Miscellaneous Ramblings

Charles Moore Finally Installs Snow Leopard

Charles Moore - 2010.04.19 - Tip Jar

I'm coming rather later to the party this time than is usual even for stick-in-the-mud me: Over the weekend I finally got around to installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard on my Unibody MacBook, after having had the install DVD hanging around for more than two weeks waiting for me to find a spare moment.

Actually, it was a spare three or four hours, which is the amount of time it took to run the installer, download the 10.6.2 update, install that, and get things organized and up and running. Much of that time was simply waiting while I went about doing other things and the installer and downloader did their stuff.

Not Abandoning 10.5

I haven't burned my bridges to OS X 10.5 Leopard just yet. One of the advantages of having a partitioned hard drive is that one can have two or more operating systems installed on the same computer simultaneously. That is what I did in this case, installing the new system on my second partition, which had remained pretty much empty, save for a bit of file archive storage, since I bought the machine a little over a year ago.

It's a 40 GB partition on a 160 GB hard drive, and with the installation complete, including importing my user files and settings from 10.5 on the other partition, which took as long as or longer than the initial install itself, I have some 10 GB of free space left - no more than enough in my estimation, but it should be adequate for trying out Snow Leopard before making a total commitment, which I'm glad I didn't for reasons I'll get to in a moment.

The installation and file transfers ran flawlessly, as did the 10.6.2 update. I downloaded the 10.6.2 Combo Update rather than two incremental updater's that would've been necessary, since I prefer to use the combo updates rather than software update or single increment versions anyway.

It's very early days yet, and I'm surprised by how little difference I've noticed thus far - and such differences as have been noted are mostly negative for me.

A Few Observations

Most of the stuff I rely on for production does seem to work with Snow Leopard, a glaring exception being WindowShade X, which I was aware of going in and has been one of the biggest inhibiting factors, leaving me in no hurry to upgrade. In fact, I'm inclined to think I will probably go back to OS 10.5 for day-to-day use, at least provisionally, because of it. I was informed by LEM reader John Muir last week that WindowShade X - or, more specifically, Unsanity Software's application enhancer system add-on - may never be supported by OS X versions later than 10.5.8 due to Apple's deliberately making that sort of tweak difficult or impossible. We shall see.

If that is really the case, then I am profoundly annoyed with Apple for breaking one of the best and most useful tools in my production suite and for which there is no adequate substitute - certainly not collapsing open windows to the Dock, which I absolutely revile.

MacSpeech Dictate Glitches

However, 10.6 problems aren't limited to WindowShade X. I was surprised to discover that Snow Leopard appears to have introduced a major issue with MacSpeech Dictate, which I'm using to draft this column, frequently dropping or scrambling letters at the end of sentences. I'm running Dictate version 1.5.8, which is the latest available and affirmed as the OS 10.6 compatibility update, so I'm not sure what's going on there. Perhaps the 10.6.2 update, which was released well after Dictate 1.5.8, has broken something?

In the meantime, another good argument for switching back to 10.5 for a while yet.

Then there's Opera. I'm running the Opera 10.52 Beta 2, Build 8330, which introduced some flakiness even running in OS X 10.5.8 with regard to staying put in the Spaces panel where I want to keep it, instead showing up in every Space. However, I was able to corral it in Leopard by specifically assigning it to that Space using the Spaces System Preference panel. Unfortunately, that workaround does not work with Snow Leopard, so I'm obliged to either hide Opera when I'm not using it or collapse it to the Dock, which (as already noted) I detest doing. Tiresome.

At least the other two browsers I use regularly, Firefox 3.6 and whatever number the current Chrome Beta build is, seem to be working fine.

Rosetta Missing by Default

I was really surprised to discover that the Rosetta dynamic translator that lets PowerPC vintage Carbon applications run on the Intel version of OS X does not install by default and had to be downloaded separately, which fortunately worked fine in Software Update mode in the background, so I didn't have to wait or go through anymore reboots. This revelation manifested when I went to start up Tex-Edit Plus, which is my Jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-some do-all writing application that has no adequate substitute for my purposes.

Developer Tom Bender told me some time ago that he is working on a Intel-native version of TE+ as much as commitments to other projects and obligations permit, but there's been no new news of late, and hair-tearingly maddening for me is that Snow Leopard insists on opening TE+ documents in Text Edit when I double-click them. Since most of my data archives from the past 15 years or so - literally tens of thousands of documents - are stored in Tex-Edit Plus format, this poses major difficulties and inconvenience for me. Another really big argument for reverting to Leopard and hoping fervently that Tom B. gets that Intel-native rewrite of TE + out the door before 10.5 becomes too obsolete.

No Dramatic Change in Performance

As for general performance, I haven't noticed any really dramatic improvement. Finder response and application launches may be a bit livelier, but the difference isn't anything to get up in the night and write home about.

In the positive column. The MacBook does seem to run slightly cooler in Snow Leopard than it does in 10.5, (except for a single processor-intensive spike to 81°C) remaining mostly in the 60° to low 70°s even when running Dictate, which is happily below the cooling fan tip-in point, and (hooray!) the multiple input bug that's afflicted OS X since one of the Leopards (10.5.7 or 10.5.8) reintroduced it, much to the distress of those of us who use more than one pointing device simultaneously, does appear to have been squashed in Version 10.6.2, as reported by a reader last week.

Mixed Reaction

To summarize, this is a distinctly mixed set of early impressions, and I'm feeling vindicated in my laggardness about upgrading from Leopard. I'll keep checking Snow Leopard out for a few more days, but at this point I'm not perceiving any compelling reason not to - and plenty of strong reasons to - go back to reliable Leopard as my main production platform now that I have Snow Leopard available if I absolutely need it in order to test software that doesn't support pre-10.6 versions.

This is in contrast to my upgrade to Leopard from OS X 10.4 Tiger in the fall of 2007, which I found I liked enough to put up with the demise of OS X Classic Mode and WindowShade X being broken by that upgrade too, although Unsanity was able to get a compatible version out the door within five months.

Snow Leopard has already been out longer than that.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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