Mar 6, 2006

Leopard to be “Invisible OS?”

Sources close to Leopard development are starting to report that the new OS, set to debut in late '06 or early '07, is gearing up to be a graphics powerhouse unlike any Mac OS before it. Continuing Apple's use of increasingly powerful GPUs, Leopard will offload even more graphical tasks to current and next-generation graphics hardware. Currently in testing are some new system-wide graphics options Leopard developers are calling Invisible OS.

So far, here's what we know:

  • Full-screen mode — Think maximization plus Exposé. Full-screen mode is a way to make one window take the entire screen, effectively making Mac OS X a one-trick pony while engaged. In full-screen mode, the menu-bar becomes an extra layer below the window in question's title-bar, and everything else just disappears. No Dock, no Apple menu, nothing else but the window you're working in. This feature might be the beginning of the long-rumored Mac OS X kiosk mode for use in commercial and industrial applications. Reportedly, Apple is still working out the specifics for drawers and windowlets while in full-screen mode.
  • Menu and window opacity — Leopard will allow you to adjust drop-down menus to be anywhere from totally solid to completely clear, leaving only what you're working on visible. Likewise with title-bars and side-bars — only the title and close/minimize/maximize buttons and the scroll-bar remain.
  • Quartz 2D Extreme — Included but disabled in Tiger, this feature will be enabled by default in Leopard. Previously dependent on Shader 2.0, Leopard's implementation of Q2DE will support Shader 2.1. And performance is said to be astounding. For an idea of how much faster, Xbench graphics scores tripled on my dual 2 gig G5, said one source.
  • Resolution independence — This feature is present in Tiger using Xcode 2. Leopard will have full support for the feature. Some options will be Mac (72dpi), Windows (100dpi), and Desktop Publishing (300dpi). Other resolutions will be available as well. Applications may need updated to support the feature properly, but sources say it's a trivial matter and that Mac OS X itself will make most everything just work.
  • Screen saver backgrounds — The user will be able to choose a screen saver to run as their desktop background. This includes all of the current screen savers as well as a few new ones, such as a live graphical RSS feeed, system resources bars and graphs, and even iTunes visualizer.
  • System-wide ripple effect — Just like Dashboard! When a window appears on-screen, it ripples for a few seconds. There's also an option for an application window to ripple when it needs attention, but sources say this likely won't be included in the final release of Leopard.

Apple is also reportedly trying video encoding on newer GPUs, as well as tweaking the virtual memory system to work better with graphics hardware. The results are impressive so far, though the cost may not be practical. Further Leopard development will tell.

It looks like Apple is taking full advantage of its 18-month development cycle with Leopard. There's still almost a full year to go yet, and new features are already starting to look good. This is as about exciting as it gets. While Microsoft releases its shoddy copy of Tiger in 2007, Apple will leapfrog the Redmond giant once again. The Mac community waits eagerly to see the invisible operating system. (Pun fully intended.)

Stay tuned to Trollaxor for future Leopard reports!

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