Leopard Preview: UI, Finder and Dock

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a series of "Leopard Preview" posts that give you a better glimpse at Leopard than Apple has provided on their website.

My test machine is a PowerBook G4. Here is the obligatory About This Mac window which introduces the specs of this machine:

As you can see, the specifications are not very beefy at all, so my testing will show me how Leopard works on older machines instead of the Mac Pros that Steve Jobs uses for his demos.


You might also note that, in the menu bar, there are quite a few changes. For one, the menu bar now "fills up" the entire screen and is not rounded. The Apple logo has undergone its most dramatic colour change yet and is now in trendy black; hey, iPods and iPhones sell well enough in black, why not Mac? At the opposite end, the Spotlight icon loses its blue background and pretends to be just like a normal menu (which it still isn't of course).

Your keen eyes will also perceive an icon for Time Machine. It is not directly activate-able from System Preferences but browsing to /System/Library/CoreServices/Menu Extras and double-clicking on the suspicious candidate did the trick. The Time Machine menu extra is pretty plain; clicking on it tells you the last time your system was backed up, gives you the option to Backup Now, Open Time Machine and Open Time Machine Preferences. It doesn't even animate when a backup is taking place. Its lack of usefulness is probably why it has not yet been exposed in the UI.

(For the curious, the icon to the right of Time Machine is for HomeSync, which is not a new feature in Leopard but instead it is a menu extra for the network-based Home Folder Syncing facility that is there in Tiger.)

You can appreciate that the corners in Leopard menus are rounded. Another tiny tidbit about menus is that, holding down the Option key while opening the Apple menu now causes the "About this Mac" item to change to "System Profiler...".

One reason why I chose to show this particular menu was so that I can bring to your attention the icon used for "Computer". Until Jaguar, it always used to be the picture of a G3 iMac, which changed, if I am not much mistaken, in Panther, to an iMac G4 and has remained so since then. Leopard, however, is intelligent enough to detect which model of Mac you have (oh the advantages of making all the hardware yourself!) and use the appropriate icon for Computer.

Active and Inactive Windows

The first and most glaring change in Leopard will be (aside from the translucent menu bar and reflective-tray Dock, that is) the change of the default look from the pinstripes in Tiger to the metallic grey in Leopard. This change of colour will cause problems in some applications as they assume the background colour to be a certain shade (see if you can spot this graphical anomaly in the screenshots above). Also, you will appreciate that the inactive window is a radically more subdued shade as compared to the active window, and this was less markedly so in Tiger. In addition, the drop shadow for an active window is of gargantuan proportions. If the active window in Tiger seemed like it was floating half a centimetre above the bottom of the screen, in Leopard it seems to be more like an inch. (I switched to the default Tiger wallpaper for those screenshots because shadows come out better in it - also, the menu bar looks nicer in blue.)


The only noticeable change in the Spotlight menu has been its change of colour from blue to grey. I think grey looks terrible on it, but I don't care enough to press the point any further. Spotlight is much, much faster in Leopard and is a very usable application launcher. By the time I type out the first three letters in the name of an application, the result is there and I can hit Return to launch it. In fact, I've now become accustomed to just trusting Spotlight; I hit Apple+Space, type 'ter' and hit Enter without waiting for the results and Terminal faithfully shows up. This speed boost is very welcome because the Spotlight in Tiger is significantly slower than Vista's Live Desktop Search and Leopard bridges that gap.

[UPDATE: Also note how small things about the GUI such as the Spotlight icon not inverting colour like it should when you click on it have not yet been implemented.]


In the WWDC '07 demo, you saw Steve Jobs' girly Applications folder which hardly contained any applications and so looked half-decent in the Stacks view. However, above you can see what a real Applications folder will look like (72 items). In one word – ugly. I hate how the names are all abbreviated with ellipses; it looks plain disgusting. Also, the ability to open a folder in the Dock as a menu is gone (basically, any folder in the Dock is now a stack, regardless of whether you want it to be or not). Instead, if you right-click a folder, you'll get a menu that lets you choose your sorting criterion for the items in the Stack, remove the folder from the Dock, open the folder at login, reveal it in the Finder or open it. Also, you can't choose to display the folder's actual icon in the Dock. No, the icon is always the view of the Stack. This is really ugly for Applications because I want to see the nice Applications folder icon, not the Address Book icon, which simply happens to be the first application alphabetically.


In Leopard, you can choose to share an entire user's home folder or just specific folders. This "Shared Folders" functionality has been exposed in the Finder directly as you can see above. Below is what a shared folder looks like in the Finder, with that little banner above its contents.

List view gets pinstripes.

All Finder-based search results are currently shown in the Cover Flow view (sigh) and if you will notice, the word "Computer" in the search filters has been changed to "This Mac". More friendly, I guess. Unfortunately, unlike Tiger and Panther, the Finder neither remembers that I always wish to view results in List view and also does not remember that I wish to search only the current folder. Bugs that will most probably get fixed by October.

The icon for folders in general has been changed to something that I feel to be a bit less professional as compared to Tiger but still good looking enough that I won't complain. The icons are decidedly less colourful, though. In fact, special folders are more like logos etched into leather.

Folders containing music and movies will show the album art and first frame of the movie respectively. Fear not fear not, because, if the first frame of the movie is blank, the Finder is intelligent enough to detect this and use some other frame as the poster frame. In all the movies I tested, this happened to be, to the best of my observation skills, at the 10-second mark.

Connecting to network shares from within Finder (a) actually works (although I was only successful in connecting to Mac shares - it doesn't look like connecting to Windows shares is working properly yet, which is perhaps why Steve Jobs didn't demo it) and (b) is dead easy and frightfully convenient. The Finder is also, in my cursory examinations, more perceptive and less crash-prone when it loses a connection to a network share.

There are some additions to the Advanced tab in the Finder preferences that are beneficial to me and other power users and their absence in Tiger seriously drives me nuts. One of the minor changes is that Connected servers are, by default, neither displayed on the Desktop nor in the Sidebar. This can be remedied with a couple of check boxes, but I believe it has been done because, with the new Shared item in the Sidebar, network shares are going to be dealt with a much lighter hand in Leopard than they are in Tiger. I am already doing so and not actively disconnecting network volumes when I am done with them simply because they are not staring me in the face all the time.

The contextual menu grows ever larger in Leopard. The little buttons for the colour Label are bigger and easier to click in Leopard - someone has finally read a book on designing a usable UI! The verb "Archive" changes to the verb "Compress" (thoughtful) and all the important options in the View menu have descended down into the contextual menus so that doing all that icon management is easier in Leopard, especially on large screens in which it can be a pain to go all the way up to the View menu - guess all the Apple engineers finally have 30-inchers (monitors, that is, not the other thing) and appreciate the difficulty.

The Open (and Save) dialog boxes get an Icon view, which is useful in certain circumstances. Why didn't you add the freaking Cover Flow view to the Open dialog box while you were at it, Apple? Eh? Freaking Cover Flow – so not useful!

I'm not even sure how I noticed this last one, but they've changed the Save/Don't Save sheets in Leopard to have slightly different wording and corrected the "Save" to a "Save...". As you may already know, the presence of the ellipsis implies that a window of some kind will open if you click the button or menu item.

[UPDATE: Keeping the Shift key pressed while hovering over the Dock now activates magnification while the key is held down if it is disabled and disables it while the key is held down if it is enabled.]

All right, that's it for the general overview of Leopard that went over the significant changes in the overall UI, Finder, Dock, and Spotlight. Look for more Leopard Preview articles going over the other major changes in Leopard, app by app. 

Comments (7) Posted on at  

  • » Excellent review. Those additions in Finder's Advanced tab are welcomed indeed. I was hoping you could choose to display the folder's icon for a stack rather than the first icon but sad to know you can't. Oh and it does look really ugly with the abbrivated names and ellipses. They should've taken some inspiration from Overflow when designing the Stacks UI.
  • » Man u got eyes!! How could u spot such minor changes!! Nice waise. But the stack for apps you shown, it has only 72. Well I wont call it ugly but stuffy. And I have 109 items in apps folder, and CS3 is yet to be installed...
  • » One thing I'd appreciate calling some attention to - the translucent menu bar makes many desktop pictures completely unusable. Anything that has high contrast tends to make the menus completely unreadable. Rather ironic that a change intended to "show off your desktop picture" makes it impossible to use a large chunk of them. I can send samples, if you'd like.

    Completely agreed on stacks. I like them - some of the time, definitely not all of the time, and the icon changing as you mentioned is a mess. One nice feature of them is you can navigate down folders in them (and up, using Cmd-Up).

    Final nit - the rounded menu bottoms look wrong when Spotlight is indexing multiple drives. Each drive gets a rounded bottom, rather than just the last item.
  • » Great review!

    How is the overall speed compared to Tiger? You wrote that spotlight is faster, which is great news, how about Finder, Dashboard, Quartz and CoreAnimation (well that's a new feature :)?

    Also, how does the memory usage seem compared to Tiger?

  • » Oh yeah - Dashboard's supposed to have become much faster (combining all the widgets into a single process or something) so do review that.
  • » Very nice info! As usual, it seems like some old things are finally working right (networking) while the new stuff is a bit rough (stacks). I never was a fan of the Finder sidebar but it looks like it is getting a useful overhaul.

    I wish there was an option to hide only the ".app" extension. But the "Show warning before changing an extension" checkbox will be worth the upgrade all by itself. :P
  • » You missed the significant functionality change in Spotlight when used from a finder window. Instead of searching, by default, just the contents of that folder and subfolders, it searches the your entire mac and searches file contents. I wish I could revert that feature; it is annoying having to do 2 extra clicks to search just the folder in question and just filenames.