I watched the Apple WWDC Keynote video stream last week, and have been following the reactions online about features demonstrated for the next version of Mac OS X, 10.5 (“Leopard”). A lot of people (especially non-Mac users) have commented that features like Spaces and even Time Machine have already been done on other operating systems, or as third-party utilities for OS X. They’re missing the point. What’s great about these new features in Leopard is their accessibility to normal people, i.e., their simple interfaces.
I use a virtual desktops utility today (Desktop Manager), but Spaces looks to be far better implemented, interface-wise. I use backup/archival software today (Retrospect), but the interface is baroque, and frankly Retrospect seems to be resting on its laurels (and patents), making almost no progress since the transition to OS X. (Which is why I’ve switched to SuperDuper for my most critical, daily backups.)
Maybe others have implemented features grossly similar to things coming in Leopard. That doesn’t mean it won’t be the first time those capabilities actually get used by large numbers of people. It doesn’t mean that things like Time Machine won’t be potentially life-changing for a large percentage of Apple’s customers.
(When I say “life-changing” I am thinking of how I stopped using Quicken, forever, after a hard disk failure cost me a year of transactions. I’m religious about backing up now, but it wasn’t always so…)