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The 'Book Mystique

Leopard And Apple Portables: What Will Work; What Will Not; And What To Expect

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

by Charles W. Moore

Apple officially announced yesterday that Mac OS X Leopard will be released on Friday, October 26. Over the years, I’ve usually been content to hold off on upgrading to new releases of the Mac OS, especially major version upgrades, to see how the dust settles, so to speak but this time I’m going to have trouble waiting very long.

The biggest apprehension I have is about Leopard’s overhead demands on my not exactly cutting-edge hardware - my current newest Mac being a 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4 - a model introduced just over four years ago. Some users of beta versions of Leopard are reporting that it’s the fastest version of OS X yet, which is encouraging, but I imagine they are running the OS on MacIntel hardware with ample video support, and I presume that there’s a good reason why Apple has set the official Leopard support threshold at an 867 MHz G4 (check out Leopard’s system requirements in detail in the Appendix at the end of this article). Happily, my 1.33 GHz machine is comfortably above that, but I’m still wondering how lively Leopard is going to be on any G4 unit. Also, Leopard’s DVD Player feature requires a 1.6GHz processor or faster for improved de-interlacing, and iChat: Photo Booth and backdrop effects all require an Intel Core Duo or faster processor, while Developer tools require at least 1GB of memory and an additional 3GB of available disk space (at least I’m covered on that last one), so support for all but the very fastest of the G4 PowerBooks is qualified by several exclusions.

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However, I have OS X System installs on two separate partitions of the PowerBook’s hard drive, so will have a known-dependable OS 10.4 Tiger system to fall back on, although by all accounts I’m not likely to want to revert after upgrading to 10.5.

The 867 MHz G4 watershed means that in the portable Mac context, no G3 ‘Books at all, as well as the 400 MHz, 500 MHz, 550 MHz, 667 MHz, and 800 MHz Titanium PowerBooks and the early 800 MHz 12” G4 iBooks will not be able to run Leopard, nor will my two 550 MHz G4 upgraded Pismo PowerBooks, meaning that for these machines the ultimate version of OS 10.4 Tiger, probably the yet-to-be-released OS 10.4.11, will be the end of the line, at least officially. While Ryan Rempel’s XPostFacto installer hack may be tweaked to get Leopard onto at least some of these unsupported machines, I’m sanguine about continuing to use Tiger on my older hardware as long as it remains in useful service. It’s getting to the point where I probably should seriously think about getting an Intel Mac, although the 1.33 GHz 17” PowerBook G4 is such a satisfactory performer that I’ve thus far had little incentive to upgrade. Perhaps Leopard will prove the catalyst. We’ll see.

Mac OS X Leopard will go on sale Friday, October 26 at 6:00 p.m. at Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers, and Apple’s online store is now accepting pre-orders, as is Amazon.com and presumably other resellers. The price is still $129, unchanged from the Tiger tariff, and a family pack licensing installation on up to five computers is $199, also unchanged. Apple is also offering a Mac OS Up-To-Date Leopard upgrade package to all customers who purchase(ed) a qualifying new Macintosh computer on or after October 1, 2007 that does not have Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard factory-installed. There is a shipping and handling fee of $9.95, and the program ends on December 29, 2007. Your order must be postmarked or faxed by January 4, 2008. One more pricing note; reportedly the $79 academic price for Tiger has been superseded by a $116 academic price for Leopard.

Apple says Leopard incorporates more than 300 new features (the precise number is currently 317 - you can review them in their entirety here: http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/300.html ), which, in broad strokes, include a new desktop with Stacks, which will let you easily access files from the Dock; a redesigned Finder that supports easily browsing and sharing files among multiple Macs; a new “Quick Look” feature that will let you instantly preview files without opening an application; Spaces, another new feature that will let you create groups of applications and instantly switch among them; and Time Machine, an automated backup utility for everything on your Mac. Safari will also be upgraded, but those changes have been available for some time already in the Safari 3 public beta.

Unlike with Windows Vista, Leopard will come in only one, complete, comprehensive version.

Leopard’s redesigned 3D Dock with Stacks provides a new way to organize files for one-click access, and the system automatically places web, email and other downloads in a Downloads stack to help maintain a clutter-free desktop (I can use all the help I can get with that). Users will be able to instantly “fan” the contents Stacks into what Apple describes as “an elegant arc right from the Dock”. Hmmm. I’m from Missouri on this one. I’ve never been a fan of Dock animation, and keep it disabled by preference, so I’ll have to wait and see how I like this “fanning” business. I’m also wondering how gracefully the new Dock is going to work with the Dock positioned vertically at the far right of the Desktop, which is where I prefer to keep it, as subdued as possible. I’m nor a Dock fan.

You will be able to create your own Stacks for quick access to folders, documents or applications. I wait to be convinced, but this sounds like the familiar folders-in-the-Dock feature from earlier versions of OS X on steroids. I Keep just two folders in my Dock aside from the Home and Applications folders, and am not really enthusiastic about cluttering it up with any more.
I’m also skeptical about the transparent menu bar.

Leopard’s new look is applied to all applications, with every window on the desktop offering a consistent design theme and active windows outlined by deeper shadows that make them stand out. Sounds like it will be pleasant to look at, but that sort of thing does eat up processing capacity, mostly in the video processor, and I expect is part of the reason why older G4s, with their typically puny video accelerators and paucity of VRAM are not supported.

Leopard’s revamped Finder includes a feature called Cover Flow and a new sidebar with a simplified way to search for, browse and copy content from any PC or Mac on a local network. Content on any computer on a local network can now be searched using OS X’s Spotlight search engine, browsed using Cover Flow or copied across the network with a simple drag and drop. .Mac members can use the new Back to My Mac feature to browse and access files on their remote Macs over the Internet.

Speaking of Spotlight, Apple’s pre-release info doesn’t say much of anything about improvements to that addictive and indispensable, but limited and often frustrating feature. Name searches, phrase searches, content previews, and searches within results would be at the top of my list. Encouragingly, it’s reported that Spotlight actually is improved in Leopard, so that will be welcome, whatever it entails.

Quick Look, however, sounds especially enticing. What a great convenience it will be to be able look inside files without launching the application that created them, which can be a supreme drag, especially with sluggish-to load apps. like Photoshop Elements, which takes 40 seconds or so to start up on my PowerBook. With Quick Look, Apple says we will be able to instantly view full-screen, high-resolution files of virtually anything, even media files, from any view in the Finder (and hopefully Spotlight?)

Spaces will allow you to create multiple customized desktops containing only those applications or documents needed for a particular project, with the ability to quickly switch between Spaces with the mouse or keyboard. This sounds great in theory, although I’ll reserve judgment until I see how much I use it. I tend to have several projects on the go at any given time, and the ease of switching back and forth among will be key for me.

Time Machine will provide for automatic backups all of the data on your Mac, also supporting finding lost files and restore all of the software on the Mac. Of course, this begs the question of where said backups will be stored, and more importantly in my estimation, how much the process will slow everything down. I’ve never been a particular fan of automated backup utilities, finding them slow and cumbersome and less satisfactory than my preferred modality of just manually dragging stuff to backup media in the Finder. I do have a 500 GB external USB 2 hard drive, but it’s not something I would want to keep hooked up all the time. Once again, we’ll see.

With a one-click setup, Time Machine will automatically keeps an up-to-date copy of everything on the Mac. In the event a file is lost, you will be able to search back through time to find deleted files, applications, photos and other digital media and then instantly restore the file. This sounds both like it will require vast amounts of backup media capacity and a lot of processor cycles. If it’s ever necessary, Leopard can also easily restore an entire system from the Time Machine data on an external drive, which is a helpful facility for sure.

Apple’s Mail email client has been updated in Leopard and as Apple puts it “features more than 30 stationery designs and layouts that look great on a Windows PC or Mac so users can easily send stylish, personalized emails with beautiful graphics and photos.” Gak! I’m on dial-up, dislike formatted email, and keep plain text only specified in my Eudora preferences. I’ve never been smitten with the Mail app., although the equivocal future of Eudora may convince me to give it a look in Leopard, but I couldn’t care less about sending “stylish, personalized emails.”

More dumbed-down stuff in Mail includes Notes and To Dos help users stay organized by acting like emails that can be easily created, saved as drafts, synced across multiple Macs and stored in Smart Mailboxes. Data detectors automatically sense phone numbers, addresses and events so they can be added to Address Book or iCal with just a few clicks, and users can keep up-to-date by getting the latest news and blog feeds delivered directly to their mailboxes with a built-in RSS reader. Sounds like more complexity masquerading as simplicity to me.

The Leopard version of iChat will feature richer video chats in Leopard with iChat Theater, making it easy to show photos, presentations, videos or files in a video conference; screen sharing which lets users remotely view and operate another Mac; and Photo Booth effects for fun distortions and video backdrops that can instantly make users appear to be anywhere they choose. None of this is of any use to the still considerable proportion of Internet users who are stuck with dial-up, but whatever floats your boat.

Other new features in Leopard include:
* improved Parental Controls, aiding parents in managing their kids’ online activities with automatic identification of unsuitable content before allowing website access, plus time limits and activity logs that can be accessed from any Mac on a home network;
* the complete Boot Camp release is now included in the Mac OS, previously available only as a beta, making it possible to run Windows natively on Intel-based Macs;
* Web Clip, bringing anything that a user wants from a web page to Dashboard as a live widget;
* new Photo Booth features, helping users create animated iChat buddy icons or fun effects and backdrops with still or video images;
* an enhanced Dictionary with Wikipedia built in, allowing users to access up to date information on virtually any subject in a snap;
* a newly updated iCal with multi-user calendaring based on the new CalDAV standard; and
* an updated version of Front Row, making it even easier to play music or watch movies, TV shows and photos on a Mac using the ultra-simple Apple Remote.

Just nine days to go, well, somewhat more than that for me, but I won’t tarry long getting a copy.

___

Appendix 1

Leopard System requirements

* Mac computer with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4 (867MHz or faster) processor

Minimum system requirements
* 512MB of memory
* DVD drive for installation
* 9GB of available disk space
* Some features require a compatible Internet service provider; fees may apply.
* Some features require Apple’s .Mac service; fees apply.

Feature-specific requirements

Time Machine

Time Machine requires an additional hard drive (sold separately).

Photo Booth requires an iSight camera (built-in or external), USB video class (UVC) camera, or FireWire DV camcorder; and an Intel or PowerPC G5 processor. Photo Booth Backdrop effects require an Intel Core Duo or faster processor. Backdrop effects when using a DV camcorder require fixed focus, exposure, and white balance.

Boot Camp requires a Mac with an Intel processor and Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista (sold separately).

Screen sharing in iChat and in the Finder requires a 128-Kbps Internet connection (300-Kbps recommended).

Front Row requires a Mac with built-in IR and an Apple Remote.

DVD Player requires a 1.6GHz processor or faster for improved de-interlacing.

iChat requirements
* Audio chats require a microphone and a 56-Kbps Internet connection.
* Video chats require an iSight camera (built-in or external), USB video class (UVC) camera, or FireWire DV camcorder; and 128-Kbps upstream and downstream Internet connection.
* Photo Booth and backdrop effects require an Intel Core Duo or faster processor.
* Backdrop effects when using a DV camcorder require fixed focus, exposure, and white balance.
* Some iChat features offer better performance and quality with higher system capabilities.
More details

Developer tools require 1GB of memory and an additional 3GB of available disk space.

___

Appendix 2

Applications Bundled with Mac OSX Leopard

* Address Book
* Automator
* Calculator
* Chess
* Dashboard
* Dictionary
* DVD Player
* Exposé
* Font Book
* Front Row
* iCal
* iChat
* Image Capture
* iSync (Supported Devices)
* iTunes
* Mail
* Photo Booth
* Preview
* QuickTime Player
* Safari
* Spaces
* Stickies
* System Preferences
* TextEdit
* Time Machine

Utilities

* Activity Monitor
* AirPort Utility
* Audio MIDI Setup
* Boot Camp Assistant
* Bluetooth File Exchange
* ColorSync Utility
* Console
* Digital Color Meter
* Directory
* Directory Utility
* Disk Utility
* Grab
* Grapher
* Keychain Access
* Migration Assistant
* Network Utility
* ODBC Administrator
* Podcast Capture
* RAID Utility
* Setup Assistant
* System Profiler
* Terminal
* VoiceOver Utility
* X11

Key Technologies

* AppleScript
* Aqua
* Bonjour
* CDSA security architecture
* Cocoa, Carbon, and Java
* ColorSync
* Core Animation
* Core Audio
* Core Image
* Core Video
* H.264
* Inkwell
* OpenGL
* PDF
* Quartz Extreme
* QuickTime 7
* 64-bit computing
* Sync
* Unicode 4
* Universal Access
* UNIX
* USB and FireWire peripheral support
* Xgrid

***

cmoore@pbcentral.com

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