A Layman’s Review of Leopard

Now, despite what my friends and family think, I’m not a Mac superuser. I’m just a layman, although a very savvy one. I’m learning Cocoa, but I’ll never make my living as a programmer. I can fix things with the Terminal (and reasonable instructions) but I hate the command line with a passion. I’m the first line of defense at work against computer problems, but much of my effectiveness is accomplished by basic knowledge, an aura of intimidation, and the threat of a very large ax.

What do I use my iMac for? Internet, email, iTunes, photos, the normal fluffy user stuff… and reading papers. Writing papers. Graphical editing, statistical anaylsis, data storage, coding, website development… even occasionally playing World of Warcraft. I like it because I don’t have to fight it (much) to get it to do what I need it to do, and because lots of things work the same way I think. Ultimately this is all that’s important to me. Yeah, I can build my own computer, sure it’s cheaper, but I have better things to do with my time than constantly troubleshoot hardware, or fight with Windows, or learn Hungry Hungry Hippo (or whatever the next Ubuntu is called).
I’ve been running Leopard since the Friday launch. The Husband and I actually went and stood in line. You do these sorts of things when you’re young and nerdy, and it’s a superior experience to clubbing. We forgot the camera, but it didn’t matter, I was kept late at work, so by the time we got there the line was already moving. At least we made it in time for free t-shirts. XL t-shirts alas, useless for anything save sleeping in, but still, they were free. This review comes later than many others. I only have Leopard on an iMac at home. I cannot take my computer to work to play with, and I have a limited amount of time at home to do ‘typical’ things on it to see what breaks. Here we go…

The Install The install was as smooth as silk. I picked archive and install, and it took a couple hours, but was completely painless. Although like any injury, the pain takes a bit to hit you. There were some things that got borked, but nothing immediately obvious. It was my first ever experience upgrading a copy of OS X, and I was pretty pleased with how smoothly it went.

Speed Leopard is overall snappier, even on my Core Duo iMac. New operating system + older hardware = faster performance? Oh yes.

The UI I have mixed feelings about the new UI elements.

The Dock is hideously ugly, and turning the shiny off in Terminal isn’t much better. That dock is ugly too, and I find myself considering turning hiding on for the first time ever. It’s a toss up between is the dock too ugly or is the hiding too annoying? So far annoying has won, and my dock is still visible, but I miss Tiger’s. There are lots of ways to hack the Dock, but I’m not that fond of fussing with things and I haven’t seen a Dock hack that I like that much.

As much as I hate the new dock, I love the new menubar. I know I’m alone in the world for this. I still use Tiger at work, and I just like Leopard’s better. It’s more monochrome and less obtrusive. But as awesome as I think the transparent menubar is, it could have been done better: 1) It would be really awesome if it could automatically adjust the transparency to remain legible no matter what jackassery has been done to the background. 2) There’s no real reason why transparency couldn’t be turned off, other than Apple just telling us to shut up and eat our vegetables. I’m all in favor of turning things off if you don’t like them.

The true User Interface sin is the new iTunes-like sidebars. The sidebar is too small. Mail, iCal, iTunes, Finder!!! They’re all too small, and I can’t make them bigger. I have to peer at my screen to read them. The text is smaller than the menubar, which for me is the bottom limit of legible text size, transparent or not. This wasn’t an issue when it was just iTunes, which I really don’t use very much, but now it’s everywhere; driving me crazy and making my eyes hurt. These coke-bottle lenses are not just for show, people.

I am inordinately pleased with the new Downloads folder. I had one in Tiger, but I had to put it there myself, and manually directed downloads to it, but sometimes things would slip through the cracks. Putting downloads automatically in a user-obvious folder is about as Mac-like as you can get, and I wonder why it took so long.

Stacks, I can take or leave. When I first saw them, I thought they were something different than folders, that you could just drag a bunch of documents to the dock and they would turn into a stack… No it’s just folders in the dock. I kept the Downloads stack, but haven’t bothered with any others because I don’t tend to keep my documents sorted into folders.

And with Coverflow, I’m even less inclined to keep things sorted. I knew I would love this feature when they announced it, and it hasn’t disappointed. However it is no longer wise to have an all black icon, (Pzizz, I’m talking to you). I’m pleased to read that some nay sayers have come around to how much easier it is to find stuff by looking at it, and not what you named it x months ago.

Spaces… well, they’re cool. I guess. I’ve never used a virtual desktop program before, and the only real use I have for them would be as a boss program at work. Only I don’t have a Leopard box there. They seem to be a little buggy. Photoshop and Illustrator have trouble staying in their Spaces. Occasionally they will change without any keyboard or mouse input on my part, this is especially disturbing when you’re in the middle of reading something. It’s like they’re possessed.

The Little Things There are some little things in the UI that I discovered but haven’t heard a lot about.

  • Renaming files – if you double click on a file to rename it, only the name and not the extension is highlighted. You can type the new name without damaging the extension. This is brilliant, simple and brilliant.
  • When you print to a PDF, now you can Title the pdf and give it keywords, I would presume for spotlight searches. At first I was excited, I thought you could finally add keywords to any document with ease. But no, it’s only for printing things to PDF. I wish Apple would get on the ball here. I might just give in and buy Yojimbo.
  • I love dictionary searching in Spotlight, and have put the dashboard widget out to pasture.
  • The Dock again – this time you can’t make it wider than your screen. If it’s at its width limit and you add something else, it shrinks to accommodate the new icon. This is bad for people with bad eyesight. What was wrong with the dock scrolling from Tiger? Oh, that’s right. Nothing. Obviously it had to go.
  • Dashboard. I love Dashboard (quiet haters!). I especially love the Unit Converter widget (I’m trying to teach myself to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit in my head). And now it’s even more useful, it will also convert currency. However, the calculator widget is still pathetically nonscientific – it’s not even as good as the calculator application.

What Broke There weren’t many things that broke when I installed Leopard, but some things did.

Omni Outliner Pro broke. It broke horribly, and installing any Omni software is a nightmare involving logging on to your administrator account. Why you can’t authenticate from a normal user I have no idea. The latest beta of OO pro did fix the problem, but upgrading betas from Omni is such a pain right now that I do try not to bother.

CanoScan LiDE 500F broke. I have no idea how it broke, or why it broke, but it refuses to scan using the scanner buttons. If it deigns to work from the buttons at all, it will give an error message saying no driver found. It scans just fine using the CanoScan Toolbox, but it doesn’t work like it worked before.

Wireless printing to my HP 5850 InkJet broke – the printer wasn’t added. This was actually easier to fix than I gave it credit for, and I tried a couple of complicated and unsuccessful ways to fix it before I looked in the Default printer list, and there it was. Network printing busts all the time at work and I hate fixing it because it’s so complicated, but I definitely overthought this problem.

WordPress broke. The WordPress posting interface is still horrible in Safari. When will they get it right? Leopard had nothing to do with it, but writing this has been a nightmare and I felt like griping.

What Was Fixed Yes, some things fixed themselves in Leopard, probably due to a freshly installed OS. Chief among these was the PCStitch Pattern Viewer software, a Mac port of a bit of Windows software. Yes, that says it all. The issue could probably have been fixed by reinstalling Tiger, but I wasn’t about to do that just to fix an issue caused by a crappy port. Leopard made me able to get this installed correctly, and for that I salute it.

I think I’ve gone on long enough about the bits and bobs of Leopard, and the changes to the UI. I’ll write later about the new and updated applications, and again on some of the major problems. I have to admit, I haven’t encountered yet, so I’m giving them some more time to present themselves.  And afterwards I’ll dived into XCode* to give my perspective there.

As a whole, I think Leopard is a strong update. It increased the overall usability of the OS, it made my computer faster, and it gave me some new ways to do things, or (in the case of Spaces) think about doing them. But it wasn’t revolutionary, and after using it, I don’t think it was ever intended to be so.  Many of the best changes seem bent toward making use as natural as possible, while some of the worst are just to show off some of the new graphical capabilities.  This was my first ever Mac OS upgrade, and I regret nothing.  Except the Dock.
*I think everyone who’s computer savvy should take look in XCode. Not to learn to code, just to look at how things work. It’s like knowing what’s under the hood of your car, even if you don’t service it yourself.

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