WWDC Software Wrap-up

Apple discussed a little bit about Leopard and software directions.

It is interesting to note that Leopard slipped a little bit; originally Apple was targeting end of 2006, now along with Vista, they’re targeting Spring ’07. I’ll be interested to hear the state of Leopard from the developers; is it Beta quality or only Alpha/development, and so on. If it isn’t mature, that signals that Apple is doing lots of foundation things that take a lot of time (and impact a lot of stuff). If it is mature, and I suspect it is, it signals something else. Apple probably wants to make sure they’re AFTER Microsoft in release in order steal thunder. MS says, “look at our best”, and immediately Apple starts a campaign, cutting the wind out of their sales, with their release which says, “and look at what we offer”. Or the old, “if you have to upgrade anyways, why not upgrade to the best”.

Steve’s message that Apple has released 5 major releases in the time it’s taken Microsoft to release one is right on target. Apple has a better foundation, so things move quicker. But also, to be fair, Apple’s releases in this time weren’t always that good with quality. Mac OS X 1.0 was 1/2 baked at best; really they just shipped a beta and let us work out the rest. Some of the other releases weren’t always up to snuff either with some things not quite working as advertised (like Active Directory stuff working and breaking alternately in every other version/release) and so on. So now that Apple has lowered their quality for releases to near Microsoft’s level, they’re able to push them out much quicker — but that isn’t always a pure victory from a users point of view. But from a business point of view, they are shipping more, and what they are shipping is still of higher quality than you get out of MS. So I give them a half point on this.

Apple is showing 10 things, for now. This is obviously to wet our appetite.

1) Core animation is a giant yawn to me. Yes it will be easier for programmers to whore up the interface, and have gaudy transitions like Apple. And it’ll sell to have those stupid sexy things. I care how good the transitions are, and how consistent the interface, which has gone way down hill. Apple’s isn’t even very consistent on when people should use brushed metal or aqua, now they’re going to add animation to the mess? So this scores nothing for me.

2) Mail; Great. Nice improvements. It needs it. Not really an OS thing. But nice, and most users will care.

3) iChat; Nice needed improvement. It now competes (a little) with NetMeeting. If it integrates and works with NetMeeting clients and/or other clients, it’ll really be a big win. Otherwise it is a cute MacOnly feature that doesn’t add nearly as much value. So my measure of success for the tool isn’t if I can use it with the other 5-10% of the market (Macs), but if it works well with the other 90% of users (Windows).

4) Dashboard for me is glitz above function. A few improvements are nice, but I still don’t “get it”. If you offer spaces, why isn’t the dashboard layer just another space? Why do I only have one layer for widgets, when I could use spaces and have as many as I need? What if I want a dashboard widget to work on the desktop, or an App to work on the Dashboard layer? It still seems inept to me. Nice functionality to be able to put some things on a pop-on/pop-off layer, but why only one type of app can go there and why those apps can’t be used in other ways seems like some arbitrary marketing decision, and not a very common sense / user interface one. Why should I need two copies of the same solution (one Dashboard calculator, and one application/desk-accessory one, etc.)? So Dashboard is way too shallow, and Apple still isn’t thinking bigger. Old Apple used to think, “how do we genericize this behavior, and make it useful in many more ways than just one”. New Apple seems to think, let’s sexy this up and ship it in this limited form, and then add features, but never really look at the big picture. Apple is still better than Microsoft, but sad because it is so much more limited than it could be or than they used to be.

5) Spaces; FINALLY! I have yet to see it work, but many power users have been begging for this for 5 years. Apple kept offering half-baked variants. They offered fast user switching, but it didn’t work well as virtual desktops. They offered a layer with Dashboard, but you couldn’t put other things on it. Spaces allows me to make layers as I need them. Hurrah! We’ll see how well it works, but for power users, this is way needed. As long as apps in the background don’t hog too much time, but still get enough time to get work done, it’ll be cool. But if like running IE or any MS app in the background, if it starts slowing down my other spaces, then I’m going to have to keep shutting things down.

6) Spotlight; good. I knew they needed booleans from the first release. Apple used to wait and do things right. This meant they wouldn’t have made their first ship date for Spotlight, but then it also means that when they did ship it would have been better than the 1.0 Spotlight. So I’m not saying the old way was better — just different. I’m glad for the improvements. I haven’t personally used spotlight that much, because I can’t often find things I want need much better than just keeping them organized. Hopefully this 2.0 will change that.

7) iCal; OK. So far I like iCal — but can’t stand that Apple kind of locks it up in that it works with .Mac, when I should be able to share around my own network. It looks like they’ll add that support, if I have MacOS X Server. But I’d still like this solution to work more openly. But the features themselves are very nice. And it is an improvement. So my attitude on iCal is that I’d use it… except. Except I can’t share with my wife. Except I can’t use it at work because it doesn’t work with Lotus Notes (or Entourage, etc., etc.). If they make it compatible and seamless, I’ll love it. If they leave it sorta it’s own thing, it is great in some homes, useless in mine or the office.

8) Accessibility; good. This effects very few people, but is of major impact to them. And it seems like they not only caught up to old MacOS and Windows, but have gone well ahead of both. Kudos.

9) 64 Bit; similar. This effects very few people, but is of major impact to the few that need it. It also builds a nice foundation for the future. So thanks for shipping what you were sort of selling in Panther or Tiger — and they are ahead of MS. But the older 64 bit still allowed to have more than 4GB of RAM — just few apps could use more than that. Now they can. Nice, but not earth shattering; it will matter more over time (and in a couple years).

10) Time Machine; I saved the biggest for last. I haven’t got to use it yet. The idea is significant. The implementation, I’m curious. Auto-nightly-incremental backups in the OS is a good thing. Versioning seems like a REALLY important thing. A science-fiction black theme, and the implementation of User Interface has me more skeptical. I prefer when I have control over things, and am not subject to some star-wars fans view of good taste. I’ve also learned to not completely trust Apple’s 1.0 releases of things. So some skepticism, and I also wonder how well it will work.

10 years ago, Apple was showing really innovative versioning with Bento and OpenDoc. Each document was a multi-forked file, and each fork had a version of the file over time. You could diff, and go back in time, or purge, and so on. It was the Digital Equipment’s VAX (VMS) OS, finally brought into the 90’s, and put on a User Interface. When Steve took over, he killed that. In many ways that was a much bigger innovation than this, in that when I copied a file, or was traveling, I could get to those revisions. With this solution, I’m still waiting to see that if I’m using my laptop away from home (and the backup drive) can I see that there are prior revisions? (Does it save the index and metadata on the drive?) Or only when I’m tethered?

Now Apple’s new way of versioning has some advantages. It isn’t as good at versioning, but does handle backing up. I don’t have the size creep in every file, with me at all times, only with the backup ones. But I wonder about implementation, a lot. Are you going to have laptops that can have two internal drives? And so on.

Most importantly is the concept of backing up properly. Having a second device is great for hardware failure. If either your primary or mirror/secondary drive fail, you can put in another drive, restore (or re-backup), and get back to work. That is probably 80%+ of failures. But the other 20% is things like theft, fire, flood, catastrophe and so on. You always want to have an offsite backup. So normally with a real backup policy, you do things like backup to the local machine nightly, but then say weekly, you’re backing up offsite (or taking the data-device you have and putting it somewhere else). My value on Time machine will be based on how well it solves the whole problem. If the interface has some abilities to use local and remote backups, or use multiple devices, etc., that will tell me how half-baked the solution is.

So this shows the brilliance of Apple; solving the right problems. And sort of my frustrations; having forgot they solved parts of this before (that might be better ways), and that they’re likely to give me a really neat solution, but only if I use it their way, and it won’t work for what I need. If I use the computer different than they do (meaning I use computers the right way), then I suspect it is like many other features; tough luck. So I’m waiting to see, but not completely trusting that Apple has people looking out for my interests. By 2.0 or 3.0, I suspect it will be quite a nice feature and mature up. But I’m expecting that in 1.0 I’ll be cursing its limitation, like I have for Mail, iChat, Spotlight, Dashboard, 64 Bit and Accessibility. That Apple is moving forward is a win for them. And they’re certainly ahead of MS. So don’t think this is negative — but a feature is only as good as its shortcomings and holes. So far, those have been getting in my way, way too much. That they think smaller than they used to, and sometimes 1/2-ass things to get them out the door, which while it works for 70% of the users, usually just frustrates me at lost potential or because I’m often in the other 30%. So good business decisions, lousy engineering or Human Interface ones.

There’s still more coming. I’m sure Apple hasn’t shown everything. The thing I hear people asking most about is, “did they fix the Finder”. Most people dislike at least something about the Finder. Finder alternatives are a dime-a-dozen, proving the flaws. Mac users that knew the old Finder, so are more educated on what to expect from a good interface, thus they have more problems with the new Finder. Windows users are so used to Windows that they are just so happy that they aren’t using Windows that they don’t know any better. So if you’re the 90% coming from Windows, the Finder is great. For the rest of us, we want a lot of old features to work right / better or more like they used to. I would love if Apple released a new Finder and a ton of interface improvements; but I am not sure they recognize there’s a problem. We’ll see.

I suspect the biggest solution may be something like being able to write for Macs, and have it run on PC’s. NeXT used to have this ability. Apple had solutions to do this using either MacApp, or using QuickTime API’s (which had most of Mac’s API’s under it, which is why it ran so much better on Windows than Windows Media did). And a lot of old ideas from NeXT seem to pop-up at Apple again. So NeXTSTEP, er Cocoa/Carbon for Windows seems like a good way to counteract anyone thinking “since Macs can run Windows, we can just write for Windows”, and a way to attract lots of developers who will realize, “if we write for Macs, it can run anywhere”. But I don’t know. It is a common sense thing to do, but that doesn’t always mean it will be done. But imagine if Apple could port their Apps to Windows with a push of a button, and so could other people? Long term, it would mean that Windows people (that 90% of the market), could move to Macs easier, as they became more familiar and addicted to the tools. So if you believe that iWork, iLife, etc., is better, then it makes a lot of sense to port like they did for iTunes. As well as making it easier for others to do the same. But that might be more than a few months away.

Either way, this is a good time for Apple and Macs. Microsoft is going to start a HUGE migration. One that requires users to upgrade their OS, all their apps, their machines, retrain on everything, and learn a whole new set of reasons why their machines crash, get infected with things and so on. If you’re already reinvesting that much, and frustrated at all about it, it would make sense to consider Macs in the move. Especially if there’s some good programs in place to help switchers. If Apple can make a great data-migration tool for Windows users, so the 50 most common Apps files get moved over to the Mac and work with some alternative, that’s it. You’d see huge spikes in marketshare. If I was Apple, I’d be working on real file compatibility in iWork and their Apps, and buying out companies that have tools that are popular Windows Apps or have versions that are like Windows apps and making them file-compatible. Then getting making the “Migration Assistant” not just help you move from Mac to Mac, but from Windows to Mac and blow the market away. But that’s just me.


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