Blog Post

Life With Snow Leopard: One Month Later

Installing a new operating system on Day One is often a foolish undertaking. Yet, there I was, installing Snow Leopard the night of the 28th.

I took the plunge day one for two reasons: as a tech journalist specializing in the Mac, I felt I owed it to our readers to offer timely insight on Snow Leopard from the perspective of one who has actually used it. After all, someone needs to be able to report back if it’s a smart idea to strap a jet engine to a Ford Pinto. The other reason was timing. I knew I wanted to install it. I was going away the weekend after, and my night classes started a week later and I wanted to be able to allow a couple of weeks to smooth out any issues.

Leaving plenty of time to resolve any issues appeased the karma gods and my installation went very smoothly with no issues. Another friend of mine angered the gods by installing Snow Leopard at 1 am the night before a business trip — ask her how her Snow Leopard install went.

I’ve been very happy with SL over the last month. After I installed Leopard before the first patch, I quickly realized it was bad news. My gaming performance — admittedly meager on a Macbook with a GMA 950 chipset — took a nose dive. I had odd crashes, application incompatibility, and a nightmare getting my printers working again that was reminiscent of Vista’s printer issues.

Snow Leopard has been a joy and I have zero regrets about upgrading. I’m going to break down my experiences in terms of positive and negative experiences.


My Snow Leopard install has “just worked.” All my printers work, even our ancient HP Color Laser at work. The only major incompatibility issues I had were with Launchbar, but upgrading to the latest version and waiting for it to index cleared the problem.

Dock Expose and Minimize to Dock Icon have become Features I Wonder How I Was Able to Get Through the Day Before™. It’s so intuitive and so hard to believe it’s taken Apple this long to implement it.

The new Automator is really amazing. I wrote about it already, and I stand by that article. Automator alone has been worth the upgrade fee for me.

Being able to drag off selected pages of PDF file in Preview is proving to be godsend. Every now and then, I’ll need to grab a few sections from 200+ page PDFs, and dragging them from the sidebar to my desktop is very efficient.

As an aside, while this isn’t really a Snow Leopard feature, a week ago I upgraded my aging 2006-era Macbook to a new Macbook Pro. I was able to just swap out the hard drives with no reinstallation needed. I’ve heard conflicting reports on how this worked in Leopard, but the only painful — and I use that term loosely — part of the hardware swap was re-pairing my Bluetooth devices and resetting up Time Machine.

While there’s been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Photoshop compatibility issue, my ancient copy of — wait for it — CS1 is working fine. I really should get around to upgrading that one of these days, but I’ve moved most of my image editing needs over to Pixelmator. The only thing I really use Photoshop for these days is cutting masks with the pen tool, so it’s possible other features aren’t SL happy.


I haven’t really had any negatives. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought while composing this article to make sure I’m not being a total fan boy, but the only negative I have is Microsoft Word crashes a lot on exit. It’s not affecting any data. It’s not crashing while I’m using it; just when I quit. According to this tweet by David Pogue, reinstalling Office solved that problem. When I went to reinstall it, I was having media issues with my internal drive so I can’t test the validity of his statement.

As I mentioned in my Automator piece, Word 2008 isn’t context services aware, but that’s not really a Snow Leopard problem; Word is still a Carbon app.

I guess if I wanted to, I could complain that items in stacks aren’t context sensitive…but that’s reaching.

Would I recommend upgrading?

After my glowing words of praise, you’d probably expect me to join the chorus of pundits proclaiming, “It’s a no brainer! Make haste to the Apple Store!” but my verdict is instead one based on reason. Therefore, I can definitively  answer this thusly: kinda, sorta, maybe. I know, it’s hard to get people to make a stand for their beliefs; I’m glad I could fall on that sword for you.

The Word crash on exit issue is enough for me to tell heavy Office users to hold off. It may well be that a reinstall fixes it, and I’ve had no issues with Word other than the exit crash, but apps that crash quitting don’t fill me with confidence, even if it’s just cosmetic.

If you work in the design business, I’d definitely say let others test the waters and wait a few app upgrades before upgrading the OS. Actually, that statement works for anyone who considers their Mac to be mission critical. If it’s working just fine now, and you rely on it working just fine, don’t upgrade.

One of the problems with Snow Leopard is while I can come up with reasons like these not to upgrade, until applications are updated — and in some cases rewritten — to take advantage of Snow Leopard, you’re likely to not see a big upgrade.

Sure, the new cat is faster than the old one. Even on my old 2006 MacBook I could tell they patched in more snappy. While I love the new Expose and Stacks, and would miss them if I had to go back to Leopard, right now I’m still having a hard time recommending people make a change for the sake of change.

I can’t think of many reasons for you not to upgrade. However, unless you want the new UI improvements, until we see apps take advantage of Grand Central and Open CL, I can’t really think of many reasons you should upgrade.

37 Responses to “Life With Snow Leopard: One Month Later”

  1. The problem with word stems from old preference files. Delete the preference files in the system library and microsoft office in the application folder, and that will fix the problem.

  2. Bill Garrett

    I’ve had a very good upgrade experience, except for the multi-file dragging problem. When selecting a number of files to either drag or open, only a few will be acted upon. This usually seems to affect downloaded PDFs, at least for me. Unfortunately, my job involves downloading lots of PDFs, and dealing with the bug is getting old. I’m starting to think about rolling back to Leopard.

    This bug hasn’t gotten much press, but there are a fair number of reports on Apple’s support forums, Ars, and elsewhere.

  3. Upgraded on my 1st gen unibody MBP – upgrade was fine, really smooth. Love the UI tweaks, especially as the author said the new Dock Expose – I used to use Expose all the time, now it’s even better. Also the all-round speed is better – a bit like my upgrade from iPhone 3G to 3GS – everything just works faster.
    My major bug though has been Apple Remote Desktop – I’m a network admin so I use it alot and it’s always crashing – it’s definitely not enough to send me back to Leopard, but it is a major pain. Just keeping my fingers crossed for a fix soon and sending all those crash reports to Apple. To be honest, all round it was a smoother upgrade from 10.5 – 10.6 than it was from 10.5.6 – 10.5.7.

    I do think it’s a shame though that updates generally cause so much heartache – I used Windows for years – until last year in fact, and although Windows OS updates were always a complete nightmare, I never had any dramas with Service Packs – they always worked just fine for me. Apple, with all its user experience efforts always seem to cause terrible dramas with each update, which really oughtn’t be the case with such control over hardware and software. Ah well, c’est la vie!

  4. IntrepidSilence

    Thanks for the article and I agree with all of it but the conclusion. Snow Leopard is a must upgrade for all (Intel obviously) Mac users after you have determined that your software and hardware are still compatible and that all of the apps you use on a regular basis are SL ready according to their makers. The reason I believe this has nothing to do with the new user facing bells and whistles or the space savings. The real story with Snow Leopard (as it has been from the beginning) is the set of major changes on the back-end like Grand Central and OpenCL. The more users that adopt Snow Leopard soon, the more inviting it is to developers to start taking advantage of those libraries and bring us faster, more feature filled versions of their software. Yes, some developers will bring new versions anyway, but most major developers are not going to invest money into something that will not see widespread use. Please, if you have done your homework and your software and hardware are Snow Leopard ready, then upgrade today. The process is easy, fast, and will pave the way for a much brighter future for the applications we use on the Mac.

  5. I upgraded my MB Pro as well as 2 iMacs. Extremely easy. While Snow Leopard is faster, I caution you to check on printer compatibility. HP was late in coming out with the new print drivers, and they have yet to come out with the scanner drivers. I now have a printer/scanner (as well as my mom) that does not scan. HP says they will not support my model anymore. It is not that old. My neighbor is not upgrading to Snow Leopard for this very reason.

    • mike sanders

      I related in earlier post that you do not need the HP scan software for an all in one.I had same problem after upgrade.
      Just go to System Preferences>print & fax and select your all in one printer in the left column. To the right should show print and scan in two buttons, click on scan and away you go.
      If scan not there deselect printer add printer using plus sign and scan should appear, if this fails repair permissions and restart
      It works I promise, no need for future scan software.

  6. Jack bauer

    i messed up the quicktime install somehow and now some pages tell me that i don’t have quicktime installed. strange as both X and QT7 are installed. not even a blink about it though, only happens on 1 or 2 sites, and they’re not for work. when it bothers me enough, i’ll fix it.

    besides that, faster, cleaner, happier mac pro. bring on full 64Bit!

  7. I have had a whole bunch of Safari freeze-up since SL was installed.

    Primarily in Yahoo but on other sites as well.

    Also, my back button works only when it wants to and never on yahoo.

    Are apple and Yahoo feuding?

    Otherwise I have had no problems

  8. I’ve had nothing but crashing issues since I upgraded 2 computers. Both installs over Leopard. One decided to redo from scratch last weekend to be done with the crashing (mostly on opening the Save dialogue, or app quit)… For me a clean install didn’t seem to make any difference and I have yet to figure out what could be the cause. (even Apple Apps like TextEdit, and Preview crash) My clean install is just that, I didn’t use the migration tools or anything, just installed most of my primary applications and slowly have been setting things back up. My MobileMe files are pretty much the only thing that would be the same…

    Other than my crashing issues. I love many of the subtle UI tweaks refinements! I can’t see going back to plain Leopard just yet. unless I just can’t get some work done. (for example I can crash Photoshop CS3 every time if I save for web and ask it to over write other files. Lucky for me, i don’t need to do that much at the moment…)

    I sure hope another patch fixes things for me SOON.

  9. Probably the least involved Mac upgrade I’ve ever had. And it has been completely worth it. Longstanding printer driver bugs — solved. Not being able to measure printer ink levels over Airport — solved. Airport sluggishness — solved. Full-screen flash playback hammering the processor and frying the battery — solved. And it freed up 11GB of hard drive space. And it’s faster in almost every respect.

    The new Webkit plugin that appears to be activated by Flash needs refinement, though. It’s great for full-screen playback. However, when you’re not playing Flash full-screen, it hammers on the processor more than ever, using something like three to four times the processor power on video playback for running in a Safari window compared to what it does in full-screen. This is a problem for video playback in a window, and also on some badly programmed websites — CNET and TalkingPointsMemo come to mind — that use a lot of flash ads and content. When everything else is so good, it’s a little irritating to see web browsing tasks that took 50 percent of a processor core now taking 80 or 90 percent.

  10. The one big improvement that I have noticed the most (aside from any new features) is that application switching is much faster when I have a dozen apps open. It used to take quite a long time for the virtual memory to unload and the app become available to use. I don’t know what they did, but there just isn’t that same lag anymore. Has anyone else noticed this on their machine?

  11. I’m not sure it’s Snow Leopard related by Microsoft Office 2008 no longer works for me. I am presented with the setup wizard which crashes as soon as I hit the Continue button. Microsoft has about 25 pending crash reports from all my Macs.

    A few of my system preferences are 32-bit only so running my iMac in 64-bit mode means re-lauching System Preferences each time I need to make a change (infrequently).

  12. However, unless you want the new UI improvements, until we see apps take advantage of Grand Central and Open CL, I can’t really think of many reasons you should upgrade.

    what about the 6+gb that you save? that by itself is a great reason to upgrade!

    and what about all the other good reasons you mentioned in your post?!

    after reading your blog, i think i’m now convinced about the upgrade.

    thank you :)

    • Mark Crump

      I’ve got a 500g drive with 300g free, so that 6g savings isn’t really noticeable to me. Also, Snow Leopard now reports hard drive sizing different — or more correctly, my 500g drive now shows as a 499g drive, instead of the 480 or so it did before. So, I’m a little leery of the real savings.

      And, as you mentioned in the last half of the quoted paragraph, while it’s true there are reasons I think the update is worthwhile, outside of expose and a few other things, it’s hard for me to also press this upgrade on people — especially on mission critical components.

      One of the arguments I’ve seen going around in SL’s favor is, “heck, it’s only $30, why not?” and I think the price alone is a foolish reason to upgrade.

      It’ll be an upgrade Leopard users will definitely want to migrate to, and probably before an app upgrade forces them to.

  13. I upgraded one of my machines to SL, with no hassle and significant performance gains. Some things I had to get used to, as published. These include Gamma 2.2, Font renaming that broke some older apps, aso. But nothing that could not be worked around.

    However, not all of the smaller plug-in makers for various apps were ready. Most notably, widemail is still not SL compatible, so no 3 column view in Mail. Until it is SL compatbile, all other SL upgrades are on hold. Although I might use the opportunity to ditch the mediocre for the much superior Thunderbird (but that’s a different story)

  14. I have installed SL on 2 machines and have been very happy. I nuked and paved both – but that might just be my forced windows instincts.

    Though I did a lot of updating to make sure I had the latest versions of programs before doing so. I love the speed of app launches and startup and shutdown is shockingly fast.

    Yes having Services on Automator is excellent. I had some installed services before for text manipulation that were great, but the new cleaned up services in SL will help others to find out how excellent services can be.

    You are right about minimize to dock, that is so much better and more intuitive and you can get the program to full size or start up just by clicking the dock icon.

    As far as crashes go, just haven’t had them on either machine.

  15. My only issue with Snow Leopard is the long wait for unsanity to make a compatible version of WindowShade. I have installed SL on my MacPro and am surviving without WindowShade, but my wifes iMac is still languishing in the backwaters of Leopard as she cannot live without WindowShade.

  16. My name is legion.

    I represent untold millions of the silent but overwhelming majority who will never post here, and indeed don’t even know that “here” exists.

    Who upgraded to SL without the shadow of any signs any of problems.

    Who don’t have obscure quirks with obscure applications.

    Who enjoy the odds and ends of bells and whistles that SL delivers, and even get a bit of sometimes noticeable performance boosts.

    Who aren’t Microsoft Shills that claim Vista upgrade beats Sl.

    Who will upgrade to SL 10.6.2/3/4 etc. with not a moment of hesitation.

    • mike sanders

      Totally agree with Grumpy, I am one of the silent majority and I could not wait to upgrade, I have had only one issue and that with the scanner on my all in one HP printer. The HP folks admitted that they did not have the s/w for the scanner and did not know when they would.
      No worries I would leave one of the three computers in the house on Leopard so that we would have one machine that could scan.
      Did some checking and used the help on the print/fax section in system preferences and lo and behold it changed to print/scan and now we are all able to use the scanner directly from the print/fax preference, seems there is always a way with a mac.
      Continuing problem with SL is Entourage continues to quit on a regular basis mostly when I am deleting mails, otherwise a great upgrade, we have certainly come a long way from system 6.

  17. I wish I could say the same. I also upgraded, but there is one big compatibility issue that hasn’t been fixed: the Qt framework and the PyQt bindings. Unfortunately, nearly all of my internal apps are built on that framework.

    And what’s worse, Nokia won’t be fixing it until the official release of Qt 4.6 (which hasn’t even been announced yet). Sure, I’ve been able to get up and running on the one machine that I did upgrade to Snow Leopard by building the whole stack from source, but even then, it’s still very buggy. As a result, I’ve more or less consigned myself to live in a virtual machine until a fix is released.

    Snow Leopard was the hands down worst upgrade experience I’ve ever had. And that includes Windows Vista.

    • It is interesting to read this article today because I am in the process of resetting my MacBook (Black 2.6) to Leopard because I cannot continue to run my life from the external backup of Leopard just so that I can use my daily applications.

      Like you I preordered a Family pack of Snow Leopard because for some reason I felt I should because I have multiple macs, even though no one checks. I carefully make a “superduper” backup of Leopard, and began to install over the top of my Leopard install. I knew this would be bad, but I was curious, and it was really bad. After installing, it took some applications minutes to load, so it was time for a clean install.

      I performed a clean install, ran the updates, installed my common suite of applications, updated those, and then used Migration Assistant to copy over my home directory. Strangely, it copied a lot more than my home directory, but that might be because I have preference panes tied to the home instead of machine.

      I fired up Word 2008 and it was running in one bounce! I was delighted. However, since then I have had nothing but problems. Word is back to its usual 8-12 bounces and I have a list of incompatibilities that I cannot work around. For example: ChemDraw (a chemical drawing program) does not accept text input in SL, Livescribe Desktop (for the Livescrive Pulse) had multiple problems, Acrobat PDF printer is dead and their “Fix” is a JOKE, iCal has changed CalDAV so much that it no longer communicates correctly with the University Zimbra server, Missing Sync has issues and is still not completely fixed, My testbank software developed some really strange issues, My einstruction software does not work at all, and in Snow Leopard itself I’ve had a number of strange problems like it takes way too long to update the icons or load the menu bar.

      Interestingly, most of the shareware applications were fixed at or close to release, so much kudos to the shareware community for being on top of issues, unlike the larger community.

      So, for the time being I am taking the MacBook back to Leopard so that I can work again! I never upgraded the iMac because I know better than to force changes on the whole house until I have tested one machine. I am sad that Snow Leopard has been as bad an upgrade as Leopard was. I know the problems will be fixed, but that is not what I expect from Apple. I want the Tiger experience where I was delighted from the moment I installed it.

      One positive thing I have to note is that when something goes wrong with Snow Leopard, the Install Disk is really good at figuring out what to reinstall. I killed the SL OS with a permission change and decided to do an archive and install. This is not available, only install, but the installer did some magic and fixed it with the only thing broken being VMWare Fusion! I was amazed at that.

      I have a copy of Windows 7 on order for my Boot Camp partition and I hope that it is an absolute nightmare of an upgrade because if it is not then I fear my Apple Fanboy status may be severely harmed. I have already played with the beta of 7 and I am sorry to say that it was fun to use.

      Well, the Leopard Install just completed, so time to run some updates!