Leopard Review

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Now I know everyone who has a lick of common sense understands you never load up a new operating system until all the kinks are worked out.  Right?

Well, I must admit I just could not help myself.  I found myself in line Friday night and going home with my shiny new Leopard disc.  I ran one last SuperDuper clone and in went the Leopard DVD.  I did a simple "upgrade" type of install and about an hour later my MacBook Pro had all sorts of shiny new baubles to play with.

I know that a lot of the improvements to Leopard are under-the-hood with Core Animation and a host of other new goodies for code jockies.  I thought for today however, I would just discuss some of the new user features and my initial experiences with them.

The upgrade to Apple Mail is fantastic.  Now we can easily read email and pull out notes, to-dos, and other information all in one application.  If you are using IMAP, these items also pop onto your iPhone or web mail client.  As an aside this is not the native iPhone task list manager we are waiting for but it is a start.  Leopard Mail's ability to pull data out of an email for your address book and calendar is really impressive.  I reconnected this week with an old friend in Seattle.  He sent me his various new addresses and numbers and with one click I had it all in my address book.  No more endless copy and paste.  I know some people hate html email but I like it when not overdone.  I don't see myself sending all email out on the new mail stationary but I definitely will be using it.  I've already found excuses to do so.

One of the features that I've quickly become reliant upon is Spaces.  Because I work exclusively on a laptop it isn't convenient or practical for me to hook up to an addition external monitor very often.  Spaces allows you to create up to 16 virtual desktops that you can navigate using the control and arrow keys.  I have four virtual screens on my machine in a grid of two by two.  One screen keeps my iCal and OmniFocus windows.  Another window holds my mail and iChat window and a third window keeps my other internet applications and browsers.  The last screen is used for whatever else I need.  I've configured it so I always know which virtual space my key applications will open in.  It is much more efficient for me to bounce around virtual screens than drill through multiple windows and minimize buttons to get to what I need.  Spaces has surprised me in just how helpful it is.

Time Machine's best feature is its simplicity.  You plug in a drive.  Leopard says, "do you want to back up?" and you click "yes".  If you don't have the discipline or desire to have a detailed backup system, get yourself an external drive and have at it.  I've actually got enough space on one of my external drives to make a SuperDuper clone and have a Time Machine partition.  Because I am constantly overwriting my SuperDuper backup, I never have data on it much older than a few days.  With Time Machine, if I realize I goofed something up last month, I can recover it.  I really view Time Machine as complimentary to SuperDuper and not necessarily a replacement.  That being said, for my wife, who is not nearly as anal about backing up as I am, Time Machine is a godsend.  It would be nice for us laptop folks if we could have our Time Machine backups on the AirPort drives.  I understand that was in the beta at one point and hopefully it will find its way back in.

There is a bit of controversy about Leopard's translucent menu bar and drops downs.  I actually like them.  They really don't bother me at all and they  aren't so translucent as to get in the way.   I put a few screen grabs up at MacSparky.  Likewise I don't find the reflective dock all that troublesome either.  I think this is a personal preference thing and you really need to decide that for yourself.  Regardless, I think I understand Apple's desire to make things look different.

The changes in Finder are also a welcome improvement.  I was with a PC friend recently and we were flipping though finder in the cover flow view and pulling photos up with Quick Look.  I think he is about ready to switch on that feature alone.  Quick Look is one of those features that, once you try, it would be really hard going without.  I would like to see its use expanded throughout the OS like the open/save dialogue and any other place you are presented with an icon.

I know Automator also received some beefy upgrades.  While I've blogged a few Automator scripts, the addition of the recording feature has raised it to a new level.  I think it is about time for me to dive neck deep into Automator.

Networking and sharing also got a lot easier.  I can now plug into my office windows network for the first time.  I never could manage the connection with my Tiger rig and my office's IT guys were clueless on all things Apple.  It also finds and discards network connections with much more grace than Tiger did.  No longer do I get that long beach ball in the morning when booting up from the office after forgetting to manually disconnect Tiger from my AirPort drive at home.

My kids are really enjoying the new Photo Booth and iChat backgrounds.  They've already made home movies of themselves in front of the Eiffel Tower and walking on the moon.  They have also figured out how to pull backgrounds from their favorite telephone shows and movies and "walk through".  The effectiveness of these backgrounds depends a lot on how noisy the actual background is.  On this your mileage may vary.

My transition into Leopard has been very easy.  When I first booted up Leopard, I had an issue where the Search window kept randomly appearing and I was getting worried Tim would be able to give me the old "I told you so" speach until I realized I was sitting on my mouse.  Doh!  It is now installed on all the Macs in my house and we have not had any issues.  The only two applications that I am missing from Tiger are Mail Act-On and SuperDuper but both developers are saying their Leopard releases are imminent.  With the user improvements and the very substantial system and programming improvements I don't think it will be long before most people that would read this review are using Leopard.  It retails for $129 or you can get a family pack of five for $199.