Snow Leopard, Safari 4 and Other Miscallaneous Meanderings

Refinements

Snow Leopard – featureless? No way.

Now that WWDC is past and all the Mac developers have settled back in at home, there should be a good bit of content this week focused on the updates Apple unveiled during the conference. For the most part, there was nothing truly shocking.

As they have the past couple of years, Apple’s updates were focused on gradual improvements to their existing lineup. Here’s what got my attention.

Snow Leopard Enhancements

Although Snow Leopard is lacking in new features, there are a few updates to current applications within the operating system that are interesting enough to mention.

The Finder

It seems that users either hate the Finder or are indifferent to it. How many times have you heard someone say, “I love the Finder”? Yeah, me neither.

If you were looking for Apple to finally overhaul this particular window to the file system, you’ll be disappointed. From the descriptions, it sounds like Apple put a little more spit and polish on the Finder, but nothing substantial. Indeed, the biggest changes may be under the hood with the reliance on the new GCD (Grand Central Dispatch). Speedier performance is usually a useful improvement, but I’ve never had a lot of issues with having to wait for the Finder.

Update: My partner in crime called me out on the Finder. It has been rewritten in Cocoa and makes use of the newer technologies of Snow Leopard, resulting in faster performance. But the UI is what remains the same, which is the big complaint people have with the Finder. So I think my point stands.

All in all, it looks like discerning judgement cannot be made until we get a chance to use it (which is always a good practice anyways).

The Dock

stacks

Stacks appear to be much more useful in 10.6

The Dock received some significant attention, mostly in the form of additional functionality for the Stacks and Spaces/Expose integration. The updates to Stacks seems like a natural progression as they were only introduced in Leopard (10.5) and focus on navigation.

The most interesting update to me is the Expose activation. It’s hard to picture exactly how this can be used without seeing it in action, but the description on the Apple page linked above sounds very appealing:

Click and hold an application icon in the Dock, and all open windows in the application you selected will unshuffle so you can quickly change to another window. Press the tab key while in Exposé to move to the next application in the Dock and show the windows for that application. Minimized windows appear as smaller icons below the other windows. And windows are spring-loaded, so you can drag and drop items between windows.

I use Witch for switching windows as described here, but the ability to only see windows for a specific application and then easily move from one app to another is very appealing. As does the ability to drag and drop items between the windows.

QuickTime X

Another significant update is the overhaul of QuickTime. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is basically a rebuild of the application and removes the distinction between QuickTime and QuickTime Pro1.

quciktime10

QuickTime 10 adds interesting new features.

The ability to easily capture and edit movies makes this a consumer level video package. Ease-of-use and a focus on sharing media on the web and handheld devices make this another example of Apple’s vision to be the primary media provider/handler for the average family.

The other addition here that got my attention was the screen recording feature. This is a space that is already popular with many third party developers. Like other updates in the past, some of these developers will struggle because of this addition to the operating system. But, as with those additions2, I assume that the QuickTime screen recording feature will be consumer level, meeting the needs of the family but not those of the screencasting professional.

Mail/iCal

The biggest news here is the addition of full support for Microsoft Exchange. Apple continues to chip away at the perception that their products are not suitable for the enterprise. Again, it’s hard to say how good the integration with Exchange will be until we see it in action, but from the description given, it sounds full fledged.

Other updates that are noteworthy are the reorderable sidebar, text substitution3, and the GMail/Yahoo calendar integration.

Other Miscellaneous Updates

There were a smattering of other mentions that I’m looking forward to. The availability of the multi-touch gestures for older laptops is a good addition. New starting points for Automator will hopefully be useful, as will the split-pane view for Terminal. I also look forward to the four new fonts in the system and being able to display the date in the menubar.

Small items for sure, but they add to the overall experience.


When you look at the overall list of updates for Snow Leopard, even though there are no new ‘features’, you see improvement overall. As they have been so good at over the past decade, Apple is systematically improving their product offerings across the board. And Snow Leopard is just another step in that process. Whether it’s the iTunes store, their hardware lineup, the iPhone OS, or the Mac OS, Apple has taken a dogged approach to gradually improving each product, adding new features at times and simply some spit and polish at others.

With Snow Leopard, the end result is the most solid, stable, and user friendly operating system available.

Safari 4

I have to say that I was happy with the Safari 4 beta. Although there were a few controversial changes, it was so fast and polished that I was happy using it as my primary browser—on both OS X and Windows XP. So I was surprised when I discovered that the official release of Safari 4 was even better. The browser is so slick in many ways. Here’s what impressed me.

Speed

The browser is fast. Really fast.

Progress Meter/Stop and Reload Buttons

In a way, these are two separate features. They were also two that were highly criticized in the beta period. But in Safari 4 (both the beta and the final version), these have been mashed together in the same space.

Everyone was happy with Safari 3’s progress meter, which used the entirety of the address bar. With the beta, the progress indicator was more like Firefox, displaying a spinning circle where the stop button is displayed. In the final version, the circle is still there, but it’s wrapped in a more attractive package.

When loading a page, a larger rectangular chunk of the address/location bar is highlighted with a nice background gradient, with the spinning circle to the left and the stop button in the form of an X to the right. When the page has finished loading, the entire element disappears, leaving only blank space and a single refresh button.

safari4-osx-progessbar

Measuring the progress of a loading page appears to have been improved, if still not as good as Safari 3.

This is a big improvement. Perhaps still not perfect, but it’s a good change overall. It is a clear indication when the page you’re on is refreshing or loading and you know exactly when it is finished. The user is given clear and intuitive visual indication of the state of the browser. When it comes to using the stop/reload buttons, the usability is somewhat lessened, but it is still an improvement over the beta.

Tabs

The tabs are back on the bottom. As I noted above, I was surprised at how much I missed that. I still think the tabs on top is an acceptable move, especially when I’m on my Macbook screen and real estate is a concern. But the move back to the bottom brings better usability overall.

For starters, the tabs themselves are much easier to manipulate. Gone is the incredibly small lined handle that made the tabs draggable. I lost count of how many times I moved the window instead of a tab with the Safari 4 beta.

In the official release, the entire tab is once again used to move the tabs within the current window or to move a tab to another Safari window. If you want to move the Safari window itself, you can do so again with the title bar. For my own usage, this is preferable.

On Windows

Safari has been my browser of choice on Windows for a while now. Safari 4 only solidified that. It’s slightly faster than Safari 34 and now takes on the characteristics of a native XP window while still maintaining a slick look and feel (especially compared to my other Windows-based apps).

For example, the screenshot here shows the X’s used to close a tab are on the right, rather than on the left as in the OS X version.

safari4-winxp-tab-x

The buttons for closing tabs follow the conventions of the operating system.

safari4-winxp-tab-titles-ver2

Titles are left-aligned on the Windows version.

It has a curious difference that I think is actually more useful than the OS X version. The page title on each tab is left aligned, where the titles are centered on OS X.

safari4-osx-tab-titles-ver2

And centered on OS X.

When you only have a couple of tabs open, this is not a concern. But when your tab count starts to hit the teens, having the text left-aligned is handy. You can see more of the page title than the OS X version.

With the release of Safari 4, my faith in Apple was restored somewhat. Unlike the App store issues, it appears that Apple is still willing to listen to its users. That’s a good thing. Necessary even. Hopefully that same mentality will permeate into the other focus of the company.


The announcements from WWDC were mostly positive. And that’s without even mentioning the hardware updates or the upcoming iPhone 3.0. I like what Apple is doing with the desktop—further refining an already polished and solid operating system. At the same time, they are positioning themselves to be more integrated in the home—whatever digital media your family consumes, Apple has something to offer you.

As I mentioned at the opening of this post, there was no shocking news at WWDC (apart from the abrupt departure of the presenters at the App store session). Apple simply continues their gradual push to dominate the markets they participate in by methodically improving all of their products.

They may not be as splashy as in the past, but it sure looks like they’re winning.

  1. I’ve never purchased QuickTime before, so I’m a little in the dark here. []
  2. Think of the most recent, the Flickr integration within iPhoto. It hasn’t seemed to hurt Fraser Spiers and his FlickrExport sales []
  3. Something MS Office users are already familiar with, so this fits in well with the Exchange support. I still prefer a system wide solution like TextExpander. []
  4. Although it’s definitely slower than on OS X. For some reason Safari tends to freeze after extended periods of inactivity on Windows. I have not done any testing to document this, it’s just my general feeling. It also crashed more on Windows in my usage. []