A Not-So-In-Depth Review of Apple’s Snow Leopard

Apple’s brand new operating system, Mac OS X version 10.6 Snow Leopard, was released Friday, August 28, 2009. We’ll take a look at some of the new “features” of the OS, and what you can expect when upgrading.

Some Mildly Important Info:

If you’re looking for a really ridiculously detailed review of Snow Leopard, by all means please check out Ars Technica’s review. It’s a whopping 23 pages long and covers everything you would ever want to know.

My review will not be like that…at all. In fact, I wouldn’t even be qualified to talk about some of the deep, gutsy portions of the OS they go into. But here’s a little info about me so you understand where I’m coming from:

I’m a graphic designer. I own two MacBook Pros (the 1st and 2nd generations), a Mac Mini, and I use an iMac at work. I’ve been using a Mac since 2005, when Tiger was the default OS. I tend to run my Macs pretty hard, using the Adobe Creative Suite 4 daily.

The Actual Review:

There’s not much in terms of new features, which will make this review short and sweet. The focus on Apple’s part was to really clean up the OS under the hood and make it a truly 64-bit system. We’ll start there.

Cleaning Up

Snow Leopard is smaller and faster, thanks in part to Apple ditching support for PowerPC processors. It’s unfortunate, but if you’re still using a G4 or G5, welcome to 2009. Apple touts its new install will give you back up to 7GB of hard drive space. This is mostly correct, but as it turns out, Apple changed the rules of the game a bit and is calculating hard drive space in the same way the hard drive manufacturers do. So, instead of a 600GB hard drive being seen by the OS as 560GB, it’s now seen as 600GB. It’s kind of arbitrary, and it’s nice that Apple is now aligned with hard drive manufacturers, but I’m sure there will be some backlash. For more info, see this link.

64-Bit, sorta

Snow Leopard is now 64-bit! Unfortunately, that doesn’t really matter too much right now. There aren’t a whole lot of programs that will be running natively, and in fact, Snow Leopard itself doesn’t even boot into 64-bit mode by default (hold down 6 and 4 while starting up to do that). It’s a step in the right direction, to be sure, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer to reap the benefits.

Exposé

This is one of the best new things about Snow Leopard – Exposé finally has some attention paid to it. Snow Leopard now gives you the ability to click and hold on a dock icon, and it will run Exposé for windows of just that app. And to top it off, Exposé finally arranges icons in a grid-like way, instead of the haphazard flying windows from previous versions.

QuickTime

QuickTime X is better. It’s sleeker, faster, and gives you some editing capabilities, as well as the option to upload videos directly to YouTube. Cool.

Google Integration

I’ve used things like Spanning Sync and Google’s Collaboration to sync things like my Gmail and Google Calendars, but now finally Apple allows you to natively sync your Google Contacts and Google Calendars with Address Book and iCal, respectively. It works like it should.

Printers

I just purchased a new laser printer last night, plugged it in, and it worked. Now, this used to happen anyway, but Leopard previously used a generic printer driver to communicate. Now, Snow Leopard fetches the correct printer driver from the almighty Interwebs and installs it automatically. This feature has been around for a long time on Windows (going back to XP), but it always seemed a little clunky to me with all the extraneous little pop-ups throughout the installation process. This is streamlined, and to be honest, I didn’t even know it was happening. I plugged in, went to print something, and my printer was there in the list and ready to go.

Accessing printers over a network is just as easy. Any time you access a print dialog box, Snow Leopard lists available printers for you (even the printers that aren’t installed on your computer). If you choose a shared printer that you’ve never used before, your Mac simply finds the correct driver, installs it, and you’re ready to go.

Some Other Stuff

Apple’s Snow Leopard site touts some other new features: MS Exchange support, faster startup and shutdown, quicker Time Machine backups, etc.

Bad Things

I’ll be honest, I haven’t run into any nightmare situations since installing. The one problem I did have was with fonts. I use a third-party font manager, Linotype Font Xplorer. That program does a little tinkering with font locations, so when Snow Leopard reinstalled all the system fonts, I was getting a lot of duplicates or missing font errors. It only took me about 10 minutes to fix, but keep that in mind if you’re a designer-type or someone who uses some third-party programs to manage system assets like fonts.

The End

Other than that, I’m pretty happy with how things are running since I upgraded. The transition was seamless and, in my opinion, well worth the $49 I spent on the Family Pack. The $29 option is quite reasonable as well, especially considering the performance enhancements. As I said earlier, there aren’t many new features, but a lot of care went into refining what was already a great OS.

My only question is: what will Apple do with their OS now? Will Snow Leopard just keep getting refined or will there be a game-changing OS in the not-too-distant future? Let us know what you think in the comments.

http://arstechnica.com/apple/reviews/2009/08/mac-os-x-10-6.ars

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