Snow Leopard: hands-on review

It's already here – Mac OS 10.6 'Snow Leopard'







Firstly, it's cheap – The single user version of Snow Leopard costs £25 as an upgrade to Leopard, with a family pack costing £39.





The Family Pack is a very modest little package – a slim cardboard box, with a card slip-case inside, in turn containing a plastic sleeve holding one DVD and two white Apple stickers, a one-sheet Support info card and a fold-out document called 'Mac OS X Snow Leopard Installation, Features, and refinements.'







This is a big change over the optically-printed more lavish Leopard boxes of a couple of years ago, and there's nothing in the way of a manual, but it's so similar to Leopard that you don't really need one.







Installation took about 45 minutes on each machine. I installed it on my mum's 2007 iMac first. This I erased first with the Disc Utility that was on the installation DVD. Then I installed it as an update on Apple's MacBook Pro 13-inch loaner that goes back in a fortnight, plus on my own 2008 pre-unibody 15-inch MacBook Pro that I use for seminars and presentations.







Then I installed it on my daughter's three-year-old white MacBook. I have one iMac to go, but I'll wait because Apple's early delivery caught Canon short and there's no printer driver for the MF4150 laser printer fax/copier.







It does pay to run Disk Utility first (Repaid Disc), from the Snow Leopard install disk. There are a couple of good guides online or this one with pictures if you're worried, but basically if you are confident all is running well, and you prudently use Repair Disc from the Disc Utility menu - and you have a backup - you should be able to just press Install.







The fold-out booklet is interesting, and shows you what's been going on with this new system. And it's small for a reason – there aren't many changes. Not to look at. But truckloads has happened under the hood. When your Mac boots up, check how much disc space you have gained. In my case, I went from 96GBs available on the 15-inch to 105GBs. Wow.







The Dock's the same, at first sight. All your apps are there – but when you boot Mail, it says it's 'upgrading' it, which only takes a few seconds. Then you might really notice the Dock. Click and hold on an app icon, and your whole screen dims, a spotlight appears over the item in the Dock, there are newly-configured pop-out menus and the application's open documents glow and centre in your monitor.







But I was surprised that context-sensitive controls are gone. I used to be able to have, for example, iTunes playing but hidden from view. Clicking and holding on the iTunes Dock icon popped up a menu with Play, Repeat, Pause, Next and other controls – very handy. Now there are just the default Keep In Dock, Open At Login and Show In Finder options.







Folders in the Dock you pop out now scroll if you have loads of items in them, instead of making all the icons tiny as in Leopard.







QuickTime has changed a lot. In use, the QT Player is more like the iPhone movie player with a dark edge and controls appearing only when your put your cursor over it. It's the equivalent of QuickTime Pro, which you used to have to pay extra for. That means you can trim and copy sections. You can also 'share' content for different tasks, like YouTube.







QuickTime X adds the new feature of screen recording and pressing the forwards and backwards controls initiates a smooth, fast scroll forwards, and back complete with audio scrubbing.







Microsoft Exchange 2007 support is built in too. That's good for business. In fact, Apple has dropped its old AppleTalk networking protocols completely in favour of IP.







Universal Access now has a cool feature where, with trackpad-equipped Macs (ie, MacBooks), anything you 'touch' on the trackpad in relation to objects displayed is announced. This also works with mouse-overs. Just hit Command F5 to initiate VoiceOver.







Finally, Preview now lets you more properly annotate PDFs, even without Adobe Acrobat installed.







Disappointingly, there's been no big increase in speed. Not on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. For example, the 13-inch MacBook Pro running Leopard booted from cold in 34 seconds. Under Snow Leopard, it took 45.







A Numbers document booted in 3.9 seconds on the old 15, and 2.4 seconds on the 13-inch running Leopard. This document launch included booting the Numbers application (Apple's spreadsheet program). On the 13-inch MBP running Snow Leopard, 5 seconds. CineBench and XBench tests showed some little speed increases in a across the board in some categories, but we're talking 5-10 per cent.







I expected Snow Leopard's 64-bit chops would improve speeds more. The Finder, for example, is now 64-bit. But apparently most Macs still boot using the 32-bit kernel and drivers. Since almost every application included in Snow Leopard has been recompiled to run 64-bit, these applications can now access more than 4GB of installed RAM.







So why isn't it faster? It seems speed boosts associated with running in 64-bit mode will come from having more than 4GB RAM and working with massive files, which I haven't been able to test. (All Macs powered by Intel Core 2 Duo or Intel Xeon processors are 64-bit capable – just choose About This Mac from the blue Apple menu at top left to see what you have.)







It also makes me wonder (ok, that word should be 'hope') if Apple has new consumer Macs in the works with hardware capabilities that will let Snow Leopard really blossom. And this would include video cards that let the new GL graphics features really get going. Fingers crossed, then.

Source: NZ Herald

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