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Review roundup: Apple's Snow Leopard sports subtle improvements


Critics are praising Apple's latest OS X upgrade, Snow Leopard, as a bargain-priced improvement that will help users get better performance out of their Mac, though there are some problems.

In general, reviewers are very positive about Snow Leopard, calling it a welcome performance boost with strong under-the-hood improvements. But what's really captivated everyone is the price: at $29, critics see the inexpensive upgrade as a no-brainer for most Mac users.

The new 64-bit architecture, built-in support for Microsoft Exchange, and the ability to open Mac OS X files while running Windows via Boot Camp are all welcome additions highlighted by reviewers.

But in the end, it's all about the performance: Applications load faster, and the OS install frees up an average of 7 gigabytes on a user's hard drive from Leopard.

That's not to say all is perfect. There are reports of applications that do not work or are glitchy in Snow Leopard. Some of the more popular software that has reportedly had problems includes Microsoft Word, Photoshop CS3 (which will no longer be supported for Snow Leopard), Growl, and CyberDuck. But as with any OS upgrade, some older applications will need to be updated in order to fully work with the new system. As has happened in the past, most software will likely see updates in just a matter of weeks to increase compatibility and performance issues.

Here are some of the review highlights:

  • Though Snow Leopard has few new key features visible to users and looks virtually identical to its predecessor, it's a recommended upgrade for existing Mac owners who want more speed and disk space.
  • "But I don't consider Snow Leopard a must-have upgrade for average consumers. It's more of a nice-to-have upgrade. If you're happy with Leopard, there's no reason to rush out and get Snow Leopard."
  • Installation went smoothly and freed up hard drive space, but not without a few minor problems with a screen saver that displays photos.
  • Safari 4 is especially faster on Web sites that use Javascript.
  • Three favorite new features: "Substitutions," an auto-correct program; automatic resetting of the time zone based on location; and the ability to record videos of on-screen actions via QuickTime.
  • While an improvement, Snow Leopard isn't a "typical Apple lust-provoking product," so it's priced accordingly.
  • Apple's "sleek upgrade" is truly optimized. A MacBook Air starts up in 72 seconds with Snow Leopard, while Leopard took 100 seconds.
  • Installation was fast (15 minutes) and freed up 7 gigabytes as promised.
  • Minor tweaks: Menu bar can now show the date, not just the day of the week; menu of nearby wireless hot spots shows the signal strength for each; icons can now be 512 pixels square, "turning any desktop window into a light table for photos."
  • When plug-ins crash in Safari, it doesn't take down the whole browser — "you just get an empty rectangle where they would have appeared."
  • Benefits for blind users: one new feature turns the trackpad into a "touchable map of the screen," and the computer speaks to the user as they touch each onscreen element.
  • Those who call Snow Leopard a "service pack" are uninformed.
  • "if you're already running Leopard, paying the $30 for Snow Leopard is a no-brainer. You'll feel the leap forward in speed polish, and you'll keep experiencing those 'oh, that's nice' moments for weeks to come."
  • Though Snow Leopard brings "solid" improvements, the quality of its Leopard predecessor means there is no need "for the kind of major overhaul Microsoft will unleash with Windows 7."
  • "There's not much new in the sizzle department. Many feature enrichments are modest."
  • "Snow Leopard should delight Mac fans, especially those who use Exchange at work."
  • iMac installation took an hour and seven minutes. Received a notification that outdated Parallels Desktop software would not work.
  • Microsoft Exchange integration works well. "I could quickly find past e-mails by searching via the Mac's terrific Spotlight feature."
  • "Snow Leopard adds bite, especially for business. But as upgrades go, this one is relatively tame."
  • Snow Leopard is like a series of boring but essential house renovations. "These are the things that keep a house functional and livable, and ensure that it'll still be a fun place to live in twenty years' time."
  • "It seems as though Apple's OS engineers spent the past year rummaging through all of the drawers and closets in the office, looking for every idea that they've come up with over the past few years that they've never been able to get to."
  • Does Snow Leopard feel faster? "Hell, yeah." Complex applications would complete tasks before having a sip of Dr. Pepper, unlike in Leopard.
  • "Grand Central Dispatch" makes use of multi-core processors, while OpenCL allows the OS to designate some processes to the computer's GPU. Together, they are "features that will speed up every existing app to a certain degree."
  • Application "Services" menu is now beneficial, allowing users to create their own via Automator. "It only took me about five minutes to create a service that converts any selected text in any app to an audiobook in iTunes, ready to be copied onto my iPhone the next time I perform a sync."
  • Dock Expose is favorite new feature: "It's far more than a simple window exposer." Can drag files to specific open windows by holding over the icon in the dock.
  • "Just 29? To make your Mac this much faster? It's a gimme."
  • Snow Leopard not as big of an improvement as Windows 7.
  • "Part of the reason Snow Leopard can promise faster, better applications is that it's designed for Macs with Intel chips, which Apple started using in early 2006. It won't run on older Macs with the previous PowerPC family of chips. The launch of the new operating system is a hint to get a new computer."
  • "Snow Leopard's benefits will be most apparent down the road, while Windows 7 promises more of an immediate payoff."
  • The new OS is "unlikely" to provide most buyers a reason to get excited about Macs.
  • With minor bugs and installation problems inevitable, it's probably best to wait a month before making the upgrade.

Other reviews

Numerous other takes on Snow Leopard are available from Engadget, CNet, Gizmodo, MacWorld, PC Magazine, and Wired.