A second look at Apple's Snow Leopard
It's now been almost two months since I reviewed Apple's Snow Leopard version of Mac OS X -- enough time for Apple to have shipped its first major patch to that operating system, and enough time for any new-release shininess to have dulled.
Granted, Snow Leopard (aka, Mac OS X 10.6) wasn't that shiny in the first place, as I wrote here at the time. Apple itself calls this version "refined, not reinvented" and sells it for the low, low price of $29.
But after two months of using Snow Leopard every day on a roughly three-year-old iMac, how do I appreciate this update? Not all that much, honestly. Some of its improvements have grown less noticeable over time, one problem has become a little more objectionable and one promised improvement has yet to surface.
Take Snow Leopard's changes to the Dock: While I find its scrollable "Grid Stack" pop-up listings of the Documents, Applications and Downloads folders' contents a big upgrade over Leopard's less flexible interface, I never use its "Dock Expose" preview -- clicking and holding an application's Dock icon to see thumbnail images of its open windows just takes too long.
The Quick Time X video player has also been somewhat of a non-entity, perhaps because most of the time I don't do anything with a video clip but watch it inside a browser window -- and that works about the same as ever in this new software.
Since my review ran, I've discovered another weird conflict with a third-party program: the PhotoStitch panorama-assembly tool included with Canon's cameras no longer works. Canon deserves most of the blame -- this application, which looks like a refugee from Mac OS 9, should have been updated long ago -- but the Snow Leopard installer offered no warning about this problem, and Apple's list of incompatible software has yet to mention it.
My biggest Snow Leopard disappointment, though, has to be the crash protection allegedly built into its Safari Web browser. Apple's site brags:
Apple engineers redesigned Safari to make plug-ins run separately from the browser. If a plug-in crashes on a web page, Safari keeps running. Just refresh the page and get going again.
I have yet to see this happen. Safari crashes about as often as it did before and also seems just as vulnerable to slowdowns and stalls once I have too many pages open. Just like in Leopard, Safari will stop responding to any input a second or two before the cursor changes into the dreaded "spinning beach ball of death," and then the only thing I can do is wait for the browser to snap out of it.
At least Snow Leopard's Activity Monitor utility now breaks out the processor and memory footprint of each plug-in, so I can accurately condemn Adobe's Flash plug-in for its appetites.
A few Snow Leopard users have discovered a much more serious problem: a rare but gruesome bug, still fixed, that caused Snow Leopard to wipe out all of their data after somebody else logged into the Mac using its Guest Account option.
I still consider Mac OS X a more pleasant software environment than Windows. I also still think Snow Leopard will bring worthwhile changes over time, both as successive bug fixes address its flaws (the next big one is supposedly due this month) and as third-party developers write new software to take advantage of its foundation-level improvements. But two months in, my not-all-that-glowing review looks a little too positive.
Were you an early adopter of Snow Leopard? What's your assessment, now that you've had some time to get accustomed to the software?
November 2, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
Categories: Mac , The business we have chosen
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