A Month Of Seeing Spots

It’s been around a month since Leopard was launched to great fanfare, and most of the upgrade addicts that heralded its release are already feeling the bends and looking for the next shiny new thing.

Me, I spent a rather hectic month overall, which was a considerable help towards making the new cat seem shiny and new over a longer period of time.

And it still is, of course. New, I mean. It’s obvious that some of the paint isn’t quite dry yet, as Apple itself attested by patching it only a couple of weeks after launch with the first official update (10.5.1).

Plus some of the UI changes are controversial in the least, as today’s release of Quay (brilliantly commented upon by pfig) will attest.

But let’s get back to my experience with it. Over the years, I’ve been mostly inoculated against compulsive upgrading, and as such approached the thing with a somewhat less than enthusiastic demeanor, much like a yearly trip to the dentist or a colonoscopy (which is – I’m told – about the least amount of fun you can have lying down, short of the Spanish Inquisition’s most innovative two-player games back in the 15th century).

Since one of the cardinal rules of upgrading (right up there with “do backups” and “wait for the first patches”) is not messing about with machines that already work perfectly well, I set up Leopard on my iMac “G5“Tiger (which is nowhere as critical to me as my MacBook, and which was, overall, getting a bit on the crufty side) first, and waited until the first updates came out to upgrade my MacBook.

And, like with any other change, I kept coming up against a bunch of minor tweaks to several different things, from the UI to the way existing apps behaved.

I’m not going to go through all of them exhaustively (far from me to crank out another of those rather boring and pointless OS reviews that seem to be all the rage these days, and where the author painstakingly dissects some obscure activity or feature that is as interesting to the average user as a fossilized mosquito turd), but there were some things that did strike my fancy.

For instance, unlike many other Mac immigrants from UNIX lands, I wasn’t pining for a tabbed terminal. I actually find it somewhat of a frilly affectation that only wimpy mouse-pushing geeks will like, since it ultimately leads to dispersion (the more things you try to do at once, the worse they eventually turn out), and, if you really want to, say, have a process running in the background, there are better ways to go about that (like screen, for instance).

But tabs are there, nonetheless (tear away and all), and so are multiple color schemes (which I somehow manage to be unable to apply coherently across windows) and all the character encodings you could possibly want in a terminal window.

And, of course, Apple persists in binding “next tab” and “previous tab” to key combinations (Cmd-{) that are completely senseless for non-US users. But hey, this time they got the Portuguese spellings right, at least on the OS itself.

And I do love the new Downloads folder, which has so far been an utter failure at keeping my desktop clean (or a success at moving some of the clutter elsewhere) – but that’s not Apple’s fault.

As to hardware, besides the recurring antics with my printer (which, like most HP devices of the same persuasion, should come with a warning sticker saying “Warning: will be willfully obsoleted and rendered functionally useless by its manufacturer by dint of lack of support”) I have actually had very few issues.

Then again, I have not yet had time (or inclination) to deal with things like setting up new HSDPA devices via USB, preferring tried and true approaches like using my Nokia as a Bluetooth modem. That will change (soon) as I now have brand new gadgetry to test (more on that later this week), but, again, I have not had time.

One interesting little thing that happened was that my ancient Flic Cordless scanner stopped working, even though it has been sitting in my drawer, unused, for ages. And it did so in the most spectacularly indirect fashion, by causing Delicious Library to crash upon launch.

Apparently, and according to the stellar folk hanging off Delicious Library’s support address (who replied to my crash report within the hour), the Leopard installation corrupted some portion of the Bluetooth device profiles, causing Delicious Library to crash. Removing all Bluetooth profiles fixed things, but you’d expect something like this to have been caught during testing (never mind if the Flic is an odd device to begin with, as I understand this has happened to people with a single mobile phone paired).

As to software, I have had zero issues other than known minor incompatibilities. Even considering Open Source stuff, simply typing sudo easy_install _foo_ for a number of Python packages worked (with a few notable exceptions), and despite some regrettable decisions by Apple where it concerns shipped modules, there is still ample potential for Python development on Leopard (provided we grin and bear some of the kinks).

And there were even things that I can only classify as “unincompatibilities” of sorts. For instance, to my utter amazement, Virtual PC worked in Leopard on my “G5“Tiger iMac, even after the Archive & Install.

I double-clicked on a virtual machine expecting it to complain about the new OS, but it simply repaired itself and kept on trucking, restoring the virtual machine state and presenting me with a usable (albeit slow) Windows XP desktop, undistinguishable from the real thing (even down to Explorer crashing on me while browsing LAN shares).

Everything worked precisely as before, the only (minor) annoyance being that the kernel extension responsible for networking (VirtualPCNetworking1040.kext) popped up an extra icon on the Dock and that I only have “shared networking” (i.e., its own peculiar kind of NAT). Virtual PC is, of course, a major drain on Time Machine, since the virtual machine disk is a single 1.4GB file inside the Virtual PC document bundle and, as such, something liable to eat up room in my Time Machine disk if I didn’t exclude it manually.

Then there are the stupid things. Besides Stacks, I mean. Or CoverFlow in Finder, which I used a couple of times to confirm its utter uselessness, and which I wish there was a way to switch off permanently.

For instance, I have absolutely no idea why the Finder’s “canned searches” for Today, Yesterday and Last Week work like they do, but whoever designed them clearly never had to deal with spam or newsletters with images in them.

I would (very much, in fact) like to meet such a person, for he/she must be the only person on the planet that has never had to deal with spam, and therefore a priceless scientific specimen in his/her own right.

As it happens, any of those canned searches will display every single e-mail attachment you’ve received without rhyme nor reason, whether you’ve actually clicked on it or not – and a single newsletter or spam e-mail is enough to clutter those searches with 1x1.gif and its (often a lot less harmless) cousins beyond usability.

You can try defining your own custom searches, but you soon find out that, for some asinine reason, you cannot specify things like “is contained in” or “does not match” in the Finder search settings, which render them less than useful.

I have a very similar gripe regarding Mail.app rules, but I will spare the gentle reader from an outburst of the finest, cask-weathered vitriol until the next paragraph or so.

And that, in turn, makes it impossible to do something as simple as excluding the Library folder from a search. Which is… retarded, actually.

Then there’s Mail.app. No long-time Mac user piece on Leopard would be complete without a rant concerning it (even in passing), and this piece won’t be an exception – but to avoid getting mired in a veritable moor of ancient gripes, I’ll mention the tiniest new (and mostly harmless) bit of it – RSS integration.

Besides the redundancy of having RSS feeds in both Safari and Mail.app, neither supports importing OPML lists, and Mail.app goes into a somewhat funky “news reading mode” when browsing feeds, with a garish, unappealing electric blue bar slapped across the preview pane that I find aesthetically dubious to say the least.

It is possible to archive RSS items, but since they are built as a multipart/alternative MIME message, images and such are not stored as part of the item – only references to the original media. As such, and given that my own solution using newspipe not only stores all the associated media but also seems to have better formatting (for whatever reason) and has Bayesian filtering to boot, I am disinclined to use Mail.app by itself to read any sort of feeds.

Finally, there’s FileVault and Time Machine, either of which are pretty good on their own right. But it is almost unbelievably retarded to be unable to back up my home directory to Time Machine just because I wish to carry it around encrypted on my laptop, and that is, at this point, one of the main reasons I deeply regret having upgraded my MacBook last weekend.

The whole thing so far (despite the overall sense of wonder and nice polish that keeps the Mac way ahead of any other OS) has already led many people to rant on about Leopard having been launched without being ready, about Apple’s QA being on the blink, of the iPhone’s impact on their technical acumen, and so on and so forth.

I am not one of those people (and most of that is clearly bullshit).

But then again, I have, traditionally (and by dint of professional bias) always had a pretty flexible definition of “ready”.

Thing is, I always remembered to match my customers’ definition of the word against the stuff I was doing before making it public – because, unlike Apple, I don’t have the safety net of doing online updates and taping over holes after shipping, that great new luxury – or crutch – that software companies rely so much (perhaps far too much) upon these days.

Which brings me to my closing statement: Bring on 10.5.2. It can’t come too late (by whatever definition of “late” you choose).