Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard: Spotless!

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard is Apple's first major operating system upgrade since Tiger more than two years ago. The changes include more than 300 new features which, while not earth-shattering, further streamline the experience of using a Mac.

Should you pay for Leopard? If you're happy with the way Tiger works, then maybe not. If you need Bootcamp, however, then you must have Leopard. And if you're considering the purchase of a new computer, Leopard makes Macs more enticing than Tiger did. Plus, Leopard makes it far easier to find documents and applications than Windows Vista. Leopard's interface niceties made the daily mechanics of using the computer more pleasurable. Mundane chores, such as finding files and backing up data, become a visual treat.

Mac OS X10.5 Leopard costs $129 out of the box, or $199 for up to five users. Those who bought Macs after October 1 must pay $9.95 to have Leopard shipped to them.

Setup and installation
To run Leopard, you'll need an Intel or PowerPC G5 Mac. A PowerPC-based G4 Mac with an 867MHz or better processor will work as well. Apple suggests having 512MB of RAM. Additionally, you'll need a USB or FireWire external backup drive (or a file-sharing volume on a network) to use Time Machine. Features on iChat require a Webcam.

The new look and feel of Leopard is different without demanding that you relearn the layout. The Dock organizing applications and file becomes a bit more transparent. Bump it over to one side, and the Dock looks a bit flatter. A drop shadow now highlights the active window, and all windows share a unified visual design.

Click on an icon on the Dock and related items fan out in the order you last accessed them. New stacks help to unclutter your desktop by showing icons of items in the order they were last accessed. If the stack is packed with items, you can display them as a grid.

The souped-up Finder introduces a sidebar that allows you to rearrange items in the Places section, while Search For submenus can locate files based on type and when you last worked on them. Click on Today, for instance, and you'll see everything you've touched lately in chronological order. If you work on a network, checking out another person's desktop starts with the simple Share Screen option.

Spotlight scours through files in shared folders on a network, as well as within Safari's Web History. It gets smarter, reading "Not" and "Or," dates and phrases, and even serving as a calculator for trig equations.

Many new design elements reflect what you've already seen in iTunes and iPhone. Cover Flow, for instance, shuffles through folders as you hold down an arrow key. This makes perfect sense for browsing files. Plus, you can peek at most documents instantly. Quick Look provides previews that can pop up files from iWork, iLife, Microsoft Office, PDFs, as well as popular image and video formats. In each instance appear relevant options, such as Full Screen view or Add to iPhoto. Select several files, double-click them, and you've got a custom slide show.

In addition to making it easier to find your work, interface additions are intended to make multitasking less stressful. Virtual desktops, called Spaces, cluster open windows into categories or boxes. This can cut the number of windows you may otherwise stack around your desktop, especially helpful for tiny monitors. For example, you could move everything you need to edit a vacation video into one space, and in another Space place the files and apps needed to write a dissertation. Spaces were a cinch to set up (such as drawing a chart in a word processor), but a tad awkward for us to master until we learned the keyboard shortcuts. You can also use the mouse to drag items between Spaces, and to drag the Spaces themselves around.

If you rarely back up your work because the process is too boring or confusing, Time Machine is likely to change that. The spaced-out interface is about as sexy as backup can get, displaying a dynamic timeline alongside snapshots of selected folders and files throughout their history. To restore a file you lost, just go to an earlier time, click the Restore button, and you'll zoom back to your present Desktop. For a current period of 24 hours, Time Machine backs up automatically every hour. It backs up each day for the past month and each week for content updated earlier than that.

iChat lets you and Leopard-using buddies share files and control each others' desktops, expanding the tool's potential professional use. And you can record iChat sessions as AAC audio or MPEG video files ready for an iPod, which is a great feature for podcasters.

iChat Theater's silly effects can distort your face like you're looking in a fun-house mirror. Green-screen backgrounds within iChat Theater let your talking head appear in a video conference in front of, say, included images of the moon or your own pictures. Other chat buddies can see these, whether they're using an older iteration of OS X or they're using AIM on a Windows PC. iChat enables you to share files as you gab via video, so you and a friend can watch the same movie clip or flip through the same PowerPoint presentation. Photo Booth integrates with iChat, letting you record videos and show off full-screen slide shows.

Mac's new Mail application integrates rich note-taking into e-mail. These notes can serve as scrapbooks containing images. Some 32 e-mail templates enable you to drop in pictures and resize them with a built-in photo browser. Mail's RSS feeds tie into those in Safari. The e-mail application also detects addresses for mapping via Google, as well as contacts for a quick save. Natural language capabilities, similar to those within Gmail, recognize phrases such as "next Saturday" for scheduling. Changes are synchronized between Mail and iCal. Setting up Mail is less complicated than Outlook, and it works with accounts from 27 services, including Yahoo, AOL, and Gmail.

Finally, the Safari browser default is tabbed without making you turn on the feature. Safari's cool new Web Clips tool lets you turn any snippet from a Web page into a widget for your Dashboard.

Leopard offers many tie-ins to Web-based content (see the Webware video). Among them is Wikipedia as a new companion to the Dictionary. Although you can access the open-source encyclopedia from the Desktop, no entries are saved locally.

Geotagging is a cool addition to Leopard, enabling you to tie photos to latitude and longitude through built-in GPS on digital cameras so you can put picture galleries on a map.

There are updates to less glamorous elements such as Automator and Dashcode, and Network Preferences has been streamlined. ColorSync reads EXIF sRGB data from cameras, and there's support for connecting more cameras via cable or Wi-Fi, and for other gadgets via Bluetooth.

More firewall controls are among several security enhancements to Leopard. To fend off Trojans and spoofing attempts, you'll be grilled more when downloading materials. A mechanism called Sandboxing is supposed to prevent potential external threats from hijacking your applications. Parental controls are now featured more prominently in the System and offer content filters, time limits, and Internet activity loggers to keep tabs on young Web surfers.

Service and support
Support options remain the same as in the Tiger version. You get 90 days of help free by telephone, as with other products from Apple. Phone support thereafter costs $49 per incident. AppleCare support lasts a year after you buy Leopard. For extra peace of mind, you should consider extended warranties.

Apple also tweaked the Help menus within OS X 10.5. These are arranged well, although they didn't always provide an instant answer. Many items are better explained on Apple's Web site via message boards, user forums, and a well-organized knowledge base.



October 29, 2007 at 7:36 AM

I've alrealdy upgraded my Macbook to Leopard and so far it's working very well. The upgrade went easily and the tools are pretty cool. The ones I liked most are the new Finder that imports the Cover Flow function from iTunes and the new iChat which allows the insertion of images and films. If you haven't upgraded yet, there are some interesting videos I've found that show Leopard's new tools and effects: