21 Quibbles I Have With Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

First, a disclaimer: I like Leopard, aka OS X 10.5, the Apple operating-system upgrade that hit stores on Friday evening. True, Apple's list of 300+ new features includes several dozen I'll never touch. (A Danish dictionary! Analysis templates, whatever those are!) But even when I filter out everything that doesn't matter to me, I'm left with a long list of stuff that'll make my computing life meaningfully better. Compared to Windows Vista, Leopard is a meatier, more polished, more immediately useful, less annoying OS upgrade.

But while I've been working my way through everything that's new in Leopard, and being impressed by much of it, I've also come across a fairly long list of quirks and gotchas--the kind of stuff I hope Apple will iron out in Leopard updates. Without any further ado, here's my list...which will probably get longer the more I dig into the upgrade.

1. Time Machine is picky about hard drives--or, more specifically, hard disk formats. The cool continuous backup utility wants to work with drives formatted with Apple's own HFS+ format, not FAT32, the Microsoft format which the rest of OS X can speak. That's understandable. But I don't understand why, when I plugged in a new Seagate Free Agent USB drive formatted as FAT32, Time Machine didn't seem to be aware of its existence at all. A "Hey, you need to reformat this as HFS+" message would have made things easier. (My storage-loving colleague Melissa Perenson has run across similar issues.)

2. Speaking of external drives, I wish that Time Machine, like the vaguely similar (but far less slick) backup features in Windows Vista, could back up to a portion of your primary drive as well as to a secondary disk. Yes, it's a lot safer to put your backups on a different drive. But if you've got a MacBook or MacBook Pro, chances are that you're not going to keep it connected to an external drive most of the time, as Time Machine requires for optimum effectiveness.

3. I like Time Machine's quirky, slightly silly flying-through-space user interface--really I do. But I wouldn't object if there was a simpler, more streamlined alternate UI, too; when I'm freaking out over a lost file, I'm not always in the mood to be entertained.

4. Leopard introduces more transparency effects--most strikingly with the menu bar along the top of the screen, which lets whatever wallpaper you've got behind it seep through. To me, this "feature" is at best ugly. And at worst--as with my wallpaper of a night scene in Hong Kong--it renders some of the items in the menu bar close to unreadable. That wouldn't be a problem if there were a "Turn off transparency effects" option.

5. When you click on a Help menu item in Leopard, you get a special menu with a built-in search field and list of results. Which sounds handy, except that longer titles in the list of results sometimes get cut off, rendering them unintelligible even though there'd be plenty of room to display the entire title. Gratuitous text-chopping is a crudity I associate with Windows, not OS X.

Leopard Quibbles 6-10

6. Once you've clicked through to the Help window, it's an oddball one with undersized minimize, maximize, and close buttons, and it stays on top of other windows. Presumably, that's supposed to make it easier to read while working in an application, but it's pretty ungainly in practice. If there's a way to turn off this force-to-top feature, I haven't found it.

7. QuickLook, the new feature that lets you get a preview of almost any document by pressing the spacebar is an unquestionable boon. And when it works perfectly, it's...well, delightful in a way that OS X often is and Windows Vista almost never is. But let it be known that for some documents--some of my Microsoft Office ones, for instance--QuickLook isn't so quick, and doesn't render the document perfectly. Even then, it's pretty darn handy.

8. Fooling around with QuickLook, I discovered that if you leave a QuickLook preview open and then click on another items in a folder, or move to it with the cursor keys, the open QuickLook window updates to display the new item. That would be a speedy way to preview multiple documents, but the QuickLook window doesn't adjust size to fit the item you moved to--it just cuts the image off at the edges if it doesn't fit. This feature would be a heckuva lot more useful if the windows resized itself intelligently as you browse through items.

9. Stacks is (are?) just OK. I love the idea of being able to drag folders onto the Dock, where I can click into their contents quickly--actually, I'm startled that it's taken Apple this long to make this happen, since the Dock has never been a good tool for managing more than a small number of items. But I found the process of getting folders into the Dock so counterintuitive that I ran down the hall to seek tech support from my colleague Macworld Editorial director Jason Snell. You've got to place them over on the right-hand side of the Dock. Stacks are, in part, a way to place more applications on the Dock without making it burst at the seams, so I wish I could place a Stack anywhere on the Dock.

10. When you're dragging a folder into the Dock to turn it into a Stack, you need to shove it practically past the edge of the screen before the Dock notices it's there. At first, I didn't push forcefully enough, and couldn't figure out what was wrong.

Leopard Quibbles 11-16

11. Now I'm noticing that applications, like folders, need to be shoved forcibly into the Dock. In Tiger, I could gracefully nudge them into place. Presumably, Apple changed this behavior for a reason; I'm curious what it would be, since the old way was more elegant.

12. Stacks max out if you've got folders crammed with tons of stuff. On my MacBook, at least, only the first 62 items in a folder get displayed; if you've got more items than that, you need to click again, which opens up the folder on the desktop and eliminates the benefit of Stacks. My Applications folder has 125 items in it, so half of them require that extra click. I don't see why an open Stack can't fill the entire screen if necessary, and let you scroll through all your items without opening the folder.

13. If you've got folders within a folder you've turned into a Stack, clicking on them opens them up on the Desktop. I wish that clicking on them would open them up within the Stack pop-up, at least optionally. (That's how the vaguely similar functionality within Windows works.)

14. As long as I'm griping about Stacks, the fact that the pop-up is transparent makes it harder to see the items it contains. Here again, some level of control over Leopard's transparency effects would be helpful.

15. I like Spaces, the virtual desktop-like feature that lets you bop between collections of windows. I could see it becoming as essential to my productivity as OS X's existing Exposé window-management features. But Spaces mixes poorly with two other OS X features I'm addicted to, using Command-Tab to jump between apps and dragging two fingers across my MacBook's touchpad to scroll through documents and Web pages. With Spaces turned on, when I Command-Tab to a new application, I sometimes need to click that app before I can drag-scroll. Other times, I don't have to click, but do need to drag-scroll for several seconds before the application notices I'm doing it. And other times, drag-scrolling just works, with no clicking or waiting required...which is, of course, what you want it to do all the time.

16. Leopard's DVD Player application is a complete makeover of the one in Tiger, with scads of new features. One of them is a nifty navigational option that shows you thumbnail images from each chapter; click on a thumbnail, and you go directly to the chapter it represents. But as far as I can tell, you can't tell DVD Player to generate these thumbnails automatically--it's a menu item that you need to launch yourself. I'd much rather wait a few seconds and have DVD Player create the thumbnails the first time I put a new DVD into my Mac.

Leopard Quibbles 17-21

17. Unless I'm missing something, the DVD Player's thumbnail-generating menu item doesn't show up at all if you're watching a movie in full screen mode.

18. Web Clips, which let you grab part of a Web page and turn it into an auto-refreshing widget for Dashboard, are one of my favorite new features in Leopard. But I'm not sure why the feature in Safari that lets you do the grabbing is called "Open this page in Dashboard" rather than "Create a Web Clip."

19. And when you flip a Web Clip around in Dashboard to access its options, you get the cool 3D flipping effect--but Web Clip widgets' backsides are all the same size, so the widget changes size as it flips in a way that doesn't make sense. (Both these complaints about Web Clips are picky and don't impact the feature's basic usefulness--but OS X's general fit and finish are so high that it's always startling when a particular aspect is clunky.)

20. This is anecdotal evidence based on one install of the OS, but I've had enough odd quirks since I installed Leopard to leave me thinking that cautious types should wait a few weeks for a version that incorporates Apple's first round of bug fixes. As I write this, DVD Player has frozen on my MacBook. And when I tried to use Force Quit to kill it, I couldn't even get that feature to appear. (I don't think that's ever happened to me before--normally, Force Quit is wonderfully reliable compared to its counterpart in Windows.)

21. If Steve Jobs inexplicably allowed me to decree that one feature be added to OS X, I wouldn't have to think for a nanosecond about what to ask for: It would be that the OS let me maximize windows so they fill the entire screen, letting me use all the screen real estate for one app and eliminating the distraction of other windows on my desktop. (That's what maximizing does in Windows; in OS X, maximizing simply enlarges the window to the size that the OS believes is adequate to hold the content in the window in question.) I'm far from the only person who wants this, and there are various third-party techniques for making it happen, although I haven't found any that are very satisfying.

With the exception of my stability concerns, none of the above gripes are gigantic or reasons to avoid Leopard altogether. Some are probably fixable with tips or third-party software; some are things that Apple will address sooner or later; there may even be instances where I've misunderstood the functionality that Leopard provides right out of the box. If you've got comments on my quibbles--or quibbles of your own--post a comment with your thoughts. And as I live with Leopard, I'll report back with further compliments and criticisms...

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