If you haven’t already pre-ordered the new upgrade to the current OSX Leopard, it is officially out in the wild today. With that being said, there’s a good number of you who just simply are holding on to your $29 because you are afraid that Snow Leopard’s new bite isn’t worth the cash. Let’s take a look and see what the changes are to the interface, and why you should (or shouldn’t) shell out the bills. But first, a few notes.
“Refined, not Reinvented”
Hence the simple addition of “Snow” to the title, Snow Leopard isn’t as big of a change as Tiger to Leopard was in the sense that you won’t see a lot of functional changes in the way you perform everyday tasks.
Snow Leopard has been re-worked to make use of 64-bit processing, which essentially allows machines that have room for more than 4GB (roughly) of memory to take advantage of that extra memory more efficiently, more often. In theory, 64-bit processing can use up to 16 exabytes of RAM (16 billion GB). Snow Leopard can also accommodate up to 16 TB (for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, that’s 16,000 GB) of actual RAM, in practice. Another really important point: All of the built-in applications (Mail, iChat, Finder, etc.) are now 64-bit. Also, all of your 32-bit applications will work with Snow Leopard. The security of 64-bit processing is also increased. Quick note – this is only for Intel Macs. Sorry PowerPC users. Looks like your final destination is 10.5.8.
Other Backend Enhancements
There are a few other back-end enhancements worth noting.
- OpenCL – uses computing power of GPUs to increase performance of other tasks
- GCD – “Grand Central Dispatch” – optimization of multi-core processing.
Both advancements will be based on whether or not each particular user-installed application is created or updated with the capability of utilizing the new technologies.
While these advancements are important to check out, we’ll let you read more in-depth at Apple about those. We’re here to talk about the interface. (note: the back-end of the computer ALWAYS makes a difference to the front end, hence why we mentioned the advancements)
So, what about the UI?
There are some cool enhancements to take note of in the UI overall.
Perhaps the most important thing to me when using my OS is organization. While searching is already easy with Spotlight, I’d much rather know where something is. Stacks receives a much-needed upgrade with Snow Leopard. Now, you can navigate within folders AND you can have as many icons as necessary with the new addition of a scrollbar. Much better, Apple.
More Features for Finder
Good stuff here. With a new zoom bar at the bottom right of the Finder window, you can look at icons a little closer, a little easier. Also, faster icon refresh rates make Finder that much better. In Leopard, Apple introduced Quick Look, which allowed the user to look at a file easily without really doing much. Now, some of these QuickLook functions can be done inside a finder window icon. Particularly, you can check out a multipage document or preview a QuickTime movie. (It’s just one button less pushing, but hey… we all like to be a bit lazier, right?)
Brand New QuickTime
Apple introduces QuickTimeX with Snow Leopard. A couple of expected enhancements to QuickTime are also packaged with Snow Leopard, and a couple of not-so-expected enhancements have found their way there as well. Tip: QuickTime is also used across the entire OS, so an upgrade will more than likely bring along newer technology/plugins/enhancements within Safari and other programs that use QuickTime to display media.
- Audio/Video Recording and Simple Editing
- Slick Interface Enhancements
- More Featured Video Export
- Takes Full Advantage of New Features in Snow Leopard
Previously available to QuickTime Pro owners, you may now use your audio/video input to record in QuickTime. Equally exciting for anyone who does screencasts, you may also now use QuickTime to record screen activity. There is also simple video editing, ala the iPhone 3GS.
Cool little feature – when you roll your mouse out of the QuickTime window, the interface fades out so that you can focus on the video playing.
Okay, not necessarily an interface enhancement, but nonetheless fairly important. You can now export directly to specified formats for iPod, iPhone, or AppleTV. Also, directly upload to YouTube or MobileMe accounts without wading through which codec is best for which service.
The features we mentioned earlier – Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL – are utilized in the display performance to help smooth out playback, especially of higher-quality video, which previously was apt to stutter.
Anything you don’t like?
Okay, okay… I admit, I am a Mac user/fan. I’m not one of those nutcases that burns PCs on the weekends as a recreational activity, nor as a psychological release… That’s my neighbor. But seriously, with everything good, there almost ALWAYS is something bad. In this case, it is a few of Apple’s newest Exposé tweaks. One cool part about the tweaks is that you can click and hold on any application in the dock to show the Exposé-ized windows of that application. Very intuitive. However, Exposé now shows all windows at much closer to the same dimension. Check it out.
Notice how the windows in Exposé are a little more proportional in the older interface. Sure, the grid-based interface idea is probably “better” – but sometimes, the chaos of Exposé is part of what made it easy to use (in my personal opinion). I know about how big my open windows are, even while shuffled. Knowing the size of the windows is a much faster determining factor when choosing which window to switch to, rather than having to read each and every label for the windows. Maybe there will be a tweak later, but for now, that’s one point for the anti-upgraders.
One more important feature…
Again, not so much aesthetic interface, but rather on a larger scale, Snow Leopard enables Microsoft Exchange compatibility with its included (native) applications, including Mail, iCal, and Address Book. This allows for a much more integrated experience for users who take their Mac to a Windows-based workplace every day, as well as users with iPhones who have taken full advantage of Google Calendar and Google Contacts by utilizing Exchange for calendar and contact synchronization (read how to do this here).
Well, this one isn’t too tough to figure out folks. Minus the obvious facts (this isn’t for PC users, and only works on Intel Macs), this well-planned upgrade from Apple is easily worth $29. A good reference point is a QuickTime Pro purchase, which was $30… With Snow Leopard, you get the functionality of QuickTime Pro, plus a good number of other interface features (even more than what are listed here). On top of it, you get an extra dollar for Taco Bell. And you are kept up-to-date so that if your favorite software developer decides to take advantage of Apple’s new 64-bit, OpenCL, or GCD technology, you are ready to get the most out of their newest software. Not to mention the added security, speed, and Exchange support… It’s a no brainer.
Drop the $29, either now or later when your parents have had it for long enough to bug you about how to use Photo Booth.
Family pack upgrade, for 5 users who are currently using Leopard, is $44 on Amazon, while the single user upgrade is $29 straight from Apple. If you are using Tiger, you must buy the Mac Box Set, which is actually a very well priced deal itself at $169. It includes iWork 09 and iLife 09, as well as an install of Snow Leopard from Tiger, for $169. Check it out here.
Hopefully this has been somewhat educational, and will help you make your decision on whether to upgrade to Snow Leopard!
Note: Fuel is in no way affiliated with Apple Inc. All Apple logos and/or trademarks are property of Apple Inc. Fuel was not compensated for this review.