Apple Archive

Leopard Different, a Bit Buggy, but Worth the Upgrade

- 2007.11.02

Unlike some Mac users, I decided to install Leopard on the day of its release. I've generally had good luck with Apple operating systems being "reasonable stable" upon release and figured that 10.5 would probably be no exception.

For the most part I was right: It's stable, pretty fast and generally does what Tiger did before it in the same ways. It's not without it's issues, and that's what I aim to explore in this article.

I first installed it on my Power Mac G5 Dual 1.8 GHz with 1.25 GB of RAM. It installed in roughly 30 minutes and rebooted to the "Aurora" screen. Boot time is comparable to Tiger, though they removed the screen that showed "Welcome to Macintosh, loading...", and now it boots directly to the login screen or desktop, depending on how you have your preferences set up.

Next I installed it on my 2.2 GHz MacBook Pro with 2 GB of RAM, and the installation took about the same amount of time - and again went flawlessly.

The upgrades put me back to a desktop that looked just like the Tiger ones I had left behind. There were a few significant differences, however.

The Dock

The Dock has been reworked and restyled to resemble a floating glass shelf, along which applications are neatly arranged, showing a reflection underneath. A single beam of "light" tells you whether the application is open.

I have a few issues with this arrangement. Firstly, it feels like it takes up more space than the previous Dock, and it certainly isn't as "unified" as it was when it was a "box". The "light" beams are hard to see when compared to certain applications reflections. The best instance of this would be with iTunes: Open iTunes, and you'll find it's harder to see the "light" beam than it is on Photoshop CS3, for example.

The other new feature of the Dock is choice of the "fan" and "grid" view for folders that have been dragged to the Dock. While very pretty, it's not too useful unless you only have a few things in the folder. Personally, I liked to keep my Documents folder in the Dock and browse through it and it's containing folders using the nesting menus. There's no option to revert to the old menus, and I find myself frustrated at having to open the folder and look through it in the Finder.

A new Downloads folder has been placed in the Dock, and it has become the default download location of Safari. Sorry, but I want things on my desktop when I download them - personal preference - but this could help people who find it hard to keep their desktop free of clutter.

The Finder

Leopard folders in the DockThe folders! Someone has changed the folders! Apparently to whoever designed these atrocities, "understated" equals "boring". Without the colorful pictures on the Applications, Library, System, and Users folder, I find myself doing a double take to see which folders they are. The folders also look like boxes to me, which is more of a frustration than anything else.

The sidebar in the Finder has been reworked, because apparently the old one was just too simple. Now everything is smaller, for those who felt the fonts in Tiger were too big. They've also organized it by Devices, Places, and Search For. "Search For"? Why is that there? Why can't I just use the box at the top of the Finder window to search and edit my search preferences from there? What about the icon in the upper right menu bar corner for search? I don't search for things that often on my computer! I do, however like how they integrated search into the "Save as..." dialogues in applications.

The biggest and most appreciated advance in the Finder is the CoverFlow organization like in iTunes. It nicely integrates iTunes with the rest of the OS and gives a nice preview of what the document looks like before you open it. This is amazing when it comes to viewing photos (it finally puts the Mac OS above Windows in this respect) and works nicely for viewing applications if you rely on the icon to recognize a program. I just wish that while the CoverFlow option were chosen, you could still view the objects below it as icons, instead of as a list.

Menus

A Leopard menuThis is my biggest complaint next to the Dock. The menus are now more translucent, and while in most applications this is fine, it can be distracting if certain windows (especially iTunes or the Finder) are behind the menu. The translucent menu bar is an interesting - and completely unnecessary - effect.

Printing

After I reinstalled my printer driver (why should I have to do this when I upgrade my OS and already had it installed under Tiger?), printing was smooth, with a newly-styled print monitor application with much more clearly labeled "add to queue", "start queue" and "stop" icons.

New Features

Perhaps one of the best things about Leopard is Spaces, where I can have more than one workspace at the same time. This means I can keep certain applications or certain windows of an application on their own screen. It's like having a virtual second, third, or fourth monitor. While it's nothing new, it's very nice to have it integrated with the OS.

Front Row is new to non-iMacs/MacBooks, and it's . . . relatively unnecessary. Why do I need this on my G5 when I've never even used it on my MacBook Pro? I don't even remember where I put that remote control....

Time Machine is the other big new feature, and one I realistically won't use. I'll admit I haven't even opened it yet.

Bugs

Unfortunately any new OS is not without it's bugs. The most noticeable and most curious of the ones I've noticed is that on my G5 I have a solid menu bar at the top of the screen, not the translucent one that appears on my MacBook Pro. Conventional explanation would be that my video card is not CoreImage or CoreAnimation supported - but it is!

There is a set of discussions on the Apple Forums that seems to have narrowed it down to a bug on certain video cards. Not major, but somewhat annoying - you'd think since the GeForce 5200 was so widely used on Macs, they would have tested it.

I've also found that my MacBook Pro likes to randomly wake up and go to sleep again while the lid is closed. Usually it doesn't happen, but last night it did it repeatedly until I woke it up and restarted it. Very strange behavior.

I've also read reports that there are holes in the built-in firewall (which is disabled by default), which I am hoping Apple is working on. While there are no exploits right now, it's best not to leave such a thing as an open invitation.

Summing Up

Leopard is definitely an improvement on Tiger; there is no doubt about that. Performance on my G5 is about the same as Tiger, and memory management is vastly improved. On my MacBook Pro, it flies.

It's also still better in many ways than Windows Vista (though Vista has a few nice features that 10.5 lacks). However, unlike Vista, it doesn't "scale down" to meet slower computers, and you need a relatively recent Mac to run it (technically an 866 MHz Mac, though the closest thing actually shipped was an 867 MHz). I was surprised at the requirements: Since Tiger ran on such a wide range of machines, I was expecting a G4 processor at any speed as a cutoff.

Regardless of that, Leopard is a must-have if you have an Intel Mac, and a "seriously consider" if you have a PowerPC, especially if you'd like to breathe some new life into an older Power Mac that's starting to become stale.

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