With the introduction of Snow Leopard, Apple took a breather from adding or pumping up features to focus on cleaning up the underlying structure of OS X. The result is one of the fastest and most stable operating systems Apple has ever released.
Snow Leopard offers few new features but it packs a wallop of new technology at the core of the OS. This new, cleaner OS is fast and lean. It’s also only for Intel Macs; all others need not apply.
Snow Leopard Review: Overview
Snow Leopard is mostly the result of some tinkering under the hood. It doesn’t look that much different on the surface, but what you see is definitely not what you get.
With this iteration of OS X, Apple decided to stop looking back and concentrate on moving forward. Snow Leopard is leaner and faster than Leopard, mainly because it’s not bogged down with all the legacy code necessary to support older computers. Apple removed all of the code necessary to run OS X on PowerPC-based Macs, ending up with a clean slate that can take full advantage of the technology in the Intel processor.
Apple had two additional major goals for Snow Leopard: to fully implement a 64-bit operating system that takes full advantage of the Intel hardware, and to have an OS that takes better advantage of multi-core and multi-processor systems. To that end, Apple concentrated on five underlying technologies to serve as the foundation of Snow Leopard.
- 64-bit architecture. The new 64-bit architecture supports more RAM (16 exabytes), delivers faster performance, and provides added security.
- Grand Central Dispatch. This new feature makes better use of multiple processors.
- OpenCL. This new feature takes advantage of processors built into graphics cards and chipsets.
- Microsoft Exchange Server Support. Snow Leopard is the first OS to directly support Microsoft’s popular Exchange Server technology.
- QuickTime X. Snow Leopard sports a new 64-bit version of QuickTime, with a new interface and new capabilities.
Snow Leopard Review: Installation
Snow Leopard uses a new installation process. Gone are the many installation options available in previous versions of OS X. The ‘Erase and Install’ and ‘Archive and Install’ methods are history. The only available installation method is an upgrade. It’s possible to erase a hard drive and create the equivalent of the old erase and install option, but to achieve that you must manually erase the drive after booting your Mac from the Snow Leopard Install DVD.
One interesting thing about the installer is that it doesn’t check to see whether you’re really upgrading from Leopard. Instead, Apple configured the installer to work on the honor system. You won’t have to worry about finding your old OS X install DVDs just to prove you’re eligible to upgrade. And if you’re upgrading from an earlier version of the Mac OS, apparently Apple won’t tell if you won’t.
The other change in the installation process is that the installer now copies most of the files it needs to your Mac before it reboots. Under the old system, your Mac had to boot from the DVD drive to install the OS. The result is a speedier installation process.
The installer can also recover from common installation problems, such as a computer that freezes up or loses power during the installation. Even with these built-in safeguards, I recommend following a well-thought-out plan to 'Prep your Mac for Snow Leopard' before tackling the installation.
If you’re ready to install Snow Leopard, follow our ‘Snow Leopard Install: Basic Upgrade Install of Snow Leopard’ guide.
Snow Leopard Review: Finder
The Finder was rewritten in Cocoa as a 64-bit application. The result is a much speedier Finder. Folders open much faster, even when they hold tons of files. The Finder can now display icons up to 512x512 pixels in size. When you use the icon view in Finder, there’s now a slider you can use to adjust the icon size in the display. Column views now have customizable sort orders, and Finder windows remember where they last appeared on the desktop.
The Trash got an update, or more correctly, a regression. In the classic Mac OS, you could return items in the Trash to their original location. Snow Leopard’s Trash has a ‘Put Back’ option in the Finder’s ‘File’ menu.
The Finder used to calculate file and folder sizes using binary math. As a result, a kilobyte was 1,024 bytes, a megabyte was 1,048,576 bytes, and so on. The Finder now uses base ten for these calculations, so a kilobyte is now 1,000 bytes, a megabyte is 1,000,000,000 bytes, and so on.
Finally, the Finder will now tell you why it can’t eject a disk. Before Snow Leopard, the Finder would simply tell you that you can’t eject a disk because it’s ‘in use.’ The Finder will still tell you that on occasion, but now it will also tell you which application is using the disk, so you can quit the application and eject the disk.
Snow Leopard Review: Desktop Enhancements
Snow Leopard brings some new features and GUI changes to the desktop. Most of the changes are minor, but they do make using the desktop a tad easier.
Expose has gotten a nice refresh, with new Expose functionality for the Dock’s icons. When you have multiple windows open in an application, it can get a little cumbersome trying to move between the windows. Now you can simply click and hold on the application’s icon in the Dock. After a short pause, the desktop will dim and all of the application’s windows will display onscreen. Each window will display a title, making it easier to select the window you want. Clicking a window will bring that window to the front and bring the desktop back.
First introduced in Leopard, stacks have been subtly tweaked in Snow Leopard. In grid view, there’s now a scroll bar for moving through large stacks. You can also now drill down through folders, instead of having folders open in the Finder. Stacks also now allow you to pick sort orders (by name, date, or kind).
Stacks are also now drag-and-drop targets. You can drag items onto or off of a stack, which makes it much easier to manage stacks.
Dock menus also received a style change; they now appear as white text on a charcoal background. The menus themselves appear as rounded rectangles, with a caret pointing to their Dock icon.