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Summary:

SnowLeopard - Finely Tuned

While PC users sweat, complain and ponder which over-priced version of Windows 7 they’ll be forced into buying to fix everything wrong with Vista; most Mac users are likely licking their chops at what Snow Leopard will bring, and how little it will cost.

You’ve heard it’s cheaper, faster, and even more stable than ever before. Though Apple has stated that beyond a few high-profile features like a new version of Quicktime; Snow Leopard is more of a maintenance upgrade for Leopard users, rather than the feature-packed blockbuster we’re normally used to with a full version number upgrade. You might call Snow Leopard a comprehensive tune-up.

As is almost always the case with Apple though, it’s those little tune-ups to Mac OS X that can make all the difference in your daily computing experience. If you happened upon the Snow Leopard Enhancements and Refinements page at Apple’s Web site, you no doubt found at least a handful of things that brings a smile to your face.

Sure, I’m looking forward to a speedier, fully-Cocoa Finder, a fancy new version of Quicktime, and a faster (and much smaller) OS X installation just as much as the next guy. But of much more interest to me are a whole bunch of minor tweaks that will make more of an impact in my daily routine.

SnowLeopard - Finely Tuned

While PC users sweat, complain and ponder which over-priced version of Windows 7 they’ll be forced into buying to fix everything wrong with Vista, most Mac users are likely licking their chops at what Snow Leopard will bring, and how little it will cost.

You’ve heard it’s cheaper, faster and even more stable than ever before. Though Apple has stated that, beyond a few high-profile features like a new version of Quicktime, Snow Leopard is more of a maintenance upgrade for Leopard users, rather than the feature-packed blockbuster we’re normally used to with a full version number upgrade. You might call Snow Leopard a comprehensive tune-up.

As is almost always the case with Apple, though, it’s those little tune-ups to Mac OS X that can make all the difference in your daily computing experience. If you happened upon the Snow Leopard Enhancements and Refinements page on Apple’s Web site, you no doubt found at least a handful of things that brings a smile to your face.

Sure, I’m looking forward to a speedier, fully-Cocoa Finder, a fancy new version of Quicktime, and a faster, much smaller OS X installation just as much as the next guy. But of much more interest to me are all of the minor tweaks that will make more of an impact in my daily routine.

Gamma Update

For starters, and one thing near and dear to my heart; Apple has chosen to change the default Gamma from 1.8 to 2.2. For many users the benefit may not be obvious. If you’ve ever noticed photos and graphics on the Web that appear much lighter or washed out than the ones you have on your Mac, it’s because Windows, the Internet, and most television content standardized on Gamma 2.2 long ago. With Snow Leopard, Mac users will enjoy more consistent color across platforms by default.

Finer Finder

iStat calendar menu feature

iStat calendar menu feature

The Finder’s menu bar clock will soon show the date alongside the time. You can do this now with a finicky hack, but it’ll be handy to turn it on and off with the click of a button. One thing I wish Apple would add here is the ability to display a small calendar with clickable dates that launch iCal without using any third-party utilities, such as iStat. Baby steps, I guess.

Another minor Finder annoyance are the window sidebar headers: Search For, Devices and Places. They can be turned off in Snow Leopard. I always found them to be uselessly taking up space, since I don’t use the search feature, and rarely require Devices and Places. This leaves room for three more folder shortcuts in my sidebar without resizing the window. Adjusting the size of icons via a small slider in every Finder window, saving a trip to the View options window, will be a small, but welcome addition as well.

Apps and Utilities

iChat will see numerous improvements under Snow Leopard such as a lower bandwidth requirement, as will Preview, which will offer improved image scaling and an annotation toolbar. Preview is one of those apps that most users overlook. But if you take the time to investigate, you’ll find it to be quite a powerful and useful little app. For many consumer users, there’s no need to download Acrobat Reader because Preview actually offers more features.

airport-signal-meterFile sharing via Airport Express will be improved for local network users. If you have a Mac acting as a file server over an Airport network, it will continue to share those files, even if the host Mac goes into sleep mode. And now your Airport strength meter will display the signal strength of all available networks before you connect to them. Nice!

Internet Improvements

Safari isn’t the only Internet app Apple has been working on. Mail and iCal have received some much-welcomed improvements, too. Mail’s ability to reorder mailboxes in the sidebar is enough to quench my thirst alone, but I won’t complain about the speedier display of messages, and improved HTML mail composition thrown-in for good measure. iCal will also make it easier to set up your Gmail or Yahoo calendars, and being forced to open a new inspector window for each task will be a thing of the past. While business users will surely love Microsoft Exchange support, most-everyone else could care less; these modest changes will give everyone something to feel warm and fuzzy about.

In Conclusion

While none of these features are game-changing, they’re all extremely useful. In my eyes, they’re much more sexy than Cocoa Finder, OpenCL, Grand Central Dispatch, smaller installation size, and the other big-ticket items. These little features are the ones I’ll interact with on a daily basis, along with faster start-up and shut-down times. I liken it to the cup-holder locations in a new car — it doesn’t mean a lot on its own, but if done poorly can certainly sway your buying decision whether you realize it or not.

For a $29 upgrade price for Leopard users ($169 for non-Leopard users), you’re getting some stunning under-the-hood improvements, and some pretty darn nice refinements that may not be typical Apple front-page news, but are incredibly useful. Finely tuned indeed.

  1. I don’t know if it’s the right place to ask it, but what about Cut & Paste in the Finder. Is it coming? I’m new to Mac and I wonder why this can’t be used like in Windows (ctrl + x).

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    1. Michael, Just replace the ctrl with the command button and you are good to go.

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    2. Well, that’s true, cmd+x works with text editing but when I try it with a marked file in the Finder, it does not work.
      I know it works to move files with drag and drop but you habe to mark the files and move them with the pressed mouse button through the file system.
      With cut and paste you only have to press the shortcut once and then you can move the mouse without paying attention to the files you’re moving.
      In the destination folder I’m just pressing cmd+v and it’s done.

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    3. Maybe I missing something about what you are really asking, but copy and paste has been in the finder for a while and it is definitely in 10.6. You can do it from the edit menu, by keystrokes, or from the right-click menu.

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    4. Paul, he didn’t say copy and paste, he said cut and paste. Michael, Mac OS X doesn’t support cut and paste for files, you’re right. And I highly doubt Snow Leopard will add it.

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    5. Try Command+C then Command+Delete then Command+V in the location you wish to paste the new file to. One more step that there needs to be I guess, but doable completely with the keyboard. Though as an old school Mac user keyboard based file management just sounds wrong even though I can see the advantage of not needing two windows open to do this stuff.

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    6. Thanks Grant, you know what I mean ;-)

      @Twist
      Good idea, not the best solution but useful.

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    7. I dont wanna stop the fun, but don’t try the command+v hen cmd+delete to try to paste it elswhere…

      The Finder is complaining about the lack of the original then…

      The copy-paste is based on unix commands. The file’s location is put into the ‘clipboard’, not the file itself.

      It’s a bot odd since a lot of actions with moved files seem to resolve properly, as the file’s id is used instead of the file location…

      So do the delete in the end… You’ll have to switch windows again, and that’s a click extra. Better drag-and-drop!!

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  2. Drag & Drop is easier for moving files around. You can also option drag in the Finder to copy a file, and I believe holding the Command (Apple) key down will “cut” the file and “paste” it where you drop the file.

    In short, there are more intuitive/faster ways to move a file around than cut & paste – so the Mac OS has never really put too much thought and development into it.

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  3. So Windows users are “forced” to buy an OS featuring mostly under the hood refinements, while Mac users are being given the privilege to? Quite the double-standard, there.

    And if OS X is so awesome, why would it even NEED fine-tuning? Why is one fine-tuning a burden while another is a relief?

    (FWIW, I think both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard look great, and I agree that Windows 7′s price should be a bunch lower)

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    1. As a Mac user since 1998, I’ve seen the Mac OS evolve into something I thought not possible. Mac OS X is awesome and when you create something that awesome, it should always be fine-tuned, or it wouldn’t be where it is today.

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    2. Fine tuning will always be a reality because as clichéd as it sounds, nothing is perfect.

      As for the difference between the upcoming OS X and Windows updates for me comes down to their development histories: Snow Leopard represents a clear upgrade for users, and things like Open CL and Grand Central Dispatch are new developments for the OS. Windows 7, however, gets its reputation as “Vista as it should have been” because there is a very significant kernel of truth there: it was in development as “Blackcomb” before Vista (“Longhorn”) was – 2000 vs. May 2001. Vista was designed as a purely interim measure in between XP (“Whistler”) and 7, and while it ended up taking on some features that were slated to be included in 7, it was never intended (internally) to be more than a placeholder.

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    3. Well, on the side of fine-tuning, a major leap has been made into the multi-core task handling, and I bet you windows users can wait a while before that’s gonna happen…

      Did you actually read the listing of changes at the apple site? I bet you would want a smaller OS, as to disk space, and I bet you would want it to start up faster than a windows… 30-40 seconds on an old PPC G4 1ghz (which you cannot understand, but that’s quite old)
      And I bet you would want the other features… It’s just a big update, and if you’re still with me, it will be a joy to run on the newest machines: think speed, efficiency, everyday gestures…

      That’s what computing is: make things easier, not more complicated.

      Besides, nothing is perfect, so everything can be at least fine-tuned… They even tune Mercedesses, and BMW…

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  4. Howard Brazee Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    I don’t want to always remember whether I am dragging to be a copy or a move, and I like having the choice. With Windows, I can right click to drag, and it will ask me which I want to do this time. I like that.

    I have an add-on to my Leopard that lets me cut my directory location from Finder (to paste elsewhere). I use that a lot. It should be included.

    There’s plenty of room for improvement in finder’s search and especially the one at the top of the screen (Microsoft’s new search is worse). Actually, make the one in iTunes smart first – that’s the one non Mac users see.

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    1. You can drag and press option (alt) to force copy or press cmd and force move or press cmd+alt and force the creation of a shortcut.
      If you need your location, drag the proxy icon near the folder name on top of any finder window into any field text.
      The pity is only that those features are not really well documented! :)

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  5. There’s already an Annotate toolbar item in Preview under 10.5, if you go to “Customize Toolbar”. You have to set it up separately for PDF & non-PDF files—open one of each and customize the toolbar.

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  6. Why tweak something awesome? Because there’s room for improvement. I however question the $169 for non-Leopard. I started with Jaguar (10.2) in 2003 and arrived at Leopard (10.5) while paying the full price of $199 for the family pack each time.

    There was no confusion about the OS updates since there are no ‘upgrade’ versions as opposed to the retail update. I doubt Apple would have a full-update Snow Leopard and a upgrade Snow Leopard version. That would be mudding the waters.

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    1. Apple has already announced pricing on Snow Leopard and there is definitely a full version and an upgrade version.

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  7. Hogg boy – One is polishing a Rolls Royce and the other is adding an air freshener to a pile of junk. I’ll let you figure out which is which. ^_^

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  8. Keep in mind the full $169 price is for the Mac Box Set, and will include Snow Leopard, iLife 09 and iWork 09 for people still running 10.4 Tiger on Intel Macs. $229 is the family pack price.

    If you have 10.5 on an Intel Mac, it’s $29, or $49 for the family pack.

    I’m confused about this part “File sharing via Airport Express will be improved for local network users. If you have a Mac acting as a file server over an Airport network, it will continue to share those files, even if the host Mac goes into sleep mode.”

    Airport Express is the tiny wireless router Apple sells. What specifically in Snow Leopard is being added to allow shared files to continue to work even in sleep mode?

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    1. Currently, if you’re sharing files from one Mac to others and the “host” Mac goes into sleep mode, more often than not you get cut-off and can’t access the host unless you “wake” it from sleep mode.

      Apparently Apple is addressing this issue. Reading the page I linked to, it appears that it will work only when you’re sharing via an Airport or Airport Express router (though that could just be marketing talk for *any* router hooked up).

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    2. editorial error: mixing up Airport Express and Airport Extreme…

      It’s the Extreme, and the Time Capsule that are mentioned on apple’s site. I also frawned when I read it…

      Citation:

      With Snow Leopard and a compatible AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule base station, a computer that acts as a file or media server can go to sleep yet continue to share its files with other computers and devices, saving energy.

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    3. theaterlightman Friday, July 31, 2009

      compatible AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule base station, so i think that its anything compatible with it

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  9. There are other features… I like:
    Expose-like previews of the windows in an app when you click and hold on the icon in the dock.(never really liked expose much… but this is ok)
    Some improvements with automator…
    Navigating grids now works in folders on the dock. (been waiting for this)
    Full date options for the menubar.
    Protected virtual memory servers.

    etc.

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  10. It seems to me that the improvements mentioned here could just have easily been a free update for Leopard rather than needing a whole new version. $29 is cheap, but it’s very expensive for “refinements”.

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    1. Doug, the improvements I mentioned in the article are simply a few of the minor tweaks that I personally found interesting. It’s not a full list of changes. Yes, they could have been free updates, but they are just part of a much larger package.

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