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Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6)

After spending a couple of days with Snow Leopard, I can give an enthusiastic recommendation to upgrade By Heath McKnight

Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6), the new version of Apple's 8+ year old operating system, Mac OS X, is an impressive upgrade from Leopard (10.5), which came out in late 2007. While it doesn't sport many new features as in years past, it does feature many "under-the-hood" improvements that make it worth the upgrade.

What's really interesting is that Apple announced the release date of Snow Leopard as Friday August 28, 2009, just days before it hit! And since the price to upgrade is $29 for one computer, $49 for five computers, it's pretty much assured Apple will have a hit on their hands. However, if you're using OS X Tiger (10.4) on your Intel Mac, you'll need to pay $169 for the Box Set containing Snow Leopard, iLife '09, and iWork '09.  Keep in mind, the $29/$49 version for Leopard users isn't just an upgrade disc--it's a full version of Snow Leopard.

Speed Increases
64-bit Computing: Apple has been using 64-bit processors in its Macs for quite some time, going back to the introduction of the G5. 64-bit computing is here with Snow Leopard, in its apps and subsystems. Also, Apple and third party applications built upon 64-bit computing will run faster than before. Plus, you have access to more than just 4GB RAM any many applications. So if you always had more than 4GB RAM in your system and you didn't see as much of a speed improvement, you will with Snow Leopard and applications that take advantage of 64-bit computing.

So what's faster so far? When I first fired up Apple's standard applications, like the latest versions of Safari 4, iTunes and the like, they loaded faster than before. Opening them again and they loaded even faster than the first time in Snow Leopard.  The dock even seems to move faster (I keep it hidden and use magnification). Final Cut Pro 7 is loading faster, despite all the plug-ins I have. And don't worry, if you have 32-bit applications, they'll still run just fine in Snow Leopard.

Snow Leopard's Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) will better manage multicore processors, so if a software application has been developed to work with GCD, things will run faster and smoother.  (Faster clock speeds?  That's SO late 1990s/early 2000s!)  So if you're running an Intel Core 2 Duo system or an 8-core Intel Xeon Mac Pro, things will be running faster.  Check out for more information.

Another of Snow Leopards "weapons" is OpenCL (, which enables applications to take better advantage of the extremely advanced graphics processors that are found in Macs. According to Apple, OpenCL even customizes itself to the graphics processor you have. So if you put in the biggest and baddest graphics card in your Mac Pro, expect to see some major improvements. Of course if you're running an Intel Mac with an older graphics processor (like my MacBook with an Intel graphics processor), you won't see a lot of speed increases.

To really see these speed increases, you'll need an Intel Core 2 Duo or better (or a "monster" Intel Xeon), along with a newer graphics processor or card (like NVIDIA)--I didn't see much improvement on my two year old MacBook which is running graphics via Intel.  If your Mac is running Intel Core Duo and Solo, you won't see much speed improvement in some areas.  And obviously, more RAM the better.

Improvements and Refinements
Apple really did spend a lot of time improving things "under the hood," helping to make the OS X features you use and love that much better. These include the Dock's Stacks (a great way to put one folder on the dock that contains more applications); Spaces (set up more than one workspace on your system); Exposé (things are lined up in a grid now); a new iChat (share files and more--something we first saw in Final Cut Pro 7); and more. 

Using Expose in the dock

Here's a cool trick: in the Dock, click and hold an app to use Exposé to see what windows are open (for instance, how many windows you may have open within Safari).
Personally, I've only just started using Exposé and I often shut off the Dashboard with TinkerTool (, plus I don't use Spaces, but I know many of you do and there are plenty of improvements but most aren't noticeable at first glance.

The new and improved Stacks.

I've started using Stacks because I just have so many sub-folders found in my Documents folder, all which contain various documents.  You can use Stacks easily by dragging a folder to the Dock, then you can easily open up that folder to see what's inside. And since it's now in an easy-to-find-things grid (as opposed to Leopard's where it just put a bunch of files in a curved line), I am more willing to use it. But I have to get used to it--I have a lot of folder icons I use a lot (like one that contains my articles for Digital Media Net) that I placed on the Finder's Sidebar, I'm still opening the Finder to access stuff.  Hmm, maybe I'll put the DMN folder down on the Dock.

The Finder, that main "window" you use in OS X, may look mostly the same, but it's been completely rebuilt with Cocoa (the foundation of OS X). For years, it was built upon older technology known as Carbon, so now we're really ‘playing with fire'!  If you've been using OS X for a while, you'll probably recall some of the changes made to the Finder window, mostly inspired by iTunes. 

Looking at photos in Cover Flow in the new Finder

And Snow Leopard is no different: there is now a Cover Flow option which I really dig. Going through files or photos in Cover Flow is much better--sure they're smaller than opening them with Preview, but it's just great to skim through them and open them easily by hitting the space bar (see below--it doesn't open them in Preview). You can make the Finder Cover Flow window larger and the icons will get bigger, too.

Play video from the finder via Quick Look


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