Leopard is, at once, a major alteration to the Mac interface, a sweeping update to numerous included productivity programs, a serious attempt to improve Mac OS security, and a vast collection of tweaks and fixes scattered throughout every nook and cranny of the operating system.
As with every OS X update since version 10.1, there’s no single feature in Leopard that will force Mac users to upgrade immediately. Instead, it’s the sheer deluge of new features that’s likely to persuade most active Mac users to upgrade, especially since this is the longest gap between OS X upgrades — two and a half years — since the product was introduced. Sure, some items on Apple’s list of 300 features might seem inconsequential, but if even a handful of them hit you where you live, that will be more than enough motivation for you to upgrade.
A new look
Apple trumpets the interface changes in Leopard as “stunning” and “eye-opening,” but in reality the changes are a mixed bag.
First, the good stuff: After years of experimenting with different looks for windows, sidebars, and other interface elements, Apple seems to have settled on a fairly consistent interface. The color scheme is largely monochromatic—shades of gray with slight gradients. Apple has improved the contrast between the frontmost window and the rest of them by increasing the top window’s drop shadow and dramatically lightening the color of inactive windows. The Leopard Finder’s new sidebar, clearly modeled after the iTunes Source List, is better organized and more usable than its Tiger counterpart.
The most important new feature added in Leopard is undoubtedly Time Machine, Apple’s attempt to encourage the vast majority of users who never, ever routinely back up their data to change their ways. Time Machine automatically backs up a Mac’s files to a separate hard drive (internal or external, though external is certainly safer and more convenient) or a network volume being shared by another Mac running Leopard. Attaching a drive and assigning it as a Time Machine backup volume is incredibly easy, and once you’ve set it up, you can essentially forget all about it.
It’s been 18 months since Boot Camp, Apple’s method of allowing Intel-based Macs to boot into Windows, was released as a public beta. Boot Camp serves a useful purpose in that it provides basic Windows compatibility and the ability to run Windows programs at native speeds.
Multiple-workspace utilities, which let you switch between various collections of application windows in order to reduce clutter, have been around for years on numerous platforms, including Mac OS X.
Quick Look, which appears throughout Leopard, is a technology that lets users preview the contents of documents without opening the program that was used to create them.