Well, Snow Leopard is here. I — like millions of other users — upgraded my Macs yesterday to 10.6.
Snow Leopard is a curious release. It doesn’t introduce a lot of end-user features, but rather, is a refinement of what was already there — for the most part.
After 9 years, Apple has changed the install process for OS X. They’ve simplified it, which is pretty surprising considering how easy it was before. This PDF on Apple’s site outlines the new process. One thing that bugs me is that by default, Snow Leopard doesn’t include Rosetta, which allows PPC apps to run on Intel machines. Apple’s obviously closing the door on PowerPC Macs with this release, but turning off Rosetta this early seems rash. It’s an optional install I recommend for everyone.
The install didn’t seem any faster than Leopard’s.
Speed Increases & Hard Drive Space
Snow Leopard sure feels faster, especially on my 2.93Ghz iMac, which sports the 256MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 video card. My MacBook Pro also feels faster, but not by as much. Apple claims 10.6 is faster than 10.5 in most things, and so far, I agree.
One unusual thing about 10.6 is that Apple claims most users will regain several GB of hard drive space back — mostly due to re-working the way printer drivers are stored and using some fancy math.
I didn’t get a dramatic amount hard drive space back like some users have reported, mainly because on my iMac I don’t have any printer drivers installed, and on my MacBook Pro, I always have all of them installed, since I’m out and about all day in and out of businesses and schools working on Mac stuff.
Even though I work for an Apple-Authorized Service Provider, our backbone is Exchange. And while that’s been great on the iPhone, it’s meant we have to use Entourage — which blows. Exchange in the built-in apps is great, and works just the way it should, with the exception of push mail, which seems flaky at best. My iPhone will usually get the email minutes before my computer does, leading me to believe that Mail is actually fetching those messages. Lame.
Regardless, it does make the Mac a much more viable option for business customers. It’s an ingenious move on Apple’s part.
Almost all of the nit-picky problems I had with 10.5 (and even older versions of OS X) have been resolved. Here’s Apple’s list of changes and tweaks — it’s long, but shows just how much attention these guys put into this release. Snow Leopard may not boast a bunch of big changes, but it can boast tons and tons of little ones.
Under the Hood
Snow Leopard is about the future. Apple has laid the groundwork for a next-gen OS that uses hardware in new ways to get things done more efficiently. While this doesn’t translate into headline-making improvements most users would get excited about, it’s the most important thing about Snow Leopard, by far.
There’s been a lot of complaining online that Snow Leopard’s kernel remains in 32-bit mode by default. The short explanation is that if Apple moved to a 64-bit kernel by default, it could exclude all Core Solo and Core Duo Intel Macs from booting the new OS. Of course, Apple could have shipped two versions of Snow Leopard, but that makes things more confusing than even having a PPC and an Intel version, like they did with Tiger.
Even in 32-bit mode, Apple’s applications (and other 3rd-party apps) can and do run in 64-bit mode, giving them ability to run faster and access more RAM. (As a side-note, Snow Leopard Server does run in 64-bit mode, it seems.)
The Final Word
Snow Leopard is a great update to OS X, and worthy for any Mac user. But as always, make sure any software you depend on runs on the new OS, or you could see some downtime. But if compatibility issues aren’t stopping you, go for it. Your Mac will run faster and leaner than ever.