Mac OS X 10.5, also known as "Leopard," has been greatly anticipated by Apple's loyal fans, especially since last June (when it was originally scheduled to be released). Today, Apple finally released Leopard to the public, adding a wide range of new features to Mac OS X.
Installation Installation of Leopard on my MacBook was fairly straightforward. I was initially perplexed by the fact that the list of disks available for installation simply didn't have my internal hard drive listed at all, not even as a "non-eligible" drive. I eventually realized that I simply needed to give the Installer a couple more minutes to process, and my hard disk eventually popped up normally.
Once I got past my initial confusion, the installation process completed in its entirety in 58 minutes, without requiring any further user interaction. This is a fairly average amount of time for an installation by Mac OS standards, but it is still a welcome change from the installation process for Microsoft Windows - even under Vista, the Windows installer seems to give endless messages saying things like, "Please reboot twelve more times and then buy a new computer."
Time Machine One of the most-discussed new features of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard is that it now includes a backup program, called Time Machine. In my tests, Time Machine was remarkably seamless and easy to set up; simply open the preference pane, designate a hard disk for storing backups (you will indeed need a separate hard disk to use Time Machine, but this is really the only sensible way it could've worked), and either choose frequency settings for how often backups should be made or simply accept the defaults.
That's it - once you've done that, Time Machine will work quietly in the background, automatically making backups as needed. The biggest appeal here is that Time Machine is so built-in and automatic that it all but eliminates excuses like, "I would back up, but I don't have time or I never remember."
After you have backups stored, the Time Machine program shows a somewhat CoverFlow-like interface depicting different points in time, allowing you to "rewind" your Mac back to the exact status it was in at the stored times. Did you accidentally erase a bunch of important files, and now you want to put your Mac back to the way it was yesterday? You got it. Or maybe you realized that you did a bunch of work incorrectly this week, and now you want to go back to the way your Mac was a week ago? Done. Perhaps you accidentally said something stupid to your boss, and you wish you could go back in time and fix it? Uh... you're still on your own for that one.
Stacks have been billed as a new organizing tool and perhaps even a way to revolutionize your workflow. Descriptions like that sound cool, but don't really explain exactly what a Stack is. Basically, Stacks are a new way to handle folders that you've stored in your Dock. Instead of bringing up a pop-up menu, clicking a folder in your Dock now displays a preview area (the "Stack") with up to 26 icons from within the folder, along with a "Show In Finder" icon if you need to see more icons beyond 26. You can click and drag on the icons in the Stack to manage your files and folders in a manner similar to other Finder windows.
QuickLook is simple enough that you could easily overlook it altogether, but it is actually extremely powerful. If you have a file highlighted in the Finder, simply press the space bar, and a preview of the file pops up instantly. It works for pictures, video, audio, web pages, PDFs, and other common formats. The preview appears VERY fast, making QuickLook a huge time-saver compared to opening the file in a full-fledged application.
Perhaps a leopard can't change its spots, but Leopard certainly makes a few nice changes to Spotlight. For example, typing in the name of an application will now result in a Top Hit option of opening that application, making Spotlight usable as a powerful launcher utility. The application will appear almost instantaneously, even if your Mac is still processing additional items to show in the search results. Spotlight also now has a built-in calculator - so, for example, if you want to know what 13 times 12 is, just enter 13*12 into Spotlight, and the Top Hit will be "13*12 = 156." No need to open any programs, or even the Dashboard.
Finally, the Dashboard now supports Boolean logic operators in searches, so you can use AND, OR, and NOT to narrow down the results. This is a handy enhancement for power users.
A New Look
Apple has given Leopard a general makeover since Tiger, with menus and windows primarily using a more industrial-looking Brushed Metal style. Many icons have been redesigned, and the Dock also has a refined appearance (including having its very own shadow). As most people probably already know, the Finder adds a new "Cover Flow" View mode to let you flip through your files similarly to the way Cover Flow in iTunes lets you flip through your music, and the sidebar for Finder windows has also been enhanced.
You can use the Spaces feature to create multiple virtual desktops in case you have generated too much clutter for just one desktop (which usually takes me about 14 seconds). You can also snip a section of any web page to use as a Dashboard widget, although I found that Dashboard is still a little too slow to make it practical for frequent usage.
One complaint about Leopard echoed across multiple web sites usually says something along the lines of, "The new transparent menus are hard to read."
Well, transparent menus are actually not new - they've been around since Mac OS X 10.0, although it does appear that they are slightly more transparent than before in Leopard. I still find the menus to be legible, but my guess is that it won't take much work for someone to find a way to alter the alpha value (transparency level) for the menus.
Mail.app also has some new enhancements, most notably that you can now subscribe to RSS feeds from within Mail.app, which, in my opinion, makes more sense than viewing them in Safari, although the Safari method is also still available and has been given a facelift that actually makes it look a bit more like Mail.app.
Boot Camp is also now included with the OS and no longer considered a "beta," although it has been only slightly modified from the version available for Tiger.
What Hasn't Changed
Some aspects of your Mac life will not be greatly affected by installing Leopard. For example, although Apple did release a compatibility update yesterday, iLife applications generally work the same way as before. Programs like iMovie, iDVD, and iTunes (including the iTunes Store and syncing with your iPod or iPhone) will continue to work the same way they do under Tiger, except that Apple has now blocked custom phone books for iPhones so you must use Apple's phone book to call only approved phone numbers (just kidding!!).
There have been numerous concerns voiced about possible compatibility issues with Mac OS X programs, but in my testing, I have so far found only one program that doesn't work with Leopard (a freeware password manager called KeePassX). FileMaker has also announced that FileMaker products are not yet Leopard-ready, but for the most part, the vast majority of programs either already worked correctly with Leopard or have already been updated. Most third-party programs are essentially unchanged under Leopard and will continue to work the same way they always have. (Some programs, such as DragThing, automatically update their appearances to match the brushed-metal look of other Leopard applications.)
Leopard is another surefire hit in the Mac OS X line. Users of Tiger have almost nothing to lose by upgrading, but they will gain hundreds of new features in addition to the ones they already use. Leopard will run on any Mac with an Intel or PowerPC G5 processor, or any Mac with a G4 processor that runs at least 867 MHz. Leopard requires only 512 MB of RAM (although I would personally recommend getting about as much RAM for your computer as you possibly can, for just about any operating system) and about 9 GB of free disk space, plus a DVD drive to read the (single) installation disc. The suggested retail price of Leopard is the standard $129, and it is available from Apple's retail stores and as well as their online store. Unless your Mac (or your budget) cannot support Leopard, there is simply no reason not to get it.