Mac OS X version 10.5 or Leopard, the latest upgrade to Apples Macintosh operating system, created quite a stir when it was released in October. Pictures of excited Mac-heads lining up at mall outlets to buy the new release (for $130) appeared in newspapers and on TV.
For a platform that traditionally has accounted for less than five percent of the total personal computer market, the Mac arguably gets more attention than it deserves perhaps because Apple is so adept at managing hype. But there are other reasons.
The Mac is finding new market acceptance. According to Gartner analyst firm, its share is now higher than eight percent. This may in part be because of the new ability of Macs to run Windows and Windows applications, making migration from a PC easier. The phenomenal success of Apples PC-baiting TV ads has no doubt played a part as well.
Spaces lets you create multiple task-related workspaces with different open documents and applications.
(Click for larger image).
There is also growing appreciation in the market for industrial- and human-factor design in technology products areas where Apple has always excelled. Apples iPod music player is one of the main reasons ordinary technology consumers are aware of industrial design at all.
So much for context. Does Leopard live up to all the hype? Yep.
Apple claims it has made more than 300 changes in all. No doubt its counting some fairly minor tweaks. Still, there are plenty of substantive changes.
Theyre substantive not only in the sense of making the operating system easier to use and thus people more productive but also, and just as important in the Mac universe, in the sense of making it even cooler than it already was. And, oh, way cooler than a Windows PC.
Before you ask: I own a PC. (Though maybe not for long.)
Leopard introduces significant all-new features: Quick Look, a new document preview capability; Spaces, a new way to organize the desktop into work areas; and Time Machine, an easy instant backup utility. <
Apple has also made important changes to the desktop, to Finder (the built-in tool for accessing data, applications and configuration options), to the included mail and calendar apps, and to iChat (Apples instant messaging and Web conferencing client).
Leopard is not perfect. Like any new software, there are rough edges, a few glitches, but nothing that makes you lose confidence in the overall quality.
I did receive errors, it froze up occasionally, including once when I had to restart by pressing and holding the power button (shades of Windows). And it seemed to have trouble holding a connection to my Wi-Fi home office network.
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A Tidy Desk
The changes are immediately visible on the desktop, some subtle but telling, others more significant.
Mac OS X features a dock at the bottom of the screen. Its similar to the Windows Taskbar, but simpler, with large icons for available applications, running applications and open documents. They bounce when you click them or when minimized applications want to alert you to some condition.
In the past, the dock could get cluttered as you opened more and more documents or added applications to make them easily accessible. The Stacks feature helps declutter. It lets you easily group documents or applications in stacks that appear as a single icon on the dock.
Leopard comes with two stacks already installed for downloads and recent documents. You can create others by dragging a folder from Finder to the dock. When you click a stack icon, the individual documents and/or applications in the stack fan out from the dock or pop up in a grid, depending on how many items there are, or which you prefer.
This doesn't appear so different from the automatic stacking of documents or application instances on the Windows taskbar except that here you can also stack documents and applications that are not currently open.
Plus, execution is everything when it comes to comparing the two operating systems. The Leopard Stacks feature just works better stacks pop out faster and theyre easier to take in at a glance because they use big icons and they look cooler because animated.