Saturday, 29 August 2009

Snow Leopard in my Mac: Latest version of Mac OS

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

Yesterday saw the public release of the latest version of the Mac OS, that is the Operating System for Macintosh computers. This is OS X.6 (the sixth iteration of OS 10, the X is the Roman numeral for 10 and should be pronounced as ten), mostly know as Snow Leopard, following on the big cats used to identify different iterations of OS X since its first release in 2002: Cheetah (a very short lived debut version), Panther, Jaguar, Tiger, Leopard. The release of OS X, and every new iteration, have marked a constant revival of Apple which lost its way after the breakthrough of the first Macintosh computer in 1984.

Snow Leopard is being sold as an upgrade for Mac computer users, who already have Leopard, as well as coming ready installed in new mac computers, The DVD which upgrades Leopard also upgrades Tiger, though Apple does not advertise this. Snow Leopard will only work on Macs with Intel chips, and not the older Macs using PC World chips. The upgrade DVD is 25 US dollars in America, and somewhat more in other countries, but in case is still very cheap for a new OS in all countries.

Anyone using a pre-Tiger version of OS X needs to get a much more expensive set of installation DVDs for Snow Leopard and the latest versions of iLife and iWork. ILife is the set of lifestyle applications which comes preinstalled on all Macintosh computers, and includes iTunes, iWeb (which I’m using to create this post), iPhoto, Garageband and iMovie. iWork is the Apple equivalent to Microsoft Office (Pages is the Word equivalent, Keynote is the Powerpoint equivalent, Numbers is the Excel equivalent), but with the same kind of advantages over Office that the Mac OS has over Windows, that is great user friendliness, intuitiveness, and aesthetic qualities. iWork is not preinstalled in Mac computers, but is cheaper than Office. iWork opens all Office files and all iWork files can be exported as Office files.

I installed Snow Leopard yesterday. The default setting for the DVD is upgrade rather than clean install, which means changing the OS while leaving all applications, files and settings in the hard drive so that they work as before once the install is completed. Clean install means deleting everything from the hard drive, so that everything needs to be backed up before the install. The backup can be done very easily in Leopard, using the Time Machine application and an external hard drive.

Some techies on Apple oriented sites claim they get a better result from clean install than upgrade. I suspect that this is because these are people who have far more in the way of third party software, applications and hacks into the OS, than average users. I have some third party apps, but very little which hacks into the OS, maybe only iStat Menu which displays a wide variety of information about what the computer is doing on the menu bar. The upgrade went very smoothly, and took no more than an hour and a half between inserting the install disc and the computer finishing its house keeping after it reboots the computer onto Snow Leopard.

The only loss I have is that iStat Menu is not working at at present, though iStat Pro (free to download despite the Pro designation) is working on the Console with all the same functions. A Snow Leopard compatible version of iStat Menu is promised soon from

Looking at the Mac orientated web sphere, and reports from independent PC websites and magazines, most people have had a very quick and trouble free experience, but as with anything else involving computers there is no 100% guarantee of a problem free experience. Looking at the evidence, I would say that you have to be extremely unlucky to have a bad experience. The sources also agree that the Snow Leopard runs nearly everything more quickly, though this may not always be noticeable as a 10-30% saving of time on an operation which takes less than a minute may not be subjectively noticeable, All the same those savings to add up to meaningful saving of time for the user. I haven’t checked times, but the computer has been feeling snappy since the upgrade.

Anyone upgrading from Windows Vista (or XP) to the Windows 7, which will be released in a few weeks, is going to have to go for a clean install and therefore back up everything before starting the upgrade.

What are the gains? Most of the changes between Leopard and Snow Leopard are concerned with increasing performance and stability, both of which were already very good. Snow Leopard is fully adapted to 64 bit computers, and has a new system for running programs with maximum efficiency, Grand Central Dispatch.

On the User Interface, there are the following useful changes.

Exposé (which brings up a grid of all windows in use) has a better display.

Playing Mp3s in Safari has a difference visual interface, including indication of time left and time used.

Several gigabytes of space on the hard drive are saved as Snow Leopard is more economical in its demands on system space.

System preferences has a few new options.

Minimising windows can now be done into the App icons on the Dock, which I really like. I prefer a clean Dock with large easily visible icons, so I don’t use stacks and I prefer minimised windows to not take up space on the dock which shrinks the icon sizes. Control and click while the cursor is over the App icon gives a clear indication of which windows have been minimised.

Time settings can now automatically adjust to the the region the computer is in, which I have chosen, and is part of the increasing integration of online Wifi enabled capacities into the OS.

If you have a Macintosh computer then Snow Leopard is very much worth the price. If you still use Windows, or belong to the small crew of Linux users, Snow Leopard increases the reason to go over to the Apple side.

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