By Carl HoweArs Technica's Infinite Loop blog has, in my opinion, unraveled one of the top secret ingredients in Apple's (AAPL) upcoming Mac OS X 10.5 release, aka Leopard: complete 3D graphics and animations. Given what we know and have seen of Leopard features such as Time Machine and the new iChat and in existing apps like FrontRow, this would make perfect sense, especially if it were implemented in OpenGL. Applications get their own canvases in a 3D world, and the OS is responsible for keeping those canvases updated and visible in various orientations. One visual 3D imaging model for all apps that the OS manages and keeps sorted. Sweet.
Now to any Linux geek worth his salt, this sounds like no big deal: it's like Beryl (movie at the link), XGL/Compiz and a bunch of other compositing interfaces available today on Linux. But unlike Linux, Apple has no requirement to support every flavor of graphics card in the world, and that's a good thing in this case. Apple's attention to interface smoothness, consistency and detail will create a user experience anyone can use, and won't require users to gather eye of newt and sacrifice a goat to get the graphics drivers to work.
What this means for Apple users is that we can expect a new Finder in Leopard. I've written before that I believe that Leopard will also support Multi-touch gestures and new sensors to take the user interface the next step for users. From a competitive point of view, this 3D Finder will probably be the biggest shot across the bow for rival Microsoft. Why? Because the Aero 3D interface is the major differentiator today for Vista over Windows XP; most of the other features of Vista are significantly less visible to average users. But on Vista, these features are usable only on the highest end PCs, while I believe that Apple intends its 3D features to become a part of every device it builds. That means we'll see 3D features on iPods, iPhones, Apple TV boxes, and of course in Leopard. And since some of these features will be built into hardware devices, it will be straightforward for Apple to patent and protect these features as it has with the iPhone
The bottom line: I second the notion that a 3D finder is one of the secret ingredients of Leopard. That's a little bit like saying vanilla is the secret ingredient in both a vanilla ice cream and a great creme brulee. It can be just a flavor or it can be the base of a transporting dessert. It just depends on how the chef uses it.