The 20 Best New Leopard Features

From Leopard’s 300 new features, here’s the sweetest software tools for both propellerheads and normal humans alike.


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Posted November 5, 2007

Joe Kissell

Joe Kissell

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Apple proudly advertises the fact that Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard has more than 300 new features. That’s marvelous, but after reading the list and playing with as many of those features as I could since Leopard’s release, I’ve got to say that a lot of them are sort of unexciting.

(I know, it’s really great that AppleScript now has more descriptive error messages—it is, seriously, if you happen to use AppleScript. But that’s not really the sort of thing that’s going to produces millions of sales or get the geek juices flowing in the world’s propellerhead population.)

So of those hundreds of new things, what are the real stand-outs? In my highly biased opinion, the following 20 features are the ones most likely to make my own computing life easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable:

#1: Time Machine
You could quibble (as indeed I have) about the limitations and deficiencies in Apple’s new built-in backup program. But anything that gets more people to back up is a very good thing in my book.

For starters: the interface for restoring files is a work of genius: absolutely beautiful. Makes me want to go around recklessly deleting random files just for the pleasure of restoring them. And for people who have struggled with configuring conventional backup apps, you can’t get much simpler than one-click setup. Yes, sure, there’s fiddling to be done beyond that, and everyone—everyone—should also have bootable duplicates, which Time Machine doesn’t provide. But by erasing pain that comes from both human and machine error, Time Machine makes a tremendous stride in reducing stress and increasing happiness.

#2: Spaces
I’m a complete screen real estate junkie. I’ve always gone for the largest displays I can afford—and the more, the better. I always seem to have a dozen large windows open, and no amount of careful positioning, minimizing, or hiding has ever been able to make sense of that clutter for me, not even with Exposé.

But now, Spaces gives me the cleanest, most efficient multiple-desktop system I’ve ever tried—and I’ve tried quite a few. It’s almost like having three extra monitors—or as many more as I need. With a keystroke or a click, I can go from, say, email and chat to Web browsing—or from a few Terminal sessions to a nice big spreadsheet.

#3: Screen Sharing
Screen sharing is nothing new. I’ve used Timbuktu Pro since way back when, and occasionally VNC in any of its many incarnations. But as with most things, when Apple decides to build a new feature directly into Mac OS X, they do it with a degree of elegance and simplicity that is hard to find anywhere else.

If I want to control the screen of another Mac in my home or office, I can do so with just one click. It’s only slightly harder to control a Mac running Tiger, or a computer of any sort running VNC. And, for the easiest remote tech support yet, I can (with permission) control the Mac of a friend or family member right in iChat.

#4: Spotlight Improvements

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As Matt Neuburg aptly put it, “Spotlight in Leopard is what Spotlight in Tiger should have been but wasn’t.” Which is to say: Time Machine in Leopard is, surprisingly, very, very good. Most importantly, it’s not annoying. That by itself is an immense improvement.

But it’s gone far beyond that to genuine usefulness. Put a search in quotation marks to look for a whole phrase! Use all the Boolean goodness of AND, OR, and NOT to your heart’s content! Search the full text of Web pages you’ve visited! Search the built-in Dictionary from the Spotlight menu! Even search on mounted network volumes! Yeah, OK, you could do most of this months ago using third-party tools such as Google Desktop. But it’s awfully nice to see Spotlight finally live up to its initial billing and become a tool I’m happy to use many times a day.

#5: Improved File Sharing
Finally, after all these years, Users and Groups makes the transition to the client version of Mac OS X! You can now actually assign arbitrary access to any given folder, just like you could, um, a decade or so ago.

That’s marvelous, but what I really like is being able to connect to shared volumes on nearby computers with zero clicks. They just show up there in the sidebar of Finder windows, and log me in automatically either as a guest (the default) or a registered user (if I enter my credentials just once and store them in my keychain). It took some getting used to, simply because it was far easier than I was accustomed to. It’s just…there. Cool.

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