BitDepth 601 - November 06

Apple unleashed Leopard at a manufactured event on November 26. Your columnist was halfway down the line for the new OS.
Apple unleashes a new feline

The front end of a long line that queued over two hours to buy Apple's new operating system at the Houston Galleria Mall on October 26. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

"Sir, we'll be closing in fifteen minutes."
"Um hurrmmm," I growl at the black-clad Apple store employee, who has undertaken the unfortunate task of disturbing me while I click vigorously through the preferences dialog of Mac OS 10.5 on a sumptuous glossy 24 inch iMac screen.
I know I have just a few minutes to mouse through all that seems new on the new OS before the Apple outlet at the Houston Galleria enforces an artificial shutdown for two hours. The plan, across all the Apple stores, is to build anticipation for the release for sale of Leopard, the fifth major revision of the Unix-based operating system for Macintosh computers.

Despite having a six-and-a-half foot black man scribbling away in a notebook and clicking madly through applications like a movie hacker in their store, an Apple employee dutifully comes up every two and a half minutes or so to offer an apologetic countdown.
With a minute to go, I close the notebook and leave the store, which has already barred entry and begun pulling boxes of product out of the backroom.
An hour and a half later, having killed all the time I can in a seriously upscale mall nestled in the middle of an even more upscale hotel, I join the line of Apple faithful to enter the store again.

Line up, line up
There are probably a hundred people in front of me and as I wait, at least 25 more queue up politely behind me. With ten minutes to go before the store opening, a group of four Apple employees run up and down the line cheering and hollering, "Are you ready?" The customers on line who bother to look at them do so with distinct bemusement.
The store opens, but the line only drifts forward. The store, like most of Apple's mall locations, is a long, thin shoe-box shaped space, which can hold forty people at a time as they queue in a long loop through the space.

In less than fifteen minutes, I'm in the store, and I realise why the line is flowing so quickly. The store employees are acting as runners, pulling anything a customer wants and bringing it to them in line. The new OS is being tendered at multiple checkout points where other employees with mobile card swipers ring up an order and allow you to leave the store quickly.

As a final incentive to get the hell out, there are Leopard t-shirts being offered to the first customers to depart, ensuring a brisk flow of sales and movement through the store. It's kind of surprising, though undeniably clever, to see a store which is normally so focused on letting customers explore and linger with attentive concierges on hand transform itself so completely into a conveyor belt cash register.
My first (and probably only) Apple store queue experience over, let's return to my notes on Leopard.

Dissecting the big cat
The first thing that's different is the new desktop, Aurora, a cool space cloud image that's the basis of the holographic imagery on the retail package and the "destination" in the new welcome screen you'll get after installing the software, as the three-dimensional, multi-language welcome spins past you as if you were on a space ship headed for the cloud nebula.
It's pretty, but that's hardly news when it comes to Apple's products. Useful is what ultimately motivates people to spring US$129 to take a leap into the software void.
So what's new that looks truly useful?

Back to My Mac requires Apple's US$99 per year .Mac web service, but it promises something truly utilitiarian, the ability to connect to another Mac via the Internet and initiate file and screensharing sessions with it. Now there are products that can do this, both on the Mac and on other platforms, but if Apple actually makes this easy...well that would be worth both the annual .Mac fee and the cost of Leopard.
Spaces requires some abstracting capacity from a user. Imagine that you have four screens attached to your computer, but you can only view one at a time, and you have an idea of what Spaces, an implementation of virtual screens, does.

Many lesser changes are valuable but relatively minor. You can now look up information in Wikipedia using the built in dictionary application, the web browser Safari now allows you to reopen windows from your last session (Firefox has had this for almost a year), the Mail application now has a photo browser, which makes attaching pictures to an e-mail from a collection stored in iPhoto easier and Address Book adds Microsoft Exchange and Yahoo Mail synchronisation.
iCal, the calendaring software built into Mac OS X now sports a preference for creating CalDav calendars. If this can work with no additional software, then Apple may be on the cusp of offering its existing customers some valuable groupware functions in Leopard.

A word of caution. Mac OS X 10.5 requires a Macintosh running a G4 processor faster than 867mhz. My own experience installing it on a 1ghz G4 iBook suggests that Macs with a G5 and Intel processor will have a much richer experience.
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