There has been a great deal of recent talk about the new version of OS X, scheduled for release in September. Called Snow Leopard, it aims to offer a range of speed and performance improvements, improve the architecture upon which your applications run, and offer better Exchange support for businesses.
Due to the lack of many new end-user features, it’s set to be the cheapest upgrade to date – priced at only $29. This article will go into detail about the improvements to expect in Snow Leopard, along with offering a few reasons to upgrade.
Many users (including myself) are mildly interested with changes to the underlying structure of an operating system, but more concerned with new features that will make the OS more useful on a day-to-day basis. We’ll start by looking at a few of these new refinements, but Apple also offer an exhaustive list of everything that’s changed.
One interesting new feature is the integration of Exposé into the Dock. If you click-and-hold over a Dock icon, the open windows for that application will arrange themselves on the screen. Exposé also looks far more organized, displaying windows in a better aligned grid.
Exposé has long been one of my favorite OS X features, and I find it completely invaluable. Further integration of Exposé into the operating system is a welcome addition.
The idea of Stacks debuted in OS X Leopard as a simple way of navigating a folder in the Dock. One major feature lacking was the ability to drill down through folders when viewing a Stack. This now works as expected, and makes Stacks far more usable.
Installation Speed & Space
Two impressive claims have been made about the installation process for Snow Leopard: (1) installing the operating system will be up to 45% faster than Leopard, and (2) you can save up to 6GB of disk space by upgrading. Both of these claims come with disclaimers, but certainly illustrate improvements across the board. I could certainly use the additional 6GB of free space!
Not much has changed with Finder over the past few years, and no enormous alterations are planned with Snow Leopard. A few changes you may notice include significantly improved speed, and more interactive icons (allowing you to browse through PDF documents or preview a video right in the icon).
QuickTime is another OS X app that has remained fairly static in recent years, other than the addition of the H.264 video codec in Leopard. Snow Leopard will see a new icon, several user interface refinements (including a gorgeous border-less window), the ability to better stream video over the Internet, and impressive speed increases.
One gripe I’ve always had with OS X (and I expect you have too) is that un-mounting a disk image often produces a fairly vague error, often due to an application using a file within the image. Snow Leopard will attempt to prevent this happening and, when a disk cannot be unmounted, will offer a far more useful error message detailing which application is using a file.
If you’re an application developer, changes to the underlying technology of OS X are vitally important. If not, you’re likely to notice their effects through improved speed, security and reliability.
64 Bit Speed
All the latest Macs come with 64 Bit processors and are capable of performing at greater speed. Whilst OS X has taken advantage of this capability to some degree in Leopard, the next incarnation offers a fairly extensive re-write of system applications to better take advantage of 64 Bit computing.
It also reduces the amount of memory that can be handled by an application, allowing a theoretical maximum of 16 billion gigabytes of memory (almost enough to coax decent performance out of Microsoft Office!)
The speed increases aren’t phenomenal, but should add up to produce a noticeably snappier system (providing you have a 64 Bit Mac).
Grand Central Dispatch
Along with 64 Bit capabilities, most new Macs also offer multiple processor cores (i.e. Intel Core Duo). The unusually named Grand Central Dispatch makes OS X better aware of these multiple cores, offering further speed increases for those on new machines. How GCD works is fairly complex, but you can safely take our word that it’s very cool!
This technology makes better use of the impressive graphics processor on board your Mac, allowing it to be used for a wider range of tasks. It’s no longer limited to use in the latest games, but can assist with increasing the speed of more ever-day apps.
It’s difficult to ignore the prevalence of Microsoft Exchange in corporate environments, and Snow Leopard represents Apple’s first step towards making Macs better suited for use in enterprise. It integrates all the features of Exchange into local OS X applications such as Mail, iCal, and Address Book.
Kiss that aging Dell goodbye and get on the phone to your boss!
Apple have really taken an industry leading position with the new accessibility features offered in Snow Leopard, making it far easier for disabled users to navigate around the operating system.
VoiceOver is the OS X speech technology, capable of reading the contents of your screen and assisting with navigation around applications. Better use is made of the multi-touch trackpad for flicking through different areas of an app, and there’s an improved introduction to VoiceOver for those getting used to it the first time.
Improvements to VoiceOver make browsing the Internet a simpler process, particularly when coupled with new keyboard and trackpad commands for moving around a page easier. “Auto Web Spots” allow you to specify certain areas of a website which should always be read first (such as the “breaking news” section of a site).
Snow Leopard brings in support for a whole range of different braille hardware devices, including several wireless Bluetooth models. Another feature known as “braille mirroring” allows multiple devices to be connected to one machine – particularly useful in a classroom setting.
5 Reasons to Upgrade
Whilst I would recommend taking a look at the full set of Snow Leopard information provided by Apple, here are the five reasons I’ll be upgrading in September:
- Price – $29 is an absolute bargain
- Speed – So many different technologies promise improved performance, I expect the overall effect to be very noticeable (particularly as I’m using a relatively new MacBook Pro)
- 6GB of Space – Freeing up 6GB of hard drive space just by installing Snow Leopard is particularly welcome
- Faster Backups – I haven’t mentioned this as a major feature, but 50% faster Time Machine backups would be very useful
- Future-Proofed – I’m excited to see the impact of these new underlying technology changes on third party apps, and I expect developers will have some great ideas for improving application performance.
So… Will you be upgrading in September? I would be very interested to hear your reasoning either way.