Alex Payne

Writer, backer, erstwhile technologist.

My Leopard Thoughts

Having reviewed the Leopard reviews, it only seems fair to share a few of my own thoughts about Apple’s latest OS release.

First, some context. I’ve been mulling over a switch away from the Mac for the last month or so. Ubuntu has taken Linux into the realm of early-2000s standards of usability. Meanwhile, my day-to-day computing needs look less and less like the traditional patterns of desktop interaction encouraged by Windows and Mac OS. I’m more interested in a developer-friendly operating system than a user-friendly one. So, a large part of my decision to stay with the Mac depends on Leopard’s developer stance.

As it turns out, Apple has done so good by developers in 10.5 that it basically trumps all my other concerns. They’ve brought a bevy of goodness on the Cocoa front, superb Dtrace integration across the system, a tricked-out version of Ruby with real support in Interface Builder, and so much more. Unless you’re a Java developer (sorry), a Mac running Leopard is a pretty great place to be coding. Even my enthusiasm for learning some Objective-C has been renewed with the features of the language that Leopard brings. Starting a ground-up, first-time Cocoa project in Leopard is far more hospitable.

Of course, all this goodness comes after Apple left third-party developers out in the cold with the GM release of Leopard, but it’s arguably enough to balance out in the wash. Apple has also committed to an open iPhone platform, and is generally being an eventual good citizen, once they’re confident that potential externalities have been ironed out. Keep the faith, be rewarded. It’s the Apple way.

The other big sell with Leopard is that the things that matter aren’t worse. The Mac is the only platform out there that gets reliably faster and more stable with every passing release. It’s easy to forget about that after nearly two years on the same release, but feeling like you have a whole new machine after an OS X upgrade is, well, a great feeling. It feels like progress.

As for the stuff that matters less: I’m getting over the UI. I would’ve loved to see a smarter Dock, integrated buddy lists in iChat, a more attractive unified theme, and fewer rogue interface elements. Leopard just doesn’t feel right, out of the box. It’s a vision of computing that’s in transition, and we’re all guinea pigs. But it’s still more attractive than anything else out there.

I’ve found myself throwing out a lot of small applications and hacks because Leopard works right. No need for iTerm because Terminal doesn’t suck now. No need for Chax because iChat does tabs and such. You could even survive without Quicksilver or LaunchBar, what with Spotlight not working on glacial time nowadays. An out-of-the-box Leopard install is basically one copy of TextMate away from being ready to work for me. That’s neat.

All told, Leopard is pacifyingly good. It’s enough new that I’m engaged, and enough good that I can still get things done and be happy while doing them. It makes a switch to Linux seem frivolous.

An Aside About Hardware

While considering Linux, I researched the state of PC laptops, long since ignored by me since the advent of Apple’s current portable lineup several years ago. My findings did not impress.

You can get a dirt-cheap PC laptop from just about anyone. Pay a smidge more and you can get a durable, reliable, ugly, underpowered thing from Lenovo; it’ll run Ubuntu like a rock and embarrass you in front of coworkers and passers-by. A few more dollars and you can get a Dell with the slightest sense of design and nearly passable specs, but dude: you just got a Dell. Shell out the big bucks and you can have an absurdly slim Sony that’s chock-full of crapwire and proprietary hardware. Or maybe you’d prefer a $4000, 9 pound gaming machine covered in tacky tribal “tattoos”?

Essentially, PC laptops are a joke. You used to be able to depend on PCs at least being faster, but no longer. Says PC World: “The fastest Windows Vista notebook we’ve tested this year - or for that matter, ever - is a Mac.”

There’s simply not a logical alternative to Apple hardware in the consumer space right now.