This has been an eventful week for Apple followers with the release of Leopard, the next chapter in the OSX story. As with any major change in my life, it’s exciting, terrifying, and disorienting all at the same time. Given how much of my time is spent interacting with the computer (and therefore the OS), this is no small issue – so naturally, I have some things to say about it.
First of all, let me say that the upgrade to Leopard has been well worth it, but it didn’t come without some minor headaches. I have upgraded four machines so far (yes, we bought the family pack), and of all four, only one has become a bit temperamental – which I attribute to the fact that we did a simple upgrade on it, instead of an archive and install.
Having said that, I strongly suggest you do a full-backup, wipe your hard drive clean, and then install. I do know how time-consuming that is – and I especially hate the fact that when you upgrade this way, you are re-doing all your preferences for at least a week after – but I have to say the peace of mind that comes with a clean system install trumps all of that.
The first thing I noticed about Leopard was the printing of the packaging. Apple has long been known for beautiful packaging, and Leopard is no exception. The metallic printing (?) reflects light in all directions and the effect is quite surreal – and very appropriate for their Time Machine theme. I think I stared at the packaging at least five full minutes before actually popping the disc in. It’s quite hypnotizing.
The next thing I noticed was how much longer this installation took than any previous OSX installation. If you’re getting ready to upgrade, plan on at least 30 minutes. If you’re doing a simple upgrade (not recommended), it can jump up to about 40 minutes. The installation takes its sweet ol’ time, and I have to confess that I found it confusing that in two of my four installations, I did not get the Welcome movie (bummer).
As soon as the install is over and you restart into Leopard, you will no doubt be drawn like a moth to a flame to the new Dock. After all, this is the heart of the Finder. It’s how you interact with your computer on a day to day basis – and right off the bat, I have to say I hate it. I have found, however, that it can go both ways. Some people absolutely love it, and others (like me), have resorted to hacking it to get rid of the glossy shelf.
My gripe has nothing to do with the aesthetics of the new dock, but with the function. On the new dock, the only way to know if your application is running is by a hard-to-see “light” that turns on. The arrows are gone, and so is the usability in my opinion. So for those of you that share my concern, TUAW shares a nice solution (via DaringFireball.net). Ahhh. Much better.
The first application I opened after the upgrade was Mail – and was greeted with a new sidebar that I think works well. If you have iTunes (and who doesn’t), then you’ll quickly get the hang of the new navigation throughout Leopard.
Mail comes with some pretty neat additions, many of which I’m sure I haven’t even discovered yet. The most notable ones (I think) are the addition of notes, to-dos, and rss inline. I haven’t used any of those yet, but I’m sure they will become indispensable once I get caught up with my email.
Some other not-so-apparent features include intelligent contextual menus within your messages. Hover over a telephone number on a message and Leopard will give you a number of options, including adding the number to your Address Book, or displaying it full-screen. My favorite, however, is hovering over an address and being able to map it using Google Maps.
I think the biggest change in Leopard is probably the one that gets noticed the least – as it should be. I’m not talking so much about the visual aspects of the interface, but more the amount of detail that has gone into making OSX more polished. There seems to have been a lot of housekeeping that took place with this release. Lots of cleaning and organizing, and it has been a pleasure to find those little additions throughout the system. One of them, for example, is the new default index page in the Sites folder. A small detail that may go mostly unnoticed, yet so indicative of this new release.
Other examples include the moving of firewall controls to the Security preference pane (makes more sense), changing the wording on many dialog boxes, ability to change grid spacing for icons, tabs in the terminal, accurate date display in the iCal icon, and last but not least, some awesome Spotlight integration throughout the system that quite frankly should’ve been there from the beginning.
On the subject of Spotlight, there are some great enhancement that deserver a closer look. The first is the integration with the help menu. Type, for example, a menu command and spotlight will show you where to find it with a nifty floating arrow.
Another worthy feature to make note of is the fact that Spotlight can now realistically become an application launcher (a feature that was touted when Spotlight first appeared but that was much too slow to ever be useful). Go ahead and type the first couple of letters of an application and you will notice the first result in Spotlight will be the application. Just click enter to launch the application. For those of you who use Quicksilver as an application launcher only (like me), this is a worthy alternative.
Under the Hood
There are many other enhancements in Leopard that are not immediately visible – including built in Ruby, some nice security enhancements (most of which I don’t fully understand but nonetheless appreciate), and a great new voice for accessibility (if you haven’t tried it, give it a shot – you’ll be impressed).
Select any file on the finder and click the space bar. ‘Nuf said.
The single most-touted feature in Leopard (at least in my opinion) is one that I haven’t had the chance to play with very much. Time Machine is backup for the rest of us. Its strength is in the fact that it runs in the background without the user having to worry about it. Its effectiveness is something I’m not qualified to discuss yet, but the premise of Time Machine is definitely worth a second look.
You’ll love this one if you’re on a laptop. Ever get tired of running out of screen real-estate. Well, let spaces take care of it for you. Once activated, a simple control+arrow key stroke will do the trick. Perhaps it may take a while to get used to (it’s certainly taking me some time) but I’m sure it will become one of my favorite features. After all, you can’t ever get enough screen real estate. As a matter of fact, I’m dying to see this on a 30″ display!
Coverflow & Stacks
For as many great features in Leopard there are certainly some features I seriously dislike. Perhaps the main one is coverflow – of all the useless eye candy, this one has to take the cake. I can see the coolness factor immediately (and I guess it doesn’t hurt to be cool), but I must confess I’m a bit surprised that Apple would take the gimmicky route.
The other one that has got me a bit baffled is Stacks (the fanning out of documents on the dock). I do like that there’s a dedicated Downloads folder, but I used to be able to drag my hard drive to the dock and click on it to spawn a new window. Now I’m greeted with a hard to read, much slower stack – which I have set to grid by default as I have no idea who at Apple thought that a fan would make any sense.
There are countless other features I would like to go into, but I’m sure other more capable writers have already reviewed these features exhaustively. In fact, I didn’t mean to make this post so long, but I guess I had quite a bit to say about the new kitty after all. Despite the minor quirks with the UI, I feel the upgrade bring a nice boost in power (and speed might I add). So if you’re on the fence about this one, I invite you to make the leap. I don’t think you’ll be going back.