Apple has forgotten the first rule of an interface: Never surprise the user.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Apple's new OS X software is part wow, part wacko

Dec. 2, 2007

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard

   Apple fans have a reason to celebrate -- a flashy new version of the software that powers Mac computers. The new operating system, OS X 10.5, called Leopard, is a triumph in many ways.
   But the hordes of Apple faithful who paid $129 to buy the Leopard upgrade got more than an operating system. They got a handful of unpleasant surprises.
   The most obvious change was in the operation of the all-important launch area, called the dock. With the dock at the bottom of the screen, icons within folders shoot up in a curve to the right, like the vapor trail of an Atlas rocket at takeoff. Apple calls this a "stack."
   If there are a lot of icons in the folder, there's no curving trail of icons at all. Instead, the icons array themselves in a grid across the screen.
   I found this hopelessly confusing. Fortunately, placing the dock on the side of the screen banishes stacks in favor of the grid of icons. This eliminates the nutty surprise of expecting one interface element and getting another. (Apple has forgotten the first rule of an interface: Never surprise the user.)
   But Apple has been known to do wacko things now and then, and the weird dock just shows that Steve Jobs, who likes to take the road less traveled, is still firmly in charge. However, the bugs in the first version of Leopard are inexcusable. Apple was busy fixing them throughout November, with patches and fixes available from the software update built into every Mac, but they shouldn't have slipped into Leopard in the first place.
   One bug destroyed original files that were being copied if the destination drive was unplugged. Another lost the defaults of printers. One truly unpleasant minor bug tried to synchronize my data with non-existent computers through an Internet account that I didn't have; it made my computer run unbearably slow while it tried to locate the non-existent computers. (I fixed it with some detective work inside system files.)
   But the real hero of Leopard, after the bugs are chased away, is Time Machine, which keeps a copy of everything you do, as long as you have an external disk drive, without the need to configure anything. It worked well in my tests.
   There are four other big features, too:
    Quick Look, which lets you view any file by selecting its icon and pressing the spacebar.
    Live icons, which show the contents of files right in their icons.
    Cover Flow, which lets you flip through pictures, movies, PDF files or any other documents as if they were album covers in a circular rack.
    Parental controls that can limit what your kids do on the Internet without forcing you to learn anything new. Apple really has this right.
   There are hundreds of other improvements. Apple describes them at www.apple.com.
   Buyers of new Macs get Leopard already installed. Otherwise, Mac owners have to pay for the upgrade. Apple cautions that some older Macs are too old and slow for Leopard. Apple gives the hardware requirements at www.apple.com/macosx/techspecs.