On August 28th, Apple released its latest version of their Macintosh operating system, OS X 10.6 'Snow Leopard'. Apple showed off Snow Leopard during this year's WWDC event making it clear that this version would be more of a polish of the existing Leopard, OS X 10.5, than a feature laden upgrade. There actually are some new features and plenty of improvements in 10.6, but these few improvements may be overshadowed by other problems. The price is right for Snow Leopard, only $29 or $49 for the 5-license family pack. The big question is, do you really need to upgrade?
Instead of adding tons of new features, Apple decided to take OS X 10.5, Leopard, and rework old and outdated code. What this really means is that Apple took core elements, like the Finder, Mail, iChat, etc., and removed old legacy bits. The upshot, these core programs now launch and run faster and are smaller in size, which takes up less drive space. The downside is that Snow Leopard will only run on Intel-based Macs, no more PowerPC-based systems the G3, G4 and G5s are out.
The first thing most have noticed is that the Finder is much snappier. Apple Mail has also been updated to allow access to Microsoft Exchange Server mail systems. While this will not benefit most Mac users, those who use their Macs in a corporate environment Exchange is an important addition.
There are plenty, and I mean plenty, of tweaks to existing OS X software. I really like the fact that the Finder can now tell you exactly why it cannot eject a disc or volume from the desktop. Instead of saying "sorry you cannot eject this disk because it is busy" I am paraphrasing it now will say something useful like "This disk cannot be ejected because Quicktime is still using it."
Two programs have been greatly updated, Preview, Apple's image and PDF viewer, and Quicktime. Along with speed improvements in Preview there are improvements to search and the ability to annotate documents. Another improvement is in the way text is selected. In 10.5's Preview, selecting text grabbed all the text across the page. In 10.6, Preview allows you to select text in separate columns.
Probably the biggest change in Snow Leopard is with QuickTime. Apple didn't just update Quicktime for Snow Leopard they rewrote it from the ground up. While this new version makes for an amazingly powerful media player, with some nice new features, it does not have anywhere near the features of Quicktime 7 Pro (Quicktime 7 can easily be upgraded to Pro for only $29). QT 7 Pro has the ability to do basic editing of video files, plus the ability to transcode taking an MOV file and making it into an AVI or MPEG 4 file. During the installation process for Snow Leopard you do have the option to install Quicktime 7.
The new Quicktime X has a completely redesigned viewer. The player window is dark and semi-transparent with the window controls - close-minimize-maximize dots, and title bar inside the window. The transport controls play, pause, stop, etc. are contained in a floating movable tool. If you watch videos in iTunes then you know what this looks like.
While not as powerful as QT 7 Pro, Quicktime X does allow you to convert a video for use on your iPod, iPhone, Mobile Me, or You Tube. You can even trim the beginning and end of a clip, allowing at least some basic editing functionality.
Probably one of my favorite features in the new Quicktime X is screen capture. I regularly take snapshots of my Mac screen, or portions of it, to use in tutorials or other ways. Quicktime X now allows for screen recordings. Now you can create a video of what is happening on your Mac's screen. This is great for documenting or for training. Instead of writing page after page of how to do something on a Mac, just make a screen recording of the procedure. Now you have a video you can email, put on your website, or post to You Tube.
Unfortunately, there are some things that are broken in Snow Leopard. Some older software does seem to have problems running in Snow Leopard, like older versions of Photoshop, Parallels Desktop, Norton Antivirus, and EyeTV are just a few examples. Apple has a web page set up listing these and other programs that have compatibility problems with Snow Leopard support.apple.com/kb/HT3258.
To go along with software problems there are a few people who are having problems with older peripherals. This may be due to Snow Leopard's new code but may also be due to the offending driver not working in 32-Bit/64-Bit modes. Snow Leopard can run in either 32- or 64-bit modes, the default is 32-bit. To make sure your printer, scanner, or other peripherals you have attached to your Mac, keep working, go to the makers web site and see if they have new 10.6 driver software to download.
There are plenty of reasons to go ahead and upgrade to Snow Leopard. First, the price is amazing. You can upgrade a single Mac for $29 or if you have several, the Family Pack is good for up to five computers, is only $49. Improvements in speed and hopefully stability are huge benefits. There are just too many small tweaks to many of the core elements, like Dock Expose and Apple Services, to cover them all here. While there is no 'real' Malware (spyware) for the Mac, Apple decided to be proactive and put in Malware protection in Snow Leopard.
The simple answer I would give a Mac owner is: A.) If you have a newer Mac that came with Leopard and you don't mind some possible inconveniences, then yes, get Snow Leopard. The new 'features' and speed improvements are nice. B.) If you use your Mac for production photography, videography, web creation, running a business, etc. - then NO don't upgrade yet. Do it when there is something you need to do or specific software package that requires Snow Leopard. C.) If your Intel Mac came with Tiger, then flip a coin. For the price of the Snow Leopard upgrade you're not throwing away good money. If possible, install Snow Leopard on an external bootable drive or clone your current drive just in case you want to go back to 10.5.