Snow Leopard, Finely tuned

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.


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