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Whatever happened to... Mac OS X Leopard?

Spotty debut - but what's to come?

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Comment Steve Jobs' minimal contribution to his annual WWDC keynote yesterday amounted to little more than handing over the proceedings to his lieutenants. Jobs himself concentrated on doing something we already know he does quite well: bash Microsoft.

"You know, our friends up north spent over $5 billion on R&D," said Jobs, "but these days all they seem to be copying is Google and Apple. Shows money doesn't buy everything."

But you can afford that kind of luxury when you're a monopoly. For Apple, whose two per cent market share has shown signs of twitching into life in recent quarters, thanks to the iPod halo effect, the imperative is to keep barreling forward. And so it has, keeping its own engineers busy in almost every department except its operating system.

There are days when taunts can backfire, however, and yesterday was one of them. Apple chose only to offer a "sneak preview" of some of the features of Leopard, but these failed to match the taunt that the OS was "Vista 2.0".

On the basis of the evidence so far the sixth release of Mac OS X is, to put it bluntly, a point release.

Jobs hinted that some features may be disclosed nearer the launch next spring.

"There's some top secret features we're going to keep a little close to the vest," he said on stage.

He meant to say "close to the chest", but perhaps the stock investigation is weighing heavily on his mind.

That's not what 4,000 delegates wanted to hear, though.

Many of the enhancements are sensible and welcome - a rolling backup feature, workspaces, and putting RSS where it belongs: in the Mail client. RSS is something of a religion among the angle bracket crowd, but at core it's simply a poorly-specified messaging transport, and it's far more at home in a messaging client than in a browser. But not only are these features far from sensational, they're not particularly original, either.

We were reminded of the over-stretched claims made for the current version, Tiger, where Apple added each new desktop wallpaper picture to the tally of improvements. ("Over 200....").

"I have to say, I need more than just a movie widget and some back up software to warrant a $129 upgrade," complained one user.

So while Apple reminded Engadget of its corporate insecurity - unfurling "a children's playground of badly formed insults" at Redmond - the substance of the presentations left some doubting that it was really in a position of leadership.

Unless Leopard's "top secret" features can raise the pulse, Apple stands to lose a lot of the shine off its reputation for innovation.

Here's what we'd like to see.

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