Monday, October 29, 2007

Leopard, first impressions

Leopard arrived today, in its rather cool box. And I installed it by the book -- the book in question being the useful, confidence-inspiring, and very inexpensive e-book Take Control of Upgrading to Leopard. So I used SuperDuper! to clone my MacBook Pro's hard-disk onto a bootable external drive (well, two different ones actually), did an "erase and install" of Leopard, and then used the set-up assistant to migrate all my files back from one of the external drives. Doing things the longest way round like this, the whole business, after the initial cloning, took about two and a half hours. But much better safe than sorry. (The only hiccup was that the installer initially took a long term to recognize the presence of my laptop's hard disk, which would have been distinctly alarming, had I not seen talk of the phenomenon on MacRumors. And apart from losing the Cisco VPN Client -- the university computer services say they'll have a Leopard-compatible replacement available in a day or so -- everything seems to be working again just fine.)

What strikes you first, of course, is some of the eye-candy -- e.g. the new dock, semi-transparent menu bar and menus, the folder icons. Quite a few mac reviewers have hated all these (e.g. see the ars technica review which is very informative about the under-the-bonnet improvements). Well, I'm all for the dock and I quite like the semi-transparent menu bar; the transparent menus are I think are far too transparent; and the "recycled cardboard" folder icons seem quite out of keeping with the space-age look of the rest of the UI. Or at least, that's my two-pennyworth. And it is only worth about that much fuss (especially as my bet is that these things will be subtly adjusted in an early update for Leopard). Otherwise, the cleaned-up look of the windows across the system is all pretty neat, and the new Finder windows are that bit more useful. On the whole, things look terrific.

Still, looks aren't everything: here are four things I instantly really like about Leopard, and which even just by themselves make the upgrade worthwhile:

  1. The whole system is consistently quite a bit snappier (e.g. one bounce and iCal with seven calendars is open, similarly for Mail).
  2. Cover Flow and Quick Look are amazingly useful, as well as very pretty. For example, I have a folder into which I park PDFs and other documents as I download them. I can now just instantly browse through the folder to see what is in the various documents without opening the relevant application(s), and can eventually file them away or trash as appropriate.
  3. Spaces is a very nicely implemented way of getting much cleaner work-spaces. I'm an immediate convert. (One space for Safari, Mail, etc.; another space for TeXShop windows; etc. Very uncluttered.)
  4. Time Machine is wonderful. I was already pretty good about cloning my hard disk to a pair of external drives, one at home and one at work. But inevitably you do foul up and accidentally delete stuff. So I've set up a new big external drive to be an automatic Time Machine archive whenever I'm in my little study at home (drives have become so cheap, there's no reason at all not to err on the side of caution -- it would just be too painful now to lose everything): and I will still carry on cloning onto the other drives. Feels very virtuous!
Worth waiting for (and it can only get better).

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