Leopard, the New Desktop OS Predator, Arrives

Analysis: So what's new in Leopard, and how "new" is it really, anyway?

Apples OS X 10.5 "Leopard" emerges from its den today, Oct. 26. Macs fan are, of course, ready to embrace the latest Mac OS, but whats really new in this version?

For starters, this is not the major upgrade that Tiger, Mac OS X 10.4 was. Instead, its many small steps forward and several new features, which make Leopard an interesting cat.

Some of these features, such as the revised Finder, have only relatively minor improvements. Still these minor improvements can add up to major pleasures. With Cover Flow, which you may have seen with iTunes, iPhone or Apple TV, files are displayed as album "covers," or, in this case, a large preview image of each file. Want an even closer look? Whack the space bar, and you get a preview of the file without wasting the time to open up its application.

In a word, nice.

If youre willing to shell out for an external backup drive for your Mac, which isnt a bad idea in any case, you can also use the fascinating Time Machine feature. With this your Mac automatically creates an hourly back-up of your system. But, this isnt your Dads backup. With Time Machine, you can set your personal way-back machine, to say last Tuesday, and, bang, your Mac looks and acts just as it did last Tuesday.


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You can also use Time Machine with the User Migration Assistant. This enables you to clone your personal Mac desktop from one system to another without any fuss or muss.

Another nice "new" feature is Spaces. I put new in quotes, because theres nothing new about it. Over on the Linux desktop, weve been using virtual desktops since…well, actually, weve been using them before there was a Linux. Heres the idea—each Space is a separate desktop. In one, you can have iTunes running, in another your word-processor, Mail and the Safari Web browser, and in still another an instance of Windows XP or Vista running under Boot Camp. It makes keeping your desktop from being a cluttered mess much easier.

Speaking of Boot Camp, it now comes standard with OS X. With it you can run 32-bits XP or Vista. Like Linux users, you may rather not run Windows at all, but, when you really need to run one particular Windows application its pretty darn handy to be able to do it on your favorite machine rather than using another PC or re-booting your system into Windows.

We havent had a chance to put our hands on Leopard, but from everything weve seen, it looks slicker than Vista or Compiz-Fusion on Linux. From all reports, as one would expect from Apple, it also works smoothly. With Vista, unexplained quirks in behavior and performance are part of the desktop. With Linux, you often have to do some tweaking before a desktop with lots of eye-candy is really up to speed. On the Mac, it appears that, once more just like the ads say, it just works.

You can get Leopard on any new Mac. You can also buy it for $129 as an upgrade to existing PowerPC and Intel-based Macs. To run it, youll need a system with at least an 867MHz PowerPC G4, a DVD drive for the installation media and 512MBs of RAM. Unlike Vista, where Microsoft makes you pick and choose between versions with wildly varying feature sets, Apple, like the Linux distributors, gives you a one-size fits all desktop operating system.


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