Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

2007: The year of candy, not innovation

Another hype is born. Two million copies of the new Mac OS X Leopard were sold in the first weekend alone. Gee.. Those are solid figures, ones we wouldn’t mind seeing in the realm of Linux. Okay, we might not actually sell two million copies, but it would be great to see a news item stating that Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon was downloaded two million times in the first weekend. Or any other distribution for that matter. Even all distro’s taken together would be nice. Apple’s website is trumping up Leopard as much as it can, pointing to more than 300 new features. Considering the sales figures there are plenty of folk out there that believed good old Steve Jobs again.

But -and maybe it’s just me- how innovative, how new, how fresh is Mac OS X Leopard really? I mean, when we were following the birth of Windows Vista that was painfully obvious even before it hit the markets: very little. The real innovations in the road map (mostly under the hood of the system) were either scrapped or postponed until much later. What remained was a new release with new security features and a new look-and-feel. Plus -of course- a lot of problems with drivers and software that didn’t work anymore and a serious drain on your bank account to get the needed hardware. Is anyone surprised that the end users didn’t go for a massive migration to Windows Vista? Well, it proves one thing: even a monopolist like Microsoft can’t stuff it all through the customers throat.

Back to Mac OS X Leopard. The Apple website doesn’t make me happy, though I doubt it ever intended to make me feel that way. Three hundred plus new features? Can someone explain me where? Oh, Steve’s marketing department has been making overtime again (yep, the ’80 hours a week and still loving it’ motto still works). The Time Machine! This should attract all fans of H.G. Wells and make them spend the money. Just listen to the quote:

Set it, then forget it.
To start using Time Machine, all you have to do is connect an external drive (sold separately) to your Mac. You’re asked if you want it to be your backup drive, and if you say yes, Time Machine takes care of everything else. Automatically. In the background. You’ll never have to worry about backing up again.

Wow! Why didn’t I think of it? You take rsync, give the graphical interface a thorough Leopard make-over and make the user pay for an external hard drive while you are at it. Brilliant? Sure! Innovative, new, fresh? Yeah, right. Ah well, please take a look on the Apple website yourselves and draw your own conclusions. From my perspective all those so-called new features have been around for quite some time in Linux, heck, even in Windows. Pathetic.

And with this Mac OS X Leopard has become the third major operating system that celebrates the 2007 releases cycle with new graphical gimmicks, spit and shine. It was Windows Vista unique selling point (though less unique as they would like it). Compiz Fusion can almost be called the current hype in the realm of Linux and -thanks to a tough monkey- we are no rotating ourselves away on our open source desktops.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love “eye candy”. But as we have all learned from our dentists: too much candy is not good. And don’t forget to brush your teeth regularly and well. To be honest, I kind of missed that brushing in 2007. It’s fabulous to see your windows slide forward and backward with all the shiny thingies, but once the window stops moving it’s no longer a pretty sight.

One example. OpenOffice.org is a fine program, but the user interface is stuck in the mid 1990s. While writing the book, I reviewed, tested and worked with dozens and dozens of programs in various categories. When it comes to functionality there is plenty around for the end users, but when it comes to user friendliness the picture is somewhat more bleak. I can only hope that 2008 will become the year that some true innovation in the graphical user interface will take place. A rotating cube is great for a demonstrations, but a word processor stays in front of you most of the day. To be honest, I almost prefer Word 2007 over OpenOffice.org when it comes to the interface and the way functions are made available to me. Almost…

So, at the end of 2007 we have three operating systems with similar desktops filled with eye candy. For Linux that is a major achievement, to have almost the same graphical performance as the two main commercial competitors. Now it’s time to push forward and ahead in 2008.

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