Leopard, four months later

Back when Leopard was released, we gave you our in-depth, but first-look, impressions. Now that we’ve been using Mac OS X 10.5, day-in and day-out, for over four months, we’ve got a better handle on what we really like and don’t like about the latest and greatest computer cat. Over the course of the week, several Macworld editors will be sharing their personal "long-term" views on Leopard. Here’s a run-down of my take:

The Good

Of all Leopard’s new (and improved) features, perhaps my favorite is Screen Sharing, both in the Finder and in iChat. I’ve used it for everything from providing family members with remote tech support to collaborating with my Macworld colleagues. I even use it—regularly, in fact—to work on my desktop Mac from my laptop.

QuickLook has also been a welcome improvement that's enhanced my productivity by letting me quickly preview items in the Finder. It means no more launching a seldom-used program just to take a peek at a file, and thanks to third-party plugins, I've given Quick Look the capability to work with many more types of files. The only problem is that I used the pre-Quick Look Finder for so long, I often forget Quick Look is there.

Time Machine is another of my favorite new features, although not for general backup purposes—for that I still use SuperDuper. What makes Time Machine so valuable to me is how easy it is to go back and grab a previous version of a file or folder, whether that version is from yesterday, last week, or several months ago.

Like many people frustrated with Spotlight under Tiger, I’ve been enjoying Spotlight That Finally Works. In fact, Leopard's Spotlight is even usable as an application launcher; it’s so improved in this respect that I’ve been using it in lieu of LaunchBar, one of my “must-have” utilities, on one of my Macs. (Don’t get me wrong; I still use LaunchBar on my two main Macs. It’s just that for the first time, I’ve been able to use a LaunchBar-less Mac without feeling hamstrung.)

I also really like the new-and-improved folder-level file sharing, and although I thought I’d dislike the tiny text and inefficient use of space in the new Finder sidebar, the benefits of the new Shared area have won me over. Finally, my favorite “minor” feature is the new Path Bar in Finder windows, which lets me see, at a glance, exactly where I am in my Mac’s filesystem.

The Bad

One of the Leopard features I looked forward to the most has turned out to be Leopard’s biggest disappointment. Back To My Mac promised to let you easily access your Mac—via Screen Sharing or File Sharing—from another Mac, regardless of whether you were across the house or halfway around the world. And it occasionally does that. But more often than not, Back To My Mac has made me want to smack my Mac, which can’t be found no matter how I tweak my AirPort Extreme’s settings. (To Apple’s credit, I’ve found that Bonjour works better than ever in Leopard, which at least makes it easier to connect over a local network.)

Spaces has also been a bit of a letdown. As the editor who covered this new feature for our First Look and Inside Leopard pieces, I thought Spaces would bring considerable productivity gains to my day-to-day Mac use. But after four months, I find my self using it only occasionally. Not because the concept is bad—I’m a perfect candidate for a good virtual-desktops system—but rather because Spaces has numerous minor glitches that, taken together, make it too frustrating for me.

The Ugly

Prior to the release of Mac OS X 10.5.2, I would have led off any list of Leopard Ugly with Stacks and the original semi-transparent menu bar. But Apple listened to users and largely fixed these interface blights in 10.5.2. Unfortunately, we’re still left with the eye-candy-for-the-sake-of-eye-candy Leopard Dock. Visually, I find it to be a major step backward from Tiger’s version: the 3-D appearance is distracting, the active-application indicator is difficult to see, and the dandified appearance offers no tangible benefits over the simpler Docks of previous versions of Mac OS X. The first thing I do on any new Leopard system is switch to a 2-D Dock.

Finally, I have one other quibble that you could classify as either Bad or Ugly: Leopard is the first version of Mac OS X that has been less stable than the previous one for me—to various degrees depending on the Mac. Up until Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4), each major new version—10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4—has been considerably better than the one before it: fewer application crashes, less-frequent system freezes, and better memory management. But my Mac Pro has had more kernel panics in the past month than it had in a year and half under Tiger, and I experience, on all my Macs, application crashes a bit more regularly under 10.5 than I did under 10.4.

What makes the the former issue especially frustrating is that when I upgraded the Mac Pro to Leopard, I rebuilt it from scratch—the first time I've ever done so with a new OS version. I erased the hard drive, installed Leopard, and then painstakingly installed applications and transferred files and settings over, making sure everything was officially compatible and omitting many of the system tweaks I’d been using under Tiger. So I expected the computer to be more stable than before. Hopefully, Leopard—like previous versions of Mac OS X—will improve in this respect with future updates.

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