Making Leopard upgrade-worthy

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In marketing Leopard, Apple doesn’t suggest that you should upgrade to the latest version of Mac OS X simply because it’s newer than the version you’re using now. Nor does Apple try to convince you that Leopard is worth the cost of upgrading simply because it has a bunch of shiny new technologies. Both of those things may be true. But Apple realizes (quite rightly) that Mac users don’t automatically upgrade to a new operating system just because the company makes one available.

Two and a half years ago, when Tiger was new, Apple touted its 200-plus new features. Leopard boasts an astonishing 300-plus additions. (See the full list.) Apple knows that no single Leopard user will ever take advantage of all 300. The company only has to convince you that some subset of them is worth $129.

Most users won’t care about Russian and Polish localizations for Mac OS X—but speakers of Russian and Polish surely will. Almost nobody will purchase Leopard just for AutoFS, a new technology that prevents the Finder from spinning its wheels when it loses contact with a remote file server—but those people in the know will certainly include it on their list of reasons to upgrade.

You can see how Andy Ihnatko does the upgrade math on page 128. For our critical survey of Leopard’s major new features, check out this month’s cover story on page 54. And you’ll find the results of a “draft” we conducted just before Leopard’s release, in which eight Macworld editors each picked their ten favorite new Leopard features.

The main event

Selling people on tiny features isn’t an easy thing. Marketing a product requires a simple message, which Apple creates by adding a few marquee features to the larger collection of good new stuff underlying most operating system updates.

In the case of Leopard, Time Machine is one of these marquee features. I can’t really argue with Apple’s decision there. Time Machine manages to make backing up your data less boring, and I think that’s a huge leap forward. I really believe that a few months from now, a majority of Mac users will have fully backed up their data—a far cry from today. And Time Machine’s file-rollback system will really change how we interact with our files. Within three days of using Time Machine, I discovered that I was tossing files into the Trash more often, confident that if I really needed one of them, I could retrieve it from my Time Machine backup.

Quick Look, which lets you peer into file contents directly from the Finder, is another of Leopard’s game-changing features. It’s a simple touch that will make most Mac users more productive. (At least it will as soon as we learn to replace that reflexive double-click with a quick tap of the spacebar.)

In addition to such core features, Apple is marketing the Leopard upgrade with updates to the programs that come with the operating system. Leopard includes improved versions of Mail, iCal, iChat, and numerous other built-in programs that many of us have come to rely on every day.

To my mind, one of the most impressive improvements in Leopard is one that Apple really isn’t touting—mostly because it’s kind of embarrassing. Spotlight, the technology that lets you find anything on your Mac just by typing a few words in a search box, was one of Tiger’s marquee features. But that first version of Spotlight was inflexible and slow. The good news is, Apple has massively improved Spotlight in Leopard. It’s more flexible and a lot faster.

Then there are the tweaks and fixes scattered throughout the nooks and crannies. For example, Preview (which in some ways Quick Look supersedes) has gained some nice tools for working with PDFs. I’m also pleased with some welcome improvements in security, networking, and other under-the-hood features.

Making the upgrade

Over the years, Apple has done a fantastic job of packing enough new stuff into its Mac OS X upgrades to get users to buy in. (When I tell people in the Windows world about the speed at which Macworld readers and Mac users in general buy new operating systems, they’re shocked. The Windows world is much slower to upgrade.) Given what’s in Leopard, I think most active Mac users (and that includes all Macworld readers) will find enough to justify buying that upgrade. After all this time, it’s fun to have a brand-new cat to play with.

[ Which Leopard features are calling to you? Have you made the upgrade yet? Join the discussion in the Macworld Forums, or drop me a note. ]

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