OS X Leopard review

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Here we sit, a week after the Leopard launch, exhausted. Like the machine at Ikea that opens and closes the drawers in the kitchen section over and over again to show how strong they are, I’ve pounded at Leopard with a vengeance, opening and closing stacks, trying features, and generally trying to break the thing.

I ran Leopard on a 2.66 GHz dual-core Mac Pro with 3 GB of memory and a wonky old Powerbook G4 with 1 GB of memory and both machines ran installed and ran fine. I didn’t have the “blue-screen” error at all and both machines worked well, although I didn’t try Time Machine on the laptop.

Let’s begin, shall we?

New Stuff

Time Machine — this is actually the only “real” change in the system, at least from a lay-person’s point of view. While I agree that there is a lot going on behind the scenes, Time Machine is destined to become the next big thing to copy in backup software. Again: it just works. I turned on in the Mac Pro and pointed it to a 500GB drive. It took a full eight hours to copy over all of my data but it’s all there and waiting for me when I need it.

What is Time Machine? It’s a backup program. However, it is much more. It actually takes snapshots of your system state and is tied into your file system to handle incremental changes in your data. If you dumped something in the trash a week ago, you’ll be able to fish it out even after emptying everything out. I’m worried about what happens when the backup drive fills up, but as of today I still have 250 GB left.

I am of two minds when it comes to Time Machine. Part of me thinks that adding Time Machine as an add-on to Tiger would have been just as good as releasing Leopard. However, I can see real value in this program and it is worth the price you pay to get the whole shebang. I was backing up before, but now I know I’m backing up and I know I won’t have to recreate folders from fumes using the half-assed back-up systems I cobbled together. Plus, the UI is so cool and intuitive that you’ll actually want to fire it up just to feel like Han Solo in the Aluminum Falcon.

Spaces — Meh. I used a multiple desktop hack on my Macs last year and I really liked it but now I prefer just having two monitors running at once. Sure, that set-up isn’t ideal, but this is definitely nothing new and not particularly compelling. It’s good that it’s actually built-in and won’t eat up your memory but I think this might be a bit too late for most hard core users.

Stacks — OK, this is pretty cool. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work as advertised. When your folder contains only a few items, having a stack pop up is cool. When it has lots of items, you get sort of a cloud of unrelated items that is just overwhelming. Not to be a UI nerd, but why couldn’t they let you run up and down a compressed version of the icon list — sort of a vertical Cover Flow — instead of saying “Meh, if it’s starts with A,B, or C, give it a try. Otherwise, use Finder.” Stacks are cool, but not that cool.

messyscreen.jpg

Finder — Cover Flow for the win. I was using Pathfinder for a while and I’ve completely returned to finder. It works much better now and is much faster and the space bar preview is amazing. It’s absolutely what OS X needed to really take this product to the next level. The dynamic icons are also cool, but not as cool as being able to pop up a huge window showing a preview of the actual document you’re looking at. This is another Leopard improvement.

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Network Handling — This is a minor but important change. The network connections are threaded, so if one drops out it doesn’t take down your entire system. The USB/Firewire drive connections also seem to be threaded so I’ve rarely seen the spinning beachball of drive ejection pop up during my testing. Even removing memory cards seemed faster and less painful. Good update.

Small Stuff

  • Automator has a recording mode that actually records UI actions. This means you can simulate use in applications or create real macros in any application.
  • iChat’s backgrounds are slightly overrated but the desktop sharing is great. Mac-to-Mac troubleshooting could not get any easier. It’s basically VNC, but it’s completely hidden behind the UI veil.
  • Safari webclips are cool but I’m not sure what I’d use it for. Maybe for watching for Wii 2 availability.
  • The new dock is hot but do yourself a favor and install this version of the dock. It’s much better. I really don’t like the little “spotlights” that pop up.
  • Secret spotlight easter egg! Type in a calculation (5+5) and Spotlight returns the result.

    Overall, I can honestly say that Leopard is good, but an incremental upgrade. Should you upgrade? Wait a little while for the first few updates and then take the plunge. Even if you just upgrade for Time Machine, I’d say it’s worth it.

    Here are a few comments from the CG writers.

    Nicholas says:

    What takes 40 minutes to install but gives you a lifetime of frustration? Why Leopard, Apple’s latest operating system that’s chuck full of things I’ll never use. It’s OS X through and through, my preferred operating system for the past five years, yet I can’t help but feel that Apple rushed it out the door. For whatever reason, windows will randomly move around my screen. I’ll move from Library to Podcasts in iTunes and the window will move from the center of my screen to the bottom right. Thanks, Apple. Is that one of the 300 new features. Then there’s the overcomplicated UI: why does the top bar need to be transparent? What purpose does that serve? And the 3D Dock… I’m trying to get work done not “oh” and “ah” at shiny reflections. I don’t know, most of the new features are just useless eye candy.

    OS X works just fine; there’s no need to clutter it up, Apple.

    Vince says:

    Apple’s latest operating system is a big hit, but it has plenty of faults. Some of the features feel very incomplete with Stacks coming to mind immediately. The organizational features it has are hardly useful and Time Machine slows my iMac G5 down to a crawl when backing up files. However, Leopard has improved overall OS X stability and my M-Audio hardware no longer randomly freezes my computer.

    I’d recommend Leopard to anyone who knows how to BitTorrent or has a good deal going on at their campus bookstore.

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