Leopard Release Takes Cues From Online Video

Over the last few months, Apple has been touting features in its iLife and iWork application suites, as well as on its iPhone and new iPod Touch, that had most Mac OS X users scratching their heads. Several of these features, we’re now finding out, were designed to work with the new operating system—OS X 10.5, otherwise known as Leopard .

With the release of the retail product this evening, I can finally talk briefly about some of the media features of the operating system. Over the past few months, thanks to a startup that I’m working with that has a developers’ license, I’ve spent the time living with developer builds, focusing on learning the media side of the operating system’s user interface and tinkering under the hood. The developer builds, since they were betas, had varying degrees of stability (or instability as the case may be) and sometimes the experience was frustrating. (Remember that warning about mission critical data on a pre-release version of software? Heed the warning!)

Slogging through the graphical interface changes as well as various compilations of new applications that Apple was promising was, at times, a struggle. Overall, though, I found that the new features—and especially the new user interface tweaks that appeared in the most recent builds—were beneficial in terms of both aesthetics and functionality. Besides all the bells and whistles that you’ll read about (and use, if you upgrade to Leopard or make the move to a Mac) one thing struck me: the way Leopard handles media now—including images, audio and video—is mimicking the online world in a way that is a first for a desktop operating system.

Here’s an example. Slip a DVD into the slot-loading player on either a MacBook, MacBook Pro, or iMac, and when the image appears on screen—automatically in full-screen because Apple knows exactly what you want to do with that DVD—the screen is filled with image and no icons or navigation appears. For those of you who, like me, are naturally curious, you move the mouse around the screen to find out how to control the DVD playback (which has, of course, already started playing—because Apple knows exactly what you want to do with that DVD).

Before Leopard, there was a persistently bothersome remote control that sat over part of the video window, which most users just moved around as they got annoyed with its blocking the view. Yes, it could disappear, but more often than not it didn’t. After all, it was mimicking current state of the art when OS X Tiger was released two years ago.

In the interim, though, online video has proliferated, and the quality of online video’s intuitive interfaces has increased. So Leopard follows suit in several ways.

Back to the DVD player: Moving the mouse to the bottom of the screen reveals a set of controls rising from the bottom of the screen to meet your mouse, in much the same way that the OS X Tiger Dock does if you choose to have it hide/reveal itself via mouse-over or cursor proximity. Move away from the DVD player controls and they remain, for just a few seconds, and then fade away. Move toward the top of the screen and another set of controls reveals itself, with chaptering information complete with picture icons.

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