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Mac OS X: Leopard Lacks And Likes

Apple's operating system includes some 300 new features, including a few notable omissions, minor disappointments, and hidden gems.

The upcoming Leopard version of Apple's Mac OS X operating system includes some 300 new features, according to the company. Among them are a few notable omissions, minor disappointments, and hidden gems.

First, Leopard will not include Sun's ZFS file system, according to Brian Croll, senior director of Mac OS X product marketing. "ZFS is not happening," Croll told InformationWeek in an interview following Steve Jobs' keynote at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday. He declined to elaborate.

This contradicts what Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz said recently. Or at least it appears to. It may be that ZFS will be supported under Mac OS X 10.5 Server, or perhaps as a point release later on. But at the moment, ZFS is missing.

Second, Leopard's Time Machine application turns out to be far less useful than it could have been. It will no doubt be an excellent choice for backing up files to an external or AirPort-connected hard drive or a Mac OS X Server.

But Time Machine will not be able to back up files over the Internet to an FTP server or third-party storage service such as Amazon S3. Maintaining an off-site, online backup may look like a luxury to some, but it will only take a flood or fire or burglary to make those reliant on Time Machine realize that a local backup strategy isn't enough.

And absent any online component, Mac users may find that services such as Sharpcast's upcoming Project Hummingbird fulfill Time Machine's mission more thoroughly, albeit less elegantly.

Third, there's Leopard's ability to do away with Internet ads. Using the new Web Clip feature, users can create a live dashboard widget using any portion of a Web page. The widget displays just the selected portion and thus omits the rest of the page, which might well contain ads.

Now there are plenty of ways to block ads, and maybe that's a good thing. Indeed, some no doubt would characterize Web Clip as a godsend rather than source of potential problems.

But for companies like Google that depend on Internet advertising, not to mention Web site publishers that like to be paid, the possibility that Web Clips might prove popular has to be troubling.

A notable feature of Leopard that Jobs didn't mention but should have is Data Detectors, a technology that has been around Apple in various forms for a while, but only in Leopard has it been effectively put to use.

As demonstrated by Croll, Data Detectors allows for the identification of certain types of information and the addition of contextual menus to perform operations on that information. In the context of an address field in Apple's Mail program, for example, Data Detectors highlight the address and provide a menu option to display that address on a Google Map.

Finally, while it may be tempting to dismiss many of Leopard's new features as eye candy, Apple's decision to integrate the Cover Flow view used in iTunes into its new Finder represents a major step in the evolution of the desktop user interface.

Back in 2001, noted computer scientist David Gelernter started a company called Scopeware that proposed a similar scheme to view files in a time line. The market wasn't ready to rethink the desktop back then. Jobs and his team have refined Gelernter's vision and this time it looks far more promising.

This article references a statement made by an Apple representative who admits he misspoke about ZFS's role in Leopard. His clarification can be found here.

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