Is Mac OS X Leopard just a bunch of iCandy on top of Tiger? Or, is it a feast of technical goodness under the hood?
Both, and more. The most striking thing about using Leopard is the attention to little things. Mostly. While there are a few crazy things Apple has done with Leopard, when you add up what you like, you like Leopard even more.
So far, almost everything works well following the weekend marathon of Leopard upgrades on my Macs. Maybe it’s just my personal perception, but my older Macs actually run faster with Leopard than with Tiger, keeping up the tradition since Jaguar.
The iCandy enthusiasts are having a field day with Leopard. Time Machine. iChat. Cover Flow in the Finder. Quick Look. Spaces. Stacks. All the new polish and shine make Leopard look invitingly, tantalizingly attractive. But one could say the same about Windows Vista, and by most counts, Vista isn’t doing so well (unless you buy a new PC—those numbers add up).
Apple announced that over 2-million copies of OS X Leopard were sold over the weekend following launch. Of course, Apple fudges a bit on the numbers and includes all new Macs sold, retail copies, online copies, upgrade copies, and probably the number of Leopard boxes printed but not stuffed.
Still, consider Leopard a success so far. Why? Because there is something for everyone. There’s no doubt that Leopard needed the iCandy to help sell the goods. The technical merits of Leopard are many, as well. Fully 64-bit in the OS, addition of Core Animation, Unix certified.
In between the glossy look of the main new features, and the greasy, grimy, gopher-looking additions to Leopard’s guts, are a whole host of nifty little features that, when added together, make Leopard a must have.
Did I mention that, so far, almost everything works well? Mostly. We’re still having trouble with Time Machine on some older Macs, especially with 800 mhz Firewire connections.
I have a Canon scanner that scans into Photoshop, but the resulting image is totally, freaky, grainy. Switch to Tiger, and all is well.
The translucent look in the Menu Bar is, well, I don’t know what it is, other than distracting and worthless. Interestingly, it does not show up on every Mac installation. Works fine, or bad—depending on your perspective—in my Intel iMac, but doesn’t show up at all on our aging PowerMac G5. Go figure.
As you read around the Mac web, you’ll find reports of GUI inconsistencies, including the difference between buttons on Safari vs. Mail vs. other Mac applications. Personally, I think Apple does that kind of silly stuff just to make us think we’re smart.
What’s the really coolest new feature in Leopard? Back to my Mac and Screen Sharing. Wil and I tried it out yesterday in the office, then again last night on our Macs at home. It’s very cool. Your Leopard Mac is able to screen share with another Mac on the network. You’re even able to check into your Mac at home while you’re on the road or in the office.
What Apple has done is tie in a chunk of Apple Remote Desktop in Leopard. Wil and I set it up on a few Macs in the office without telling anyone, then we’d control their machines remotely, moving the mouse pointer, minimizing windows, and generally irritating co-workers. It was fun. On the practical side, it makes sharing files, troubleshooting much easier.
Except for the way folders are used, Stacks is also the handiest little treat. Folder dropped into the left of the Dock can fan out, or grid out, revealing contents inside. The only real problem is the folder icon disappears if there’s content inside. That makes the visual cues go amok. Apple will need to fix that.
Mac360, almost unanimously, has gone on record and said that the virtual screens in Spaces don’t make for more productivity, efficiency, and probably complicate the desktop metaphor.
While that’s somewhat true, Spaces, in the form of those common Unix virtual screens, is done right. It’s actually fun to set up a section, devote applications or utilities to it, then get on with life knowing they’ll be there, only a click away.
Next on my list is the list of improvements in iChat. Slowly, almost insidiously, Apple is making iChat into a communication center that’s fun to use, and useful, too. Unfortunately, it’s still stuck with AIM, not Skype, but that’s an issue with connecting to the rest of the VoIP world, not Mac to Mac, which is an absolute blast to use—if your Mac has an iSight camera.
iChat Theater is poorly named, but remarkably simple to use—if you have a fast Intel Mac and plenty of bandwidth. Display a slide show, photos, a movie, a presentation, or anything else that pops up in Quick Look, right inside iChat. I love the green screen backdrops. I was Wil’s personal weather girl on my first try. Chats can also be recorded—text, audio, and video. Even Screen Sharing works in iChat.
Finally, real Parental Controls on a Mac. Wil’s kids may switch to a bootlegged PC and crawl under the covers at night to chat and who knows what else away from the prying eyes and clamps of Parental Controls. The filters look worthy, and being able to log everything your child views or does online can be handy. You know, in case you have to go to court.
How about that Mac Finder? OK, it’s not my favorite part of Leopard, but Cover Flow adds plenty of glossy goodness for those new to the Mac. Apple cleaned up the Sidebar, adding network connections via Bonjour, which is a nice touch. Still, the Finder can’t remember window settings if you held a gun and pointed it Finder’s face. It would still forget. All that is forgotten anyway when using Quick Look in cover flow. Mac Power users won’t care, but the rest of us just found an easier way to check contents of files without opening an application to check the contents of files.
In another review we’ll get into more of the GUI madness that Apple’s foisted upon us, but they’re minor nits compared to the fun and games available now in Leopard. We’ll also do another review on the innards of Leopard, such as Unix certification, Core Animation, 64-bit capability, and so on. Most of that doesn’t matter on your Mac right now, but it will within a couple of years.
Got a complaint or a favorite item in Leopard? Talk Back to Mac360 readers in the Comments section below.