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Leopard Bits: It Starts With The Dock

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When I first saw a Mac I immediately grew to like them. At the time, I didn’t care much for operating systems or software in general. What got me so interested in the Mac was actually hardware (the iMac G4s were beautiful works of art that deserve to be in a museum). My interest eventually extended to software after I realized that not a single Mac came with Windows. I grew a little curious, wondering what operating system the machine used and that’s when I saw my first bit of Mac OS X (10.2 “Jaguar” at the time).

Mac OS X 10.2

Jaguar was soon followed by 10.3 “Panther”.

Mac OS X 10.3

And after Panther came 10.4 “Tiger, which was the current version a little more than a week ago.

Mac OS X 10.4

And of course, there are the two other releases that came before Jaguar.

With each release (that’s 6 OS upgrades in roughly 6 years) Apple has refined the look and feel to the point where it’s hard to figure out exactly what they could do to make any obvious improvements. But that’s the one thing that interests me the most about Apple during this resurgence the company is going through. The Apple of today is about being a constantly moving target. Every year, the company releases something new and/or major improvements to previous products. Apple no longer competes by standing on its laurels with a belief that their products are so superior that no other company will be able to touch them; a mistake they made in the 90’s that nearly put them out of business.

Which brings me to Leopard. I’ll be going through the updates that I’m most interested in through a series of posts. First, I’d like to start with the Dock.

Uh, it’s ugly.

Oh, you want me to tell you why? Well…

Leopard 3d Dock bottom

That may not seem too bad. Until you actually start using it. It appears that Apple broke the first rule of updating: don’t decrease usability. Once you start moving windows around, the dropshadows and reflections of the icons, background and windows on the super-reflective dock surface make the thing an eyesore.

Great, you might say, the first thing that Kum talks about in Leopard is crap.

Well, not entirely. It’s actually more half-half. In response to all the complaints, Apple gave in. Somewhat.

You see, on the bottom, the dock looks like it does in the previous pic. But on the side:

10.5 “Leopard” 2D Dock Side

Ah, much better. In my opinion, this is a really solid improvement over the dock in Tiger. The darker look gives a better backdrop for the icons, letting them ‘pop’ a bit more and giving a much better background for the new high contrast blue running indicator lights/dots. The white border clearly separates the dock from anything else on the desktop, leaving it in a class of its own, as it obviously should, considering that the dock is a pretty major UI element of OS X, and the rounded corners make it less ‘harsh’. There’s even a nice backdrop for dock item titles. 🙂

Stacks

Probably the biggest feature of the new dock would be Stacks. Again, it appears Apple has made a partial mistake, except, it’s not quite like the dock.

Although I never used them, in Tiger one could drag and drop folders onto the dock. Clicking on that folder would open it and clicking and holding (or right/control clicking) would open a little contextual menu.

10.4 “Tiger” Dock Folder Menu

That menu let you drill down anywhere from the top level, the top level being the folder that was dragged onto the dock. So, you could easily do something like this:

10.4 “Tiger” Dock Drilled Down Folder Menu

This traversal through contextual menu functionality has been completely removed in Leopard.

Now, when you add a folder to the Dock, you get this:

10.5 “Leopard” Dock Stacks Closed

When you click on one of those icons, it expands into this:

10.5 “Leopard” Dock Stack Open

That is a stack. It’s actually pretty darn handy, particularly for just-downloaded items (in the case of the Downloads stack). But I can see why people would want the previous functionality. For instance, if you make a stack out of the Applications folder…

Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” Applications Stack Open

Yeah, that’s a little messy. Plus, there’s the loss of the traversal through the filesystem. So, I can’t just drop into my Utilities folder in the Applications Stack without opening a new Finder window. I myself don’t use such large stacks, so the feature is largely a winner for me.

That’s the first of my little Leopard Bits series. Although you might see a stream of these come out, don’t think that I’ve dropped writing about anything else. I will continue to write about other things as usual, it’s just that these will be interspersed among my posts.

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Written by Kumaran Vijayan

November 12, 2007 at 12:47 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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