Leopard: A third opinion

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Macworld has spent the past week reviewing what we’ve learned about Leopard in the four months since its release. And just as Rob Griffiths and Dan Frakes have weighed in with their opinions, here’s my take on what I like, what I don’t, and what I just don’t understand.

The Good

The Desktop was the target of an extreme makeover in Leopard, and I’ve been surprised at how much I like most of its changes. The 3-D Dock was the victim of plenty of criticism initially, but it’s funny how much it’s grown on me in the past few months; when I go back to older versions of OS X, they look positively 19th century. Functionally, the Dock’s spring-loaded features continue to be a great time-saver for anyone who favors the drag-and-drop approach.

The new unified window interface is a breath of fresh air, even though not all applications have taken advantage of it yet. It’s nice to have a return to the hallmark consistency of the Mac OS, even if some apps are still being slow to jump aboard the unified interface train. I vastly prefer the Finder’s new sidebar to the old one, and I immediately enabled the new path bar and didn’t look back.

With the 10.5.2 update, Apple fixed most of the major complaints that users had with Stacks. I continue to use the Download stack frequently; a centralized location for downloaded files is a godsend and, more importantly, it keeps my desktop uncluttered. 10.5.2 also brought an option to turn off the translucent menu bar, which solved my biggest Leopard complaint.

Cover Flow is another feature that was lambasted by some as mere eye candy, but I’ve found it to be a useful way to flip through folders full of images and movies. Quick Look has the potential to improve my workflow in a major way—if I can remember to use it; battling twenty years of muscle memory when opening files is still tough, and the time it takes to open big PDF files means it’s often just as easy to open them.

Among my other favorite new features are the new AirPort menu (I spend a lot of time switching between AirPort networks; seeing at a glance which are locked saves me a ton of time); Preview (thanks to its new interface, it’s now my program of choice for dealing with PDFs and viewing images, and the ability to combine two PDFs is a lifesaver); Safari’s enhanced search abilities (I wish every other application handled search the same way); the new Network preference pane (gorgeous and easy to use); AutoFS in Unix (which prevents the Finder from hanging up when you turn off a network share before disconnecting); and iCal’s inline event editing (if you ask me, the old editing drawer was a blight on user interface design).

The Bad

The new Photo Booth and Backdrop effects in iChat haven’t worked nearly as well as they did in demos, and Apple apparently got rid of the coolest effects that were shown at the Worldwide Developer’s Conference last summer.

While the new Firewall hasn’t given me any problems, I found the older interface easier to use and understand; the fact that it’s turned off by default is unconscionable.

I tried to use Spaces, but splitting up my windows between multiple virtual desktops just means I have to spend time looking for the one I want; I’ll stick with one desktop and Exposé, thanks.

I’m really annoyed that using the Finder’s search field in an open window doesn’t automatically return only results from that folder, and doesn’t let me switch the default settings to search by filename.

And Leopard’s marquee feature, Time Machine, is, to my mind, a genius idea executed poorly. My primary machine is a notebook, and I’m often not in the same place as my Time Machine drive, so I end up not backing up regularly. I’ve received several guilt-trip notices from OS X, chastising me for not having backed up in ten days. Time Machine makes restoring a file a snap when you need to, but you can’t restore what you weren’t able to back up. Sure, Apple’s Time Capsule wireless backup device could help solve this problem, but I don’t really want to have to shell out $500 when I’ve got a perfectly good 400GB FireWire drive on my desk. It’d sure be nice if they found a way to make it work with the AirPort Extreme’s AirPort Disk functionality.

The Ugly

The new grammar checker, like all computer grammar checkers, is a completely useless waste of time; I will never, ever enable it any system I own as long as I live.

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