As usual, Mac fans are disappointed with a Steve Jobs keynote. The reaction to Jobs' Monday address at the Worldwide Developers Conference has tended mostly toward "no new Mac hardware" with a generous helping of "we've seen most of this Leopard stuff before." Even Wall Street gave it a thumbs down, shaving $4.30 off Apple's stock price.
While people shouldn't fault Apple for failing to produce new hardware at a developer's conference (it's a bonus if it happens), the dissatisfaction with Jobs lengthy Leopard presentation is his own fault. Leopard, the next major version of Mac OS X slated for October release, dominated the keynote. At last year's WWDC, after demonstrating many of the same elements he showed Monday, Jobs teased that he could not reveal some "top secret" features for fear of tipping off rival Microsoft. The gang up at Redmond, still desperately trying to finish up the long-delayed Windows Vista operating system, had no prayer of cribbing anything from Jobs' August presentation. In fact, Microsoft was forced to bail on numerous features it had promised years earlier just to get the darn thing out the door.
My theory is that Jobs was concerned some of Leopard's features might not be ready in time for its release. Learning from Microsoft's mistakes, he labeled Leopard's less certain features "top secret" and let the Mac rumor sites speculate on what marvels were to come, generating hype Apple could not hope to fulfill.
I watched the keynote on the streaming QuickTime feed the other night. As Jobs ran through his 10 Leopard features, I noted that only the first three – the new Desktop, the new Finder and Quick Look – had not already been previewed at last year's WWDC. Fine features they are, but not quite deserving of the label "top secret."
Don't get me wrong. I can't wait to use Leopard on my Macs, regardless of how often Jobs pre-announces its features. But after waiting more than nine months, we get only three cool-but-not-terribly-enthralling user interface enhancements? This warranted secrecy?
When you raise expectations the way Jobs did, people assume they're going to be blown away. You have to wonder if Jobs simply exaggerated last August to fuel continued interest or if there are in fact more "top secret" features yet to be revealed. We won't know until October, I suppose.
More thoughts on Jobs' WWDC keynote:
Leopard looks great -- Unmet expectations aside, Jobs highlighted several things Monday that will significantly improve Mac OS X. I'm looking forward to Stacks, a way to put folders full of related things to which you'd like quick access in the Dock. Clicking on the Stack causes icons of its contents to spread out in an arc (or in a grid, if you prefer) so you can find and select the file you need. I also liked the way the Sidebar will now automatically include the icons of any Macs on your network (and thus easy access to anything on them) – no browsing or logging in required. And I'm sure I'll heavily use the Quick Look feature, which lets you view any file – a photo, presentation, text document, video, anything -- without actually opening it.
Games – Both EA and id Software made major Mac-related announcements. EA plans to start offering Mac versions of major titles simultaneously with its releases for other platforms, such as Windows and Sony's PlayStation. John Carmack of id Software showed off a new game engine that is compatible with OS X, meaning they, too, will be offering Mac versions of new games concurrent with those of other platforms. This redresses a grievance Mac gamers have had for many years. Mac versions of major games historically have arrived many months after their PC counterparts, if they arrived at all. While gaming has never been central to the Mac, the increased attention from game developers will make a significant segment of the Mac community very happy and offers further proof of the health and viability of the platform.
Safari for Windows – Regarding my comments on why Apple would release a Windows version of its free Web browser, it appears I was only partly right. I surmised that Apple was using Safari as bait to lure more Windows users to switch to the Mac. A post by an astute reader pointed out that John Gruber noted on his Daring Fireball Web site that browsers do indeed generate income via the search window in the toolbar. Gruber also suggested several other compelling reasons for Apple's surprising move; his site is recommended reading for fans of the Mac.