Snow Leopard, improvements making a good thing better

September 8, 2009

Written by wukovits

Today I’m going to discuss a topic that only applies to a certain segment of the computing population: Mac users.  Apple recently released a new operating system, OS X 10.6, otherwise known as Snow Leopard.  While the other versions of OS X have been named for different big cats (Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger) the previous version, 10.5, was named Leopard.  This slight variation in big cat naming also alludes to a little difference between the two operating systems (OS).  Snow Leopard adds a few new features, but not much of a difference on the surface.  The main focus of the 10.6 upgrade is stability and performance improvements.  Another big difference deals with support for older Macs, as this is the first OS that has dropped support for the PowerPC processor; now only the Intel CPU is supported.  For applications that are PowerPC only, you can install the optional Rosetta.  I guess that is Apple’s way of getting folks to finally upgrade their machines, and by upgrade, I mean buy a new one.

For business users, one big improvement is the addition of Microsoft Exchange Server support in Mail, iCal, and Address Book.  For folks in the corporate environment, getting your Mac to work with the corporate email has been wrought with problems, so the IT guy at your company that has been trying to deal with these issues should be a bit happier.  For people that use VPN (Virtual Private Network) connections, Snow Leopard now supports Cisco IPsec VPN connections.  As Cisco is the industry leader for business networking, this is another big plus.

A couple of the commonly used built-in utilities get some improvements as well.  iChat, the easy-to-use video chat program, now requires less than a third of the bandwidth of the previous version, so glitchy video chat should be a thing of the past.  Safari 4 has been available for a little while now, but it’s built-in to Snow Leopard, and the performance advantages over other browsers are clear.  Another improvement comes in the form of QuickTime X (or ten), which cleans up the QuickTime interface and adds features like visual chapters, support for YouTube file conversion and sharing, and basic video editing.  You can also capture video and audio, perform screen recording and live streaming.  Improvements on the dock include a new Stacks interface, which now allows for scrolling through your items and navigation of folders.  Exposé is now a dock resident and has been streamlined allowing for ease of use, enabling you to easy switch between your active programs.

With the refinement of the OS, speed has been improved for system wake up and shutdowns.  The Mac OS has always been lightning fast in comparison to Windows, and they’ve improved this even more.  Finder is new and improved, which adds 64-bit support and Grand Central Dispatch, which takes advantage of multi-core processors.  OpenCL is a new technology that can allow programs to pull computing power from your graphics processor to use it in any application.  With graphics cards getting more and more powerful, this is certainly a huge advantage.  While you might not notice these types of advancements immediately, a comparison alongside your old OS will certainly reveal these improvements.

I have updated one of my three Macs to the new operating system, and the upgrade is fairly simple and painless.  One of the most painless features is the price – $29 will buy you a license of Mac OS X 10.6, code named Snow Leopard.  Compared with the rising prices and multiple versions of the Windows operating system, Apple has succeeded again in making their products great, easy-to-use, and painless.

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