Impressions of Mac OS X Leopard (UPDATED)

Last week, Apple released their latest operating system, Mac OS X Leopard []. A lot of the marketing for Leopard has targeted Microsoft's spectacular flop known as Vista [] (which was five years in the making, and was one of the most boring and humdrum OS releases in the past ten years—a far cry from the release of Windows 95). And comparing the two, Leopard has a ton of features that are much more practical and usable than Vista.

Leopard Retail Box

One of the best features of Leopard—a feature that beats, hands-down, any feature you'll find in Vista for typical computer users—is Time Machine. This automatic backup solution is so easy, I'd feel comfortable letting my grandma use it on her computer without me having to help her at all! It's a well known fact that most people don't back up their files, even if they have tons of pictures and videos that would be lost forever without a backup. Time Machine solves this problem by being (a) fully automated, to the point that the user clicks one button to have a full and up-to-date backup of his whole drive every hour and (b) extremely fast. Apparently, the UNIX technologies OS X uses [] allow for this quick, full and transparent backup system to work.

Of the other features, including Spaces, the new Dock, Stacks, Safari 3, etc., the best is not technically a feature, but is the 'new life' injected into my MacBook Pro; Leopard performs most tasks noticably faster than Tiger (10.4) did. Spotlight searches are truly instantaneous almost all the time. Opening Photoshop CS3 takes 5 seconds instead of 8. iCal opens up in about 2 seconds instead of 6. Everything feels snappier and more repsonsive. This has been my experience with every single OS X upgrade on any computer I've owned—you truly do 'buy your Mac a new Mac' (Apple's tagline for Leopard) when you upgrade the OS.

Unintuitive Stacks

Leopard is not, however, without a few flaws. One of the worst is the redesigned Dock with its new Stacks feature. In Tiger and previous OS X incarnations, you could right-click a folder in the Dock and quickly navigate anywhere in that folder. In Leopard, you must click on the folder (which isn't actually a folder; it's a hard-to-identify stack), which pops up a listing of the folder's contents. If you want to navigate beyond that folder, you must click on one of the folders inside to open up a window in the Finder. Fortunately, holding down the Command (Apple) key will simply open the Stack folder in the Finder... but why did Apple feel obliged to take away the quick browsing feature from the Dock? I would at least like the option of making a non-stack folder in the Dock.

Another problem with the Dock is its ridiculous (at least, in my opinion) new 'mirror-like' behavior. Instead of a nice, unobtrusive container for all your programs, folders and Trash, it is now (by default) a shiny quasi-3D shelf upon which your programs float. If you move a window near it, it starts reflecting the window, making it hard to see if an Application is open or hidden. Luckily, I found that you can switch the dock to a more pleasing form factor using the Terminal. Open up a Terminal window and type in after the prompt (represented here by a % sign):

% defaults write no-glass -boolean YES
% killall Dock

[UPDATE: It seems that the next Leopard update (10.5.2) should address this issue, allowing for the old navigational folder menu to be retained. Kudos to Apple for listening to customer feedback... but the feature still should've been there in the first place.]

In all, though, there are so many great reasons to upgrade to Leopard, especially if you have an Intel Mac. Everything looks more refined, performs faster, and (so far, for me) is more stable than Tiger. Not that I ever had a kernel panic (translated: crash) with Tiger, but sometimes a spinning rainbow would annoy me to the point that I'd force-restart. I haven't yet had that happen in Leopard.

Leopard can be purchased at the Apple Store for $129 retail, $199 for a 5-user family pack, or $109 for students and teachers; it's included free with any new Mac. (Update: has Leopard for $109 for anyone).