Mac OS X 10.5 – Leopard review
October 26 marks the launch of the sixth version of Mac OS X – the operating system for Apple desktops and notebooks. With the recent success of the new iPod range and iPhone as well as Apple having its most successful quarter in the companies history, Leopard will only add to resurgence of the Mac platform.
With a price tag of £85 for a single user license and £129 for a family pack/five user copy, the Apple engineers have been able to fit Leopard in to a single DVD that is both 32 and 64-bit as well as Universal binary that works on two completely different processor architectures.
This is a stark contrast to the many offerings of Vista and its separate 32/64-bit versions, each with different features and a hefty price tag of up to £300.
Building on the traditional values that Apple instils in all of its products, Leopard offers what appear to be a modest upgrade to it’s operating system, however when you look at the changes you begin to realise just how much of a revolutionary product that Leopard really is and a complement to just how advanced the previous version (OS X 10.4 Tiger) was.
Long has this been the topic of discussion in many an IM window or forum, the Finder has been completely overhauled with a new navigation bar on the left and new views of your files.
If you’ve ever used iTunes before (which you and many millions of other people have if you own an iPod) then you will feel right at home. It’s certainly a clever coincidence that the interface matches so closely what is found on iTunes, which as you should already know runs on both Macs and Windows machines.
Personally, I have never found any problems with the Finder. It always offered me what I wanted and it just worked the way you expect it to and best of all it was always rapid to load and work with.
The new Finder window is just as quick and perhaps even more so now with its new adjustments. The minor changes like these can be found throughout the OS, however its these details which help to hone the user experience.
Various areas of your files and your machine are categorised in to three areas, devices, places and search for.
Devices show internal, external and removeable devices.
By default your Desktop, User, Documents and Applications folders are located in Places but you are free to customise these shortcuts.
The ‘search for’ area contains your smart folders using the Spotlight search engine built right in to Leopard. Default folders include all of your documents from Today, Yesterday, Past Week, All images, All movies and All documents. It is also possible to set up your own ‘Smart Folders’ just like you can for playlists in iTunes.
Quick Look is a so simple and easy to use and is going to be one of the biggest productivity enhancers that Apple engineers have put in to Leopard. This understated feature allows you to instantly open nearly any file format that exists on your system. So you can instantly preview PDF files, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, images, videos and more all at a click of a button. For those occasions where you want quick access to a video clip, just use Quick Look to play it in a window or even full screen.
In an effort to minimise the number of icons on your desktop, Leopard has a new featured called Stacks that sits on the right hand side of your dock. Your downloads and documents folder are present here by default allowing you quick access to your files in a smooth spring loading action. You can customise the way your files are displayed by fanning out or as a grid or leave it on auto for it to decide by itself.
To create a stack it’s as simple as dragging a folder to your dock and before you know it, you’ve got quick fire access to all your files.
The dock has received a make over with a new 3D look that makes your applications and folders look like they are floating on this new shiny dock. The effect is purely cosmetic and because the dock works so well, it’s been left untouched by Apple in terms of its functionality.
If you often experience a cluttered work space, Spaces may be the answer for you. This feature is by no means an Apple innovation, in fact it has been around on Linux distributions for years, however this is the first time ‘virtual desktops’ has been integrated in to OS X and done with so much finesse. Vista lacks this feature although there are third party ‘hacks’ for XP which try to emulate such a feature, however none do it so well as Apple does with Spaces.
Using the System Preferences you can set up to 16 desktop spaces. The idea is that each of these desktops will have a particular theme. So for example, one may contain your Mail and IM applications on one screen, another for your photos and music and another for Keynote and Safari.
So how do you use it? You can quickly move between your ‘spaces’ by using the shortcut key to slide in the direction you want (e.g. slide to the ‘space’ on your left) or you can hit F8 and it activates an Expose-esque function that displays all of your desktops.
Whilst you’re in the Expose mode for Spaces you can move your windows and apps between spaces simply by clicking and dragging to the desktop you want it placed in. Alternatively you can click the title bar of any window and use your shortcut key to move to the desktop you want it on and release the mouse.
I don’t think this web browser gets the credit it deserves because I thought the previous version was excellent despite the lack of support for web standards. Now the latest release is bundled with Leopard (which is also available for Windows XP and Vista users) and it’s much more friendly with web pages and will now work with the WordPress editing mode!
The reason I like it is because of its near instant launch once it’s running and it’s lightweight. It’s so quick to work with and just feels more streamlined than Firefox. Safari was my main browser when I was using Tiger and now in Leopard, the reasons to stick with it are even more compelling.
You can now re-organise tabs by drag and drop as well as being able to merge separate Safari windows together or separating tabs from a window by dragging the tab away from the main window. This slick feature animates the tab opening out and sliding in to a new window. Perfection.
A new Widget has been designed to work exclusively with Safari and allows you to ‘cut out’ a part of a web page and have it remain on your dashboard. So you can take a cut out of the top story from the BBC News site and whenever the page gets updated, so does your Widget.
I love the new Find feature in Safari. It’s just brilliant. Reminiscent of what you see on the iPhone or even from Pixar. Cmd + F activates the in-line word finder in Safari, much like that found in Firefox. Type the word you’re looking for and before you know it, Safari has highlighted all the matching results on the page and gives it a bit of ‘Pixar’ bounce to get your attention each time you move to the next matching result.
All I can say is that this feature is like magic. It’s so integrated in to the operating system that you don’t even notice that it’s doing its work in the background. Although I’ve only had the opportunity to use this for a few days, the finish to this feature is so good that it brings fun in to backing up.
In all honesty, there isn’t a whole lot for you to do, however the seamless execution of this feature means that you will be deleting files on purpose just so you can see the gorgeous animated background float in to view as your desktop floats away in to the distance. It’s features like these which will make people want to invest in a good sized external drive and get people to back up those precious photos and documents.
Time Machine will keep a constant backup of everything on your system and whilst there’s little control over how it operates, it’s designed to be invisible to the user unless called upon. In the system preferences you can set it to exclude certain areas of your system to backup otherwise it will archive everything and continue to monitor for any changes. If you have your external drive on at all times, all your files are kept up to date on an hourly basis and at the end of day it turns that backup in to a single daily backup. This smart method of backing up and archiving is great for those who don’t want to manage folder structures and what’s new and what’s not. Leopard knows.
Is it just me or has the Spotlight engine been fine tuned for performance this time round? Whilst Tiger delivered near-instant search results, Leopard improves on that by offering split second results. Response time from the search engine built in to Leopard seems to have improved dramatically with results appearing instantly, a definite plus for the search feature and one that definitely trounces search on Vista which in my experience often turns up the wrong results or nothing at all.
Now for the fun bit. I had the chance to play around with the new iChat video features that takes the video effects from Photo Booth and applies them to the video in your iChat connection with friends and family. Now you can chat to your friends from the moon or whilst swimming with the fishes. This clever feature maps the pixels where you are present with the background behind you, much like how a green screen works only without the green screen. I can see this being a popular feature for those old and new to iChat.
Another new feature and one that has been sorely missing from previous versions of iChat is the ability to do screen sharing or remote desktop. You can now request access and control over another persons computer and vice versa. A picture in picture is created with your desktop shown in a live preview in a window. Click on it and it springs back to life and does the trademark window swap animation.
As for the other 300+ features, well they’ll have to wait for the podcast. There’s so many new features in Leopard, some exciting some that just make life easier and more productive. For £85? This is a worthy upgrade that is available for new and old Mac users. Apple are generous with the required specification starting at 512MB and 867MHz G4 processor.
For the holiday season, Apple have positioned themselves in to a comfortable position to really take advantage of the ‘crazy season’. Leopard will definitely add value as the positive reviews will continue to pour out of blogs, magazines and newspapers as well as word of mouth and I have no doubt in my mind that the Apple Store retail staff are fully trained and hungry to demonstrate the cool new ‘it’ features for the Mac platform.
Existing users will find plenty of reasons to upgrade if they haven’t already pre-ordered or waiting in line for one as I write this. Leopard builds on the success of the OS X core and without doubt it’s one of the best releases Apple have put out there that screams stability and how mature the platform has become.
iPod, iPhone, iMac there are so many compelling reasons to join and enjoy the digital lifestyle that Apple have so successfully created to entice new customers to step in to this strange new world. Apple machines are definitely worth a look and with the now stable Boot Camp feature built right in to Leopard, you have a safety net that should you decide to want to run back to Windows you can do so, unfortunately you won’t get the option to do that with a Dell.
Go on. Give it a try. Succumb to your temptation to upgrade to the greatest operating system on the market today.