Operating system look: Snow Leopard

aboutSLIt’s now been close to three weeks since Snow Leopard arrived in stores, and the Internet has now had a chance to go through the entire system and find the good, the bad and the barely changed. I’ve been using it since that time too, and like some of the subtle changes. Since Engadget, Gizmodo and even David Pogue have all weighed in with lengthy reviews, I’m going to avoid that here. Instead, I’m going to go through some of the changes I’ve seen and whether I think it’s worth the $35CAN upgrade fee.

This is the first of 3 operating system comparisons. Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.04 will be up shortly.

The Improvements

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to upgrade my MacBook from 10.5 to 10.6. I inserted the DVD while logged in, the menubar and Dock faded away and I returned 50 minutes later to my original desktop. There were options for installing additional languages, printers or Rosetta, but the default installation seems to provide all the required data, with the notable exception of Rosetta. If you still run PPC based applications, be sure to click that checkbox.

animatedwifiAfter it was installed, I took a look around and found very few changes to the interface. Sure, Stacks can now scroll when using the tile arrangement, and some menubars have more function, but by and large, the upgrade is behind the scenes. The Airport menu is slightly animated when not connected to a network, as shown on the left. Doing an option+click on the menu items now brings up a condensed system preference panel with the most important functions front and centre. The Sound menu item brings what is probably the most convenient small update, with the ability to choose the audio input and output on the computer with entering System Preferences.

Snow Leopard also seems to change the behaviour of computers exiting from sleep as well. On my MacBook, sleeping the computer for an extended period of time (about 2 hours or so) sometimes causes it to go into deep-sleep mode. That means when it wakes again, you must load the contents of RAM from the hard drive, which can take an extra 30 seconds or so. I’ve yet to determine if this is a change to the OS itself, or simply a flaw with my computer.

Ideal customer

Apple has taken a new strategy here with Snow Leopard. By keeping the interface familiar and improving the underlying technology, they allow users to gain familiarity with the software. As a $35 CAN upgrade, it is easy to recommend, but for regular users of Leopard who use their computer more for email and web than pushing the boundary of computing, it’s probably not all that necessary.

Interestingly, I think Snow Leopard works better as an upgrade for those users still running pre-Leopard installations. As a move from Tiger, or even Panther, SL offers many new features that make computing much, much easier. I’m excited about the new applications that will be released shortly that take advantage of this new technology — it just looks like I’ll have to get a new computer to fully use all the new tools.

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