Just gotten back from a demo of the new version of Mac’s operating system, Mac OS X Leopard (must confess I don’t like the names. It’s slightly better than Vista, but still a bit lame in my view.) But that’s not the point. I arrived halfway through the demo and so missed a lot of the stuff, but, still. Wow. There’s something about Mac software that makes you go ‘ooo’ even when you don’t really want to.
I won’t bore you with details, but watching it unfold made me think a few things:
- Rarely is there anything startlingly new here. It’s intuitive, obvious, like all good innovation. But it’s also “why couldn’t we already do this?” And sometimes we could, at least for a while. Like widgets that are actually just segments of a webpage — a daily cartoon, or a CNN news section. I remember we could do this in 2001 in Windows, courtesy of some company that later went bust. Wish I could remember the name.
(It also made me think of Active Desktop, which I’ve never seen people use, probably because it was fiddly and because very few of us actually saw our desktop for all the programs we had open.) Of course, Apple made it fun, easy and the kind of thing you want to do, rather than do because you can. But it’s still something that should have been around a half decade ago.
- Then there’s stuff that’s not new, just better. Spaces lets you have lots of desktops. We could do this on Windows years ago, and even Ubuntu has had it as a standard feature for a while, but on a Mac it just looks good, and works as you would want it to. You can drag programs, for example, between virtual desktops (one day, I hope, you will be able to drag data) and the animation is both fun and strangely helpful.
- Then there’s stuff that looks a bit like a ripoff — data connectors, for example, that will grab addresses from emails for you. Anagram, among other programs, do this already. It’s good that Mac has recognised the usefulness of this application, but you can’t help feeling sorry for the folks who have spent so long developing a feature like this, only to see themselves being overtaken by the Leopard
- Then there’s true innovation, based on watching how people work. Like the demo guy (who used the word “cool” about 398 times too many in the presentation) said, a lot of us use email software in a way that wasn’t intended — as a kind of word processor cum note taker cum to do list. Apple realised this, and have turned Mail into exactly that, allowing you to add to do lists with images and stuff embedded. Nothing startling, but acknowledging how we work and making it easier for us.
This is not to detract from Apple’s achievement. Leopard looks hot, and makes Vista look impoverished and, I suspect, somewhat irrelevant, like someone trying to sell aluminum siding to people who realise that while people still have it on their houses, no one really wants it anymore. Apple see what people want and give it to them.
Not once did the guy mention speed, or having lots of applications open, or ‘experience’. I find that telling. Maybe he forgot to, but I always shiver when I hear these words. I know that users don’t think like that; they want to know what they can do, not whether screen redraws are quicker or the edges of windows bend like willow. (They’re happy if they do, but that’s not why they buy an OS.) Neither do they want an “experience” — they want to do stuff. Leopard, it seems will, let them to do that.