Like many an Apple user I’d been looking forward to getting my hands on Snow Leopard for a while, perhaps since Bertrand Serlet’s presentation at WWDC 2008 announcing “zero new features”. That might sound silly but the vibe given was clearly that Apple weren’t planning to mess with the user interface too much but instead focus on improving performance and tweaking existing functionality and that sounded great to me given that Leopard already catered for almost all of my OS requirements. So coupled with the “evolution not revolution” approach and the price announced at only $29 I was practically on the edge of my seat with anticipation.
The install ran well enough, I was a bit confused at first about whether the default mode was an “upgrade in place” or an “erase and reinstall” because the installer no longer offers a choice – the default is an upgrade in place so you don’t have to worry too much about losing all of your date (though it’s always worth backing up first). On my old Black MacBook I chose to erase the disk manually and do a fresh installation, mainly because I don’t tend to store much data on there so it was easy to back it up and I wanted to see how it worked from scratch – I didn’t have to worry about losing the iLife suite either because I lost that in the upgrade from Tiger to Leopard anyway. I was watching TV and doing other things so I don’t really know how long it took but it was probably a shade over half an hour for a slightly tweaked install, my 24″ iMac however took at least an hour but I did do an upgrade in place (too many apps to reinstall otherwise) and imagine that’s a little more complicated. The only incompatibility I encountered (constantly being asked for Admin password) was something called Plug Suit, it came as part of Afloat – a great little utility to keep selected windows on top of everything else but sadly does not work with Snow Leopard, a few Googles later and I managed to remove the plugin (instructions here).
On first boot you could quite easily think “hold on a minute, this is Leopard” because nothing really seems to have changed, the Welcome video and the nebula desktop are exactly the same, I even went to About This Mac to check that the version number had been upped from 10.5 to 10.6 (it had) to make sure I was actually using Snow Leopard. I really think Apple missed a trick here, for a company that’s usually so focused on marketing and user perception it seems bizarre to me that they wouldn’t take this opportunity to reinforce the value of the purchase in the customer’s mind by having an even cooler welcome video and a brand new (maybe very similar) default desktop background. I also think there should have been a (skippable) video or slideshow demonstrating “What’s new in Snow Leopard” just to help people appreciate the benefits they’ve got from the time and money they’ve put into the upgrade, it’s not that it’s really much money or time but I consider the fact that Apple didn’t do something like this as a ball dropped.
So you’ve probably guessed already that in the first instance I was a little disappointed, I even went to Apple’s Snow Leopard Refinements site to see what I could test and play with to get some inspiration. After using Snow Leopard for about half an hour though I was pretty certain of the speed improvements, even performing simple activities such as running the mouse along the Dock and opening TextEdit so I began to think to myself that for $29 (or in my case £39 for a 5-license Family Pack) the upgrade was worthwhile for the peformance increase alone.
It took a few days but I slowly began to realise that I was begining to feel the benefits of Snow Leopard, beyond the performance increases it’s the little changes that started to make a difference in how I used the OS. The most noticable change to me is that Exposé is now much cleaner and clearer, previously in Leopard the window arrangement was haphazard and therefore harder to comprehend in a split-second. I noticed that rather than command-tabbing through apps I kept coming back to Exposé, the new grid based layout is much clearer and makes it possible to switch tasks in sub-second times. I can’t really see what use I’ll get out of the Dock Exposé or the new Stacks as I’ve never really found a need for them in my workflow but they’re pretty slick and I guess it’s nice to know they’re there. The same goes for many of the other features although I’m quite excited about the potential applications developers might find for some of the ‘under the hood’ functionality such as Grand Central Despatch, Open CL and the future of 64-bit computing. I guess the new Quicktime is pretty sweet with its YouTube integration and screen/cam capturing but I’m not really planning to be the next LonelyGirl15 just yet so I’m not sure if I need that either.
If I were asked whether or not to upgrade right now I’d say almost certainly yes to home users but ‘wait’ to anyone that uses the Mac for their work, it’s still early days in terms of finding compatibility problems which is always a worry if your livlihood depends on your IT infrastructure. Other than that, I think it’s a great OS and I’ll look forward to making the comparison to Windows 7 when I get my pre-ordered copy in October.