clones of one another with little differentiation.
That is Finder. The other big overhaul is the Dock. Apple has touted the Dock as the central location for everything you need to access quickly and a much more efficient alternative to the task bar. Continuing this trend, the Dock is more prominent than before by consuming more space and delving from its original intentions of simplicity.
This new glassy Dock is visually appealing and adds a bit of flare and realism to your Mac. Stacks, on the other hand, being exclusive to the Dock, reasserts its authority as your Mac’s control center. Files and folders can be accessed from the Dock without much hassle, but this functionality existed long ago, Leopard only made it visually appealing. By dragging a folder down to the Dock, you could click and hold to access its contents in list form, and anything could be launched from here as well. Stacks is nothing more than a glorified version of this concept, but crippled in that less items are shown.
RSS: Really Simple Suffering
Tiger brought forth Safari 2 and RSS support. Leopard has stepped it up a notch and brought in its A-game for information aggregation. Your data can be manipulated faster than before but is thrown in your face so many times, although useful, I’ve dubbed it RSS, Really Simple Suffering.
The suffering in this case is good, it’s information you want to see and have at your finger tips but it’s aggregated so simply it requires not attention until some app starts popping in your face to remind you about 3:30 PM Dentist Appointment and that you need to plot the directions on your iPhone.
But Apple has taken a different approach to centralizing functions into Applications by fusing Web based elements with traditional methods of manipulating data. I’m talking about Safari, iCal, .Mac and Mail. All 3 involve publishing and aggregating content to and fro across multiple Macs. RSS feeds are now accessible within not only Safari but also Mail, the purpose of this I do not know but it possibly has to do with information overload when it comes to one Application handling everything.
But it doesn’t stop there: Apple has taken this up a notch by syncing all this data to make it even more redundant (nothing wrong with that!). Most of this is being done through .Mac which was recently revamped to accommodate the new changes in Leopard.
Dock Items, Widgets, System Preferences, Notes ,and Calendars are synced across every registered Mac, but it gets better. While syncing all this data may be great, Back to my Mac and iChat screen sharing make it even better by providing seamless access to your data no matter where you are.

Multitasking under OS X is made easier with Spaces. Although it seems simple in its current incarnation, the app’s usefulness is unprecedented.
By providing up to 16 virtual spaces for your Apps to reside and launch in, you can organize your workflow to increase productivity. My current setup is having one scratch Space for miscellaneous applications. My 2nd is for Mail, iCal, iChat, and Stickies, the 3rd for Safari, the 4th for any text editors such as iWork and Text Edit, plus the 5th being utilized for media utilities such as Quicktime, Visual Hub, iTunes, and Front Row.
Not a bad combo, but your mileage will vary. What makes Spaces exceed where others have failed is that it’s very, very responsive with little notice that you have actually switched to a different space. The fluidity in which Spaces functions make this a worthy App.
Knowing that each section is not an extra screen but a self contained environment for individual applications, but also having access to everything no matter where you are fools you into thinking you’re not even running Spaces, it’s that good!

Hesitant Upgraders
I have experienced no flaws with Leopard besides the usual “It’ll run better if you have a fast Mac,” but the biggest flaw is that it isn’t good enough for some users.
Leopard opens a new avenue for developers to create truly awesome applications, but besides under the hood improvements, it’s less than tempting to upgrade if Time Machine and the newly revamped Finder aren’t enough to convince you.
But here’s the thing: you’ll be forced to upgrade to Leopard if nothing else. Developers are creating Leopard-only applications and although few in number, it’ll spread quickly. It becomes harder and harder to support older Operating Systems when newer features are unavailable. It comes down to “Do I support the greater number of users who have Leopard and make a better application or support almost everyone but take out features?”
This choice has already been made, and Leopard will be the minimum option for applications.
But that leaves a group of users who are reluctant to upgrade and soon to be without support for newer applications. It’s a delicate balance, as you have to please the average user to upgrade while appealing to developers. It’s something hard to do, but Leopard won’t be the Operating System that causes a shift; Macs will come with Leopard by default and it’ll be an inevitable choice. The ones holding out are those who have hardware that functions but won’t run Leopard.

Leopard is a great Operating System and will excite developers more than the normal user. But these new features, although good, aren’t great due to delays and being spoiled early on. I am not dissing Leopard, but this is something that had to happen, and while it was touted as a Vista competitor, it’s more of a pretty knockoff in that Leopard won’t convince you to switch if Tiger didn’t and the “Wow” factor is lacking.


  • RE: Chris Howard’s Time Machine comment:

    Leopard on my G5 Tower is backing up multiple partitions.  In fact, I had to identify partitions I didn’t want it to back up.  It only ignores the Time Machine partition itself.

    Dave Marsh had this to say on Nov 02, 2007 Posts: 44
  • That was my understanding as well.  You can pick and choose drives/partitions to back up.  Otherwise what’s the point?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 02, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • I do not think and never really have thought it is fair to say that Vista was a knock-off of OS X, although many people, including Daniel Lyons (Fake Steve) have expressed that view firmly.

    I do however think it is overwhelmingly likely that the very reason we have seen the push towards tarting up in Vista was in direct response to the increasing critical praise that OS X has received from reviewers in major publications—including those for whom in times past the Mac world barely figured.

    Transparency for instance is something that Apple brought to the table, starting with the first release of OS X (in menus especially), but increasingly with Dashboard, HUDs, etc, and is something I think Windows has been influenced by—which is not a negative thing nor in any way a criticism of Windows, except that it suggests a lack of own initiative and leadership on the design front, which will come as news to nobody.

    All in all there is nothing in Leopard nor the situation in which it has come about that suggests a design influence flowing from Windows back to OS X.

    Incidentally this suggestion itself suggests two premises: 1. There are some bad choices in Leopard, design-wise (menubar, Dock); 2. They come from Vista.

    Seems to me people are being led to suggest OS X is copying Vista purely by their dislike of Leopard’s visual tweaks.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 02, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Ok, Dave, I half screwed up. I had excluded all my other partitions and drives. oops! *blush*

    Except my iPod, and it’s definitely not backing it up, as I tested it by deleting a file which I then couldn’t restore. And the iPod is definitely not in my list of excluded drives.

    So, breathe easy, Beeb, sorry for scaring you. smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 02, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • No sweat, Chris.  I just assumed you were wrong.  smile

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 02, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • If anyone knows why TM doesn’t backup my iPod, I’d appreciate. Esp if you’ve got a hack.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 03, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Leopard not an enticing upgrade? Two million copies sold on its weekend debut ... it took Tiger over a month to achieve that figure.

    Neil Anderson had this to say on Nov 03, 2007 Posts: 23
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