Snow Leopard Arrives on Friday

By  |  Monday, August 24, 2009 at 9:20 am

Snow LeopardRumors that Apple might beat its self-imposed September deadline to ship its OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard operating system were true: It’s now official that the upgrade will show up for sale this Friday, August 28th. The date is nowhere near as big a deal for Apple aficionados as October 22nd, Windows 7’s release date, will be for the Windows-using majority. But I’m still looking forward to trying Snow Leopard, and to hearing what Mac users think about it.

Unlike Windows 7, Snow Leopard has virtually nothing in the way of significant new features, with the exception for Exchange support in its Mail, iCal, and Address Book apps. Instead, Apple has done major renovation below the surface to make the OS faster, more powerful, and more robust–it’s rewritten various pieces of code to make them faster and added 64-bit versions of bundled applications, for instance. In theory, at least, it all makes Snow Leopard a noticeably more agile breed of cat than its predecessor. But it also makes the upgrade a more complicated proposition than typical new OSes with lots of new features. (OS X 10.5’s Time Machine, for instance, was a really tangible reason to get Leopard.)

Ultimately, if Snow Leopard feels strikingly quicker and more reliable than Leopard, it will be well worth the $29 upgrade price ($49 for five users). In my experience, Macs are less prone to problems than Windows machines, but they’re still far from bulletproof: They get bogged down, misbehave, and suffer crashes just as deadly as Blue Screens of Death. I kind of admire Apple for trying to sell an upgrade that’s mostly about making the OS do what it’s supposed to do more reliably, and wouldn’t object if the next version of Windows were something along the lines of, um, Windows Snow 7. (Windows 7, like Snow Leopard, is mostly about unglamorous-but-useful enhancements, but most of them are interface tweaks; under the hood, it’s not a massive overhaul of Vista.)

Looking over Apple’s list of Snow Leopard improvements, I see that one that it mentions at some length is remarkably mundane: Snow Leopard ejects optical discs more reliably than its predecessors. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to cajole CDs and DVDs to come out of Macs; if Snow Leopard removes that hassle it, would make my life meaningfully better in a way that Leopard’s flashier Spaces desktop manager, say, has not.

Let’s end this with today’s T-Poll:


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5 Comments For This Post

  1. Dale Larson Says:

    I love that Apple has the sense to know that:
    1) the OS is already full featured
    2) refactoring, rewriting and optimizing is an important activity with real benefits to the user in both current performance/reliability and in speed to market with future upgrades
    3) the best decision can always be marketed well. Simply adding features for the sake of marketing is lazy marketing.
    4) catching everyone on Macintosh up to the current release with such a cheap upgrade (go in with your friends to buy a $49 5-pack!), and no reasons to reject it, improves the ecosystem for everyone. (Can you say XP/IE6?)

  2. caustic Says:

    “Unlike Windows 7 …”? Huh? What are the significant new features in Windows 7? A new taskbar? A redesigned calculator? Aside from lots of tweaks the only really significant feature is XP mode which won’t be for everyone and is still not as seemless as Rosetta was.

    Sounds pretty much like Snow Leopard to me; a few new features but mostly an clean up and modernization release.

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    @caustic: I probably shoulda said that Windows 7 had lots of significant changes to existing features, not all-new features. But to me, at least, the changes to the taskbar, system tray, UAC, etc. are all a major deal. And there’s stuff like Jump Lists, Libraries, Device Stage, HomeGroups, and so on. There are some usability tweaks in Snow Leopard, but nowhere near as many–and they weren’t needed as badly in the first place.


  4. Matt Clark Says:

    I’m not trashing the Mac or Mac OS – hey I used to work for Macworld. BUT.. I’m currently using a PC with WinXP – it runs just fine and I haven’t had to pay one penny for service releases, that continue to come for free. I’m not sure why Apple continues to literally nickel and dime Mac users for upgrades that have no clear feature or performance benefits. Please enlighten me. ;0)

  5. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    > Unlike Windows 7, Snow Leopard has virtually nothing in the way
    > of significant new features,

    That’s the PR. But when you actually look into it, does that still hold?

    Check out this article’s top 10 list of new Windows 7 features:

    1. Less of a Memory Hog (than previous Windows, not other systems)
    2. The Taskbar (is more like Mac OS from 2001 now)
    3. Windows XP Mode (addresses one of the main complaints of Vista, but is only in Ultimate and Enterprise, most users won’t get this)
    4. Federated Search (they didn’t have this already?)
    5. Libraries (like Mac OS)
    6. User Account Controls (not that they’re new, the new feature is that they can now be completely disabled)
    7. Start Menu (more customizable)
    8. AppLocker (app administration tool only in Ultimate and Enterprise so most users won’t get this)
    9. Chance to Get Rid of Vista and XP (this feature is in every software upgrade every offered just by definition, talk about a low bar, and here it is not even guaranteed because people continue to buy XP today)
    10. The Trippy Backgrounds (why are these even taking up space on the disc when there are easily 1 million backgrounds to choose from on the Web and IE has had a Set as Background feature for 10 years?)

    On the other hand, with Snow Leopard, they promised no new features at all, but here are some that users are looking forward to right now:

    – Faster startup and shutdown (than previous Mac OS, but also faster than Windows and Linux)
    – Smaller footprint (than previous Mac OS, but also smaller than Windows and Linux)
    – Improved Exposé and Stacks (includes the new Dock Exposé)
    – Faster Time Machine backups
    – Chinese character input (drawn on the trackpad with a finger)
    – Hi-resolution iChat
    – 64-bit support (new for GUI apps)
    – Grand Central Dispatch (enhanced multicore awareness)
    – OpenCL (use the GPU for additional computational power)
    – QuickTime X (rewritten media layer with new UI and hardware integration, better performance, completely modern core functionality)
    – Universal Access improvements
    – Microsoft Exchange support (throughout, it just works)

    To me, the new features in Snow Leopard look more interesting than the new features in Windows 7. Where is the Windows 7 feature that is equivalent to QuickTime X or Exchange support?

    A number of Snow Leopard features such as OpenCL and Grand Central mean that Snow Leopard will be 25% faster on the same hardware as Leopard. That’s pretty significant when you’re talking about speeding up Core 2 Duo’s and Xeons.

    And if someone is coming from a 2005 Mac with Tiger on it to Snow Leopard, it will cost $129 instead of $29, but they are getting things like Time Machine new as well, which is worth $129 on its own. Where is the recent Windows feature that is worth $129 on its own?

    The most significant feature of Windows 7 to me seems to be Windows XP Mode, but it is only in the $399 version that nobody buys, and it cannot import your old XP install, and further there is no in-place upgrade from XP to Windows 7. So you have to pay $399 for Windows 7 to get XP Mode (that is the cost of a whole XP computer) and then you still have to backup and restore all your XP documents and re-install all your apps. Wow, the I-T hours are staggering, especially when you multiply out to 80% of the Windows platform that is running dead-end, no in-place upgrade XP right now. Better to pay $75 for Parallels which can import your old XP and run it on top of any Mac, Ubuntu, or Windows system. So Windows XP Mode looks like a banner feature when you consider that nobody upgraded to Vista, but it turns out to be available cheaper and better on other operating systems already from a 3rd party. No need for Windows 7 at all.

    People are lining up for Snow Leopard in NYC right now even though it’s days away. Will there be line-ups for Windows 7? I just don’t see it. People seemed to be excited initially at the idea of putting a Windows 7 disc into their XP boxes and upgrading them to a more modern system, but once it was revealed that it is not possible to do that, the air seems to have gone out of Windows 7. You have to switch to it, and it’s really hard to do, even from XP. It’s easier to go to another system where there are upgrade paths for XP. For example, on the Mac, you can either import your XP into a virtualizer, or you can ask an Apple Genius to transfer your files from your old XP box to a new Mac for free. XP users are actually treated worse by Microsoft, who acts like they bought their XP in 2001 and refused to buy Vista, but really most XP that are around today were bought in the last 3 years, it should be upgradeable to 7, there is no excuse.

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