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Apple's Snow Leopard: A Revision, Not a Revolution

As I was working my way through today's review of Apple's new Snow Leopard edition of Mac OS X, I noticed that words such as "unremarkable," "boring," "invisible" and even "yawner" began appearing in my notes.


Don't get me wrong; exciting isn't always good in operating-system upgrades. Microsoft's Windows Vista can be exciting in all kinds of wrong ways. And at $29, it's not like Apple is asking much for this update.

But Snow Leopard doesn't bring nearly as many surface-level changes to OS X as its predecessors -- compare today's writeup to my evaluations of 2007's Leopard and 2005's Tiger. The important stuff in Snow Leopard lies underneath, waiting for developers to adopt in new software.

It's those programmers outside Apple who will ultimately make the better case for an upgrade to Snow Leopard, maybe in six months or a year from now. (For an uber-detailed assessment of those possibilities, Ars Technica writer John Siracusa's 23-page evaluation of Snow Leopard looks like your best bet; I say "looks like" because I, um, haven't finished reading it yet.)

If you go ahead and upgrade to Snow Leopard anyway -- a process that took from 39 minutes on a MacBook Pro laptop to an hour and 10 minutes on a Mac mini desktop -- what is there to look forward to? After a week or so, I think the biggest day-to-day improvements are the Dock's browsable "stacks" listing the contents of your Applications, Documents and Downloads menu, followed by the once-again-useful Services menu. Oh, and the partially translucent contextual menus on Dock program icons seem less intrusive as well.

Other changes may become more useful later on. Quick Time X's new "screen recording" capability could be handy the next time I'm writing about some complicated computing task here and want to embed a where-and-when-to-click video. Whenever I replace my printer -- which may come soon, considering that HP stopped writing Windows and Mac software for it years ago and never shipped a clean, simple set of drivers for it before then -- I will look forward to Snow Leopard automatically finding and updating the new model's drivers. And if my next smartphone relies on Google Contacts and Calendar to update its own address book and datebook, Snow Leopard's ability to synchronize Address Book and iCal to Google's Web services could come in handy (though first, somebody at Apple or Google will have to fix the address-sync problems I saw).

Have other questions about Snow Leopard? Agree or disagree with my conclusion? Post your thoughts in the comments -- and join me for today's Web chat, starting at noon.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 4, 2009; 11:12 AM ET
Categories:  Mac  
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Snow Leopard took 40-45 minutes to load on our Intel iMacs. Safari does load much faster-sites come up in 5-10 seconds as opposed to 30-60 previously. There is something different about Mail as well that I can't put my finger on.

Both virtual machines, Parallels and VM run well. Our printers work, although my Canon Image Class 4150 was not on the approved list last time I looked. There have been no software problems so far.

All in all, it seems worth the $.

Posted by: MMRudy | September 4, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

It would seem that Snow Leopard has effectively broken all the 3 or 4 WiFi scanning programs like istumber.

I wonder if its an architecture change that developers need to accommodate or a policy change by Apple.

Posted by: Annorax | September 5, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

For a far more comprehensive (and deservedly positive) review of Snow Leopard, I would highly recommend the PC World review that is posted right here on They go through the improvements in detail and reach the obvious conclusion that, at $29, upgrading to Snow Leopard is a "no-brainer," indeed, a great value.

Posted by: chevychase10 | September 6, 2009 2:35 AM | Report abuse

HP Printer software IS THE WORST. The solution center is ~680MB...

Posted by: BMACattack | September 6, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I thought Snow Leopard was supposed to make h264 playback faster, which would seem to be a big deal.

"QuickTime H.264 hardware acceleration

requires a Mac with an NVIDIA 9400M graphics processor."

I'm surprised that wasn't fast enough to make anyone notice.

Posted by: WorstSeat | September 7, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

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