Apple releases the next version of OS X to counter Vista, but does it stack up?

Quite simply, yes. Leopard is a fine OS, but it’s not without its share of bugs an quirks. Apple would have you believe that OS X users don’t suffer from any upgrade headaches like Windows users do. Not true. There are cases where upgrading from 10.4 “Tiger” to Leopard is a nasty process, but not usually.

I’m running Leopard on my 2nd generation MacBook (Core Duo 1.86ghz, 2.0gb ram, 60gb hdd). The Intel-based MacBook should be the primary target for perfection with Leopard, but I’ve still come across a few bugs.

Where Did the Smoothness Go?

In Tiger everything was smooth, every animation, every transition, every app. There was very little lag in any application, even when playing HD video on the built-in display and running Photoshop on an external monitor. Not so in Leopard. If I want to watch video in iTunes, I might as well quit Photoshop. Expose, the excellent window management tool built-in to OS X, isn’t as smooth in Leopard as it was in Tiger — especially when a video is playing.

One could probably attribute this to the video driver. However, guess who made the laptop I’m running Leopard on, that’s right, Apple. So there should be NO driver problems…none…ever. Apple designs their own hardware for a reason, so users don’t have to deal with most drivers, and the video performance of my laptop should be equal to or better than Tiger, and it’s not.

Aero, I Mean Glass, I Mean Aqua….

Microsoft calls it Aero, Apple calls it Aqua…in any case it’s the fancy little shadows and reflections that are using up tons of GPU cycles to make us feel more comfortable in front of our computers. Leopard marks the first major look and feel change in OS X since it’s introduction in 2001.

OS X has always felt cleaner to me than Windows — even Vista. OS X has sharp edges, smooth curves, and nice shadows. Vista always feels slightly blurry to me.

Overall Leopard feels “darker” than Tiger, heavy brushed-metal and silver tones where Tiger was mostly white. For me this only took a day or two to get used to, and now I don’t really notice it anymore, it’s still better than Windows.

The new dock took the most getting used to. It’s 3D now — big whoop — but the handy little indicator that shows whether a program is running or not is now a blue orb instead of a black triangle. Personally, I preferred the triangle — it was easier to see. Get a white window open and the reflection in the new dock can make the orbs hard to see, even against a dark background. There is no option to get the black triangles back.

Until the recent release of 10.5.2, the menu bar was translucent (you can now turn that off). There was a big stink raised online about this, but I have to say I never found it to be a problem, but I do have it turned off.

Stacks

OS X was missing a key element that Windows had solved back in 1998, an easy way to create a list of applications to launch. In OS X there are three ways to open apps, have a permanent icon in the dock, open your applications folder, or have a desktop shortcut (rarely used, but possible). Windows has the start menu, quick lauch toolbar, desktop icons, and custom toolbars (of which I use all four). In Leopard, Apple finally addresses this with Stacks, the ability to put a folder in the dock as a menu. I have my entire applications folder there as a stack, and it works quite nicely. Not quite as nice as I’d like, but it works, and I like it.

Spaces

In Linux you have four desktops, now you can have that in OS X also, with Spaces. It works, it’s pretty, it’s easy to use, but I honestly don’t use it because Expose works great, and I don’t need multiple desktops.

Cover Flow

Someone at Apple thinks this is the greatest thing in the world. It looks cool, but it’s really not that functional…at least I don’t think so. Cover Flow is a way of previewing files in a “showcase” of sorts within the Finder. I suppose if I kept more documents on my Mac, maybe I’d use this, but I don’t see the benefit.

Quick Look

A feature I do like is Quick Look, a built-in preview of a file within the finder. This is just handy. You can preview a file before launching the app that loads it. Preview a Word document or a photo without launching Word or Photoshop — very handy indeed.

Leopard vs. Vista

It’s no secret that Apple tweaked a few things in Leopard to target features in Vista. With Microsoft’s focus on the user experience in Vista, Apple knows that it must keep OS X well ahead of Vista to continue to have the ability to pull Windows users to the Mac.

Many, including myself, felt that most of the UI “improvements” in Leopard were directly aimed at Vista, especially the aforementioned dock changes. The Leopard dock truly does feel Vista-ish to me (some Apple people should cringe at that line).

Final Thoughts…

Leopard is nice. I can’t say that I like it any better than Tiger (its predecessor). Apple has fixed the translucent menu bar complaint, and I’m looking forward to an option to put a black triangle back in the dock (if that ever comes).

Hard-core Mac users will blindly buy Leopard, as Apple will force them to (not unlike Microsoft and Vista), but overall Leopard feels unneeded.

I’ve purposely left out key Leopard features such as Time Machine because I have not used it.

Overall Leopard is a nice update to OS X, even if it is somewhat unneeded for the Mac experience.

Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”

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