October 27, 2007

Leopard's First Day: Highlights and Lowlights

The new Leopard dock - a bit smaller than "real world".

Yesterday, we let our Mac geek flag fly. Around 6:30, I donned my black Apple logo baseball cap, put on a black Apple logo polo shirt, topped by an Apple logo black fleece jacket, complete with one of my two Apple logo Think Different wrist watches, and headed to the Valley Fair mall in San Jose to pick up Leopard.

While I expected bedlam, complete with long lines and the potential of finding Leopard sold out, we were quite lucky. Though the store was near capacity, I was able to put my elbows out and muscle forward, grabbing a copy of Leopard from the shelf and heading to the register, behind only one or two people. Though it turned out I was too late to get a commemorative t-shirt, it was pretty obvious I already had enough Apple gear, and could live without yet one more homage to Cupertino.

Finding that transaction quick, my wife and I caught dinner, and then headed home - where I was surprised to find what should have been a seamless installation experience become anything but.

After unwrapping the Leopard installation DVD and starting it up, I had begun the installation process, when, dramatically, I was met with a bright yellow attention icon saying the installation had failed, and to restart. So I did.

I tried a second time, and on this occasion, after selecting my hard drive as the destination disk, I was greeted with another bright yellow attention icon, saying that in order to install Leopard on this disk, I would need to erase it and that I would lose all my data. Yikes. So, obviously, I said no, and restarted, back to 10.4.10, racking my brain to see if I could figure out the issue. So I went to System Preferences, applied any outstanding Software Updates, and even went into my Disk Utility, running it against the hard drive to find any bugs. Nothing.

Stubbornly, I rebooted again into the Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard DVD. And THIS TIME it worked. It took about an hour, and though I was nervous from all the warnings that my data could disappear, we finally had success. Below are a few highlights that over time will make the evening's nonsense worthwhile.

Spaces lets me have multiple virtual desktops.

If there's one thing Steve Jobs doesn't like, it's clutter. Well-known for his minimalist bent, the concept of moving folders and icons off the desktop, and moving multiple windows or apps to separate screens falls along those lines. While I haven't yet found the ideal formula, I'm aiming to have 4 windows: One for Windows XP in VMWare Fusion (primarily for Microsoft Outlook), one for Web browsing and blogging/bookmarking in Safari, one for Mail and iTunes, and one for the Finder. (See above)

Though I have seen some wierdness, like the Apple Mail window disappearing, or applications clicked on one screen opening in another, I'm sure I'll get the hang of it and find this among the most useful features.

Using Coverflow, I can browse my applications.

I didn't have high hopes for taking Coverflow to the Finder, but surprisingly, I really like it. It's aesthetically pleasing to thumb through folders, images or applications. While it's still faster to just type the first few letters of an application and open it, the eye candy is worth the wasted seconds. Above, you can see my browsing applications in Coverflow, and below, it really shines when viewing folders with many image. The below image is a folder full of Oakland A's photos intended for future ANtics comics.

Thumbing through my A's player photos using Coverflow in the Finder.

Stack also seems like a easy feature to use, to grab documents from frequently-accessed folders. For my convenience, Apple created a new "Downloads" folder, and put my Documents folder on the Dock. Below, you can see Stack in action, one way to click and find the document rapidly.

When buying Leopard, Apple's sales staff helpfully tried to say the OS was a lot faster than Tiger (OS X 10.4) had been on his machine, but I wasn't looking for more speed. My 2 GHz MacBook Pro is pretty darn good. I was looking for new features and new apps. Though I don't have screenshots, I tried out the new iChat theater, Stationary in Mail, and have become familiarized with Quick Look, which makes my documents look like their contents.

Apple has extended their lead over Microsoft Windows with this release for sure, but it's not something earth-shatteringly dramatic. If your Mac can run Leopard, by all means go get it, but don't expect the singing of angels. Just know you'll be using your Mac in new ways you couldn't before - more efficiently, faster, and more productively.