November 7, 2007

Leopard by Danny Gorog

Apples latest and greatest operating system, codenamed Leopard hit the streets running this week. In the life of an Apple fan, there aren't many bigger events (maybe the birth of a new child, maybe) than a new system release, because, in essence what you are getting is a completely new Mac for your money - in this case $158 (or $249 for a five-user family pack).

Leopard, or OS X 10.5 is Apples fifth major release of OS X, and while not revolutionary like the first release was a little over five years ago it's still a major achievement. Leopard continues the OS X story and adds over three hundred new features, and refines some existing features. From a user perspective there is something for everybody; from developers of applications to regular mums and dads who just want to edit photos, check email and surf the web.

While Vista took Microsoft over five years to release, its taken Apple less than two to develop Leopard. Vista, in case you've missed all the news, hasn't been well received by the computing public. In fact, many manufacturers are still offering Windows XP as an option on new machines sold. Leopard, in contrast is shipping on all new Macs today. Apple is also offering a discounted upgrade ($12.95) to any users who purchased a new machine after October 1st.

If you've got a Mac that's less than four years old and has a DVD drive upgrading to Leopard should be easy. Specifically, you'll need a G4 (867Mhz) or better, 512MB of ram and about 9GB of free disk space. However, OS X loves memory, so the more you've got the better Leopard will perform. If you are planning on running Leopard on an older machine consider upgrading your memory. Also, some features of Leopard will only work on the latest Intel Macs such as Boot Camp.

If you're comfortable using Tiger (10.4) than Leopard will already be familiar to you. In fact, at launch the only thing you may notice is the semi transparent menu bar and the new look dock that looks like it floats on a three-dimensional platform. But dig a little deeper and you'll find plenty of enhancements that make the $158 price tag look like the deal of a decade.

Take for example a new feature in the Finder called Cover Flow. Now, browsing files in Leopard is as easy as browsing through albums in iTunes. Say for example you've downloaded lots of images to a folder. Instead of manually opening each image in Preview, simply change to Cover Flow mode and you'll be able to identify the image you want in a second. An extension of Cover Flow is called Quick Look which lets you quickly open any file in the Finder before you launch it in an application.

But the biggest and most important new feature for Leopard is the built in Windows support, called Boot Camp. Boot Camp lets you run Windows, and any Windows programs natively on your Mac. When you use Windows on your Mac, your Windows applications will run at native speed. Windows applications have full access to multiple processors and multiple cores, accelerated 3D graphics and high-speed connections like USB, FireWire, Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet. That means if you've been delaying the purchase of a Mac because you still have a program that you need that's only available in Windows you can now run in a fully native Windows environment. The only downside with Boot Camp is you'll need to purchase a copy of Windows separately.

From a developers perspective Leopard sets the foundations for the Mac for the next decade. Tools like Core Animation, Unix, 64-bit and Multicore support will help developers leverage their existing applications and improve them further. Core Animation technology, for example is a framework that makes it simple for Mac developers to add visually stunning user interfaces, graphics and animations to applications.

Leopard installation in most cases will be straight forward. You will however, need to decide whether you want to completely replace your existing system folder, or simply upgrade your current system. I chose to completely replace my system as this means you start fresh. It also may mean you need to reinstall some applications. Before you do that I'd recommend checking whether your existing applications are compatible with Leopard as some programs may not function correctly under the new OS. I'd also recommend doing a full backup as well because its better to be safe than sorry.

The installation usually takes around an hour, but in some cases can be longer. Once installed you should find that the new Desktop environment is familiar to you.

In my testing I've found Leopard a pleasure to use. While so much of the system is familiar there are small improvements that add up to an improved experience. Time Machine for example is just fantastic. It's backup that takes five minutes to setup, works well and is actually fun to use. I found overall responsiveness has also improved on the small things, like running a Spotlight search. Visually, the interface feels a lot cleaner, and a lot more consistent.

There aren't many tech products you can buy for $158 that do as much as a new operating system. As Steve Jobs recently said 'everyone gets the ‘Ultimate’ version' in a dig at Microsoft who sell more than six different versions of Vista, with the most expensive costing more than $600. Now that Leopard is in the wild, there's not much keeping consumers from buying a Mac. With one hundred percent Windows compatibility through Boot Camp, Leopard really is the killer operating system, and will see the Mac continue its rapid growth in the personal computing space.

Top Ten Leopard Features

1. Boot Camp - Boot Camp lets you run Windows on your Mac. Simply create a new partition, install Windows and then install the included drivers and you'll be up and running. Lots of computers run Windows, but only a Mac can run Mac OS X and Windows.

2. Time Machine - This is automated backup, Apple style. Time Machine automatically backs up changes to every file, and easily and quickly lets you restore. Let's say for example, you delete a contact by accident. Simply start Time Machine and you can search your history to find that contact. Hit restore and your contact will be back in your address book.

3. Mail - The updated Mail client is now full featured and includes Notes and To-Dos (also accessible in iCal). But better than that, Mail now comes with stationary. Stationary lets you create high quality HTML compatible email, so making your email stand out just got a whole lot easier.

4. Parental Controls - Leopard now features advanced parental controls that give parents greater abilities to control what their kids do on the computer. With simple setup, you can manage, monitor and control the time your kids spend on your Mac, the sites they visit and the people they chat with.

5. Spaces - Have you ever run out of room on your screen? Spaces to the rescue. Spaces allows you to group applications and work on them with a single screen focus. You can create as many spaces as you want, and easily move between them with a mouse click or a keyboard shortcut.

6. iChat - iChat, Apples easy to use audio/video chat program just got a whole lot more exciting. With better audio quality (AAC-LD) iChat chats will sound much clearer. Also, iChat now lets you change the backdrop of the chat, so you can pretend you are somewhere more exciting then the office. iChat also now supports multi-tabbed conversations, animated buddy icons and multiple logins.

7. iCal - iCal, Apples calender application just became a whole lot prettier, with in-line appointment editing and a whole new look.

8. More security - With tagged application downloading any application downloaded to your Mac is tagged. Before it runs for the first time, the system asks for your consent — telling you when it was downloaded, what application was used to download it, and, if applicable, what URL it came from.

9. Quick Look - Quick Look lets you look most common documents without opening the program first. Simply select the document and press the space bar for a full size preview of the document. This feature is a real time-saver.

10. Front Row - Front Row gives you instant access to all your media in a full screen interface. Front Row works just like Apple TV and you control it from a distance using the Apple Remote that came with your Mac (if you don't have a remote you can still use it with the keyboard).