updated 10:55 am EDT, Fri October 26, 2007
Leopard First Impressions
Both Electronista and MacNN received our copies of the latest version of Mac OS X yesterday and are putting it through its paces in advance of the official release at 6PM tonight. Since then, we've been using the OS as part of our daily workflows and are ready to hand out our first takes on the new functionality and performance of the software for those users not yet bent on making the upgrade. Our experience so far has been upbeat -- though not without its share of (minor) flaws.
Although Microsoft has streamlined its own install process with Vista, Mac OS X still remains simpler to install. Aside from customizing the initial install options, which are largely unchanged from Tiger, the actual installation is almost entirely automatic and doesn't need any attention until the computer reboots. Apple's estimates of one to two hours in its Leopard Guided Tour can be pessimistic: on a new 2.4GHz iMac, the entire procedure took less than an hour for an Archive and Install option, although the estimated time proved unreliable as the install remained at "less than a minute" for a few minutes. We would also have appreciated a more verbose install process that made it clearer as to what was happening at any given stage.
Still, the upgrade process was relatively seamless and left much of the system's settings virtually as they were before the change. A note of caution, however: users who have manually created folders in Mail may need to import them back from the ~/Library/Mail/Mailboxes folder, as our version only carried over the main mailboxes at first. Common programs like Adium, Firefox, and Photoshop CS3 all appear to run properly without upgrades, though some more specialized programs have needed Leopard compatibility fixes: search MacNN and developers' websites to be safe.
Expectedly, a new iMac is generally Apple's ideal candidate for Leopard in terms of features and performance, and we've found that to be true: all of Leopard's visual effects are present and run smoothly. The interface is about as responsive as as Tiger's despite the additions; so far, the speed is enough that we're confident most G5s and nearly every Intel Mac could make the transition. Spotlight in particular appears to have been sped up considerably with a new indexing system that finds files almost instantly, addressing one of the main complaints many had with Tiger's purportedly instant desktop search tool. We hope to test more of the fringe examples in the near future.
The verdict on the new visuals themselves is hard to gauge so early into the release. In the Finder, the icon previews of nearly every file have so far been useful; the consistent interface has also been appreciated, and we could even see the use of Cover Flow working well for folders loaded with presentations or photos. Nevertheless, the controversial translucent menu bar may prove to be an annoyance for some depending on their choice of background image. Most of Apple's new desktop images seem to have been chosen in part because they make it easier to read the menu bar; earlier desktops and some custom images may prove to be troublesome, or at least ugly.
Thankfully, some of Leopard's new features have already proven useful. The addition of Stacks and the Downloads folder in particular is a long-overdue upgrade to any OS that should finally get rid of the clutter without making it necessary to root through the file system to find a new file. It's also likely that many users will start using Quick Look almost exclusively to watch short clips or review images instead of QuickTime or Preview. Spaces has also proven to be handy and could prove essential for workers (including at Electronista and MacNN) who are tired of having to carefully arrange the windows of several open applications or else hunt windows using the task switcher and Expose.
Whether this positive outlook will remain with us is unknown; we plan to supply more articles over the coming days to provide an in-depth review of Leopard and confirm whether our first take is just early optimism or a sign of good times ahead for Apple. At any event, the ease of the upgrade and the lack of glitches has already made Leopard feel like a stronger initial release than what we've seen with Panther and Tiger.