Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What’s Coming with Snow Leopard?

Next month Apple will release a major update to the Mac OS X operating system. The upgrade looks pretty cheap at just $29 to move up from the current Leopard OS X 10.5. But what do you get for your upgrade dollar?

I’ll have to admit, I’m loath to upgrade operating systems beyond the minor upgrades that are pushed for free automatically. The big jumps tend to be expensive. They also tend to be more powerful and offer a suite of new features. That translates into more demand on the processor and a need for more memory if you don’t want your machine to slow down to a snail’s pace.

This is what killed Microsoft’s Vista. Most existing computers just couldn’t handle it. Will Snow Leopard be the same way? Ordinarily, by the time a major upgrade comes around it’s also time to get a new computer with the next OS already installed. But I just bought this iMac. I hate to have it be a generation behind already. So, what to do?

Let’s take a look at what Apple is offering with the Snow Leopard release. The first claim is that it makes your Mac faster, more reliable, and easier to use. What? That flies in the face of operating system history. They always slow you down, add more bugs than they fix, and make things more complicated overall. Can Apple really pull this off?

Looks like it. The Apple declaration is that Snow Leopard is faster to wake up, shut down and join a network. Wake speed is improved by a factor of 2x. Icon refresh on the finder is claimed to be anywhere from 1.4 to 1.7 times faster. Even time machine backups can be expected to go 50% faster. Just to top it off, upgrades will be up to 45% faster when you need them.

Certainly, this speed improvement must come at the price of a much larger installation. No, not really. Snow Leopard will actually take less than half the disk space of the OS it is replacing. You can expect 6 GB more free space on your hard drive.

I’ll have to say that the iMac is blazingly fast already, compared to my old Compaq. So extra fast browsing speed and wake-up time may not be all that noticeable... right now. But there is always a new killer app around the corner and it’s good to have some extra capacity so you can take advantage of whatever comes down the pike.

One thing that caught my eye is an improvement on iChat. I haven’t gotten into video chatting as of yet, but it looks like the next social networking craze and perhaps an emerging business tool. One limitation has been a need for 900 Kbps upload bandwidth for the best resolution. That’s pushing it on my Cable broadband. Most ISPs brag about their download speeds but stay mum about upload. That’s because you don’t know you need upload bandwidth until you start posting high resolution photos or videos, or want to do something like video chatting. Snow Leopard reduces the upstream requirement to 300 Kbps for high resolution 640x480 pixel video chats and improves connectivity.

There are other improvements as well. QuickTime, the Apple media player, has been upgraded and will feature easy uploads to YouTube and MobileMe. If you’re not familiar with MobileMe, it’s someting of a personal cloud for Mac users. You can store and share files, post web sites, share pictures and video and other functions on dedicated Internet space. OK, it’s hosting for those who wouldn’t otherwise use web hosting.

So, will this upgrade to the Apple operating system be worth the 29 bucks? Sure looks like a deal to me. The fact that its available for an untraditionally low price suggests that Apple wants to make Snow Leopard the primary platform for whatever it is cooking up in the labs. Oh, yes, if you bought your Mac after June 8, 2009 you’ll be able to upgrade for the even lower price of $9.95. Pre-Leopard Macs will need a Mac Box Set upgrade that’s pretty pricey at $169. For those users, it might be time for a new computer after all.

Follow Telexplainer on Twitter