Inside Apple's OS X 10.6.3 update

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For many years now, I’ve written articles detailing the changes in each minor OS X update that’s released, such as the now-available Mac OS X 10.6.3. In the beginning, writing these articles was both interesting and worthwhile, as Apple rarely went into great detail about what was in a given update.

Times, though, are changing—the notes accompanying the 438MB 10.6.3 update include links to pages that detail both the general changes as well as the security-specific changes in this update. While these notes clearly don’t document every single change in the update, they do cover a lot of them.

Improved graphics?

One area that wasn’t covered in Apple’s release notes involves graphics—specifically, improvements to the OS X 3D graphics engine. A representative from VMware, which makes Fusion for the Mac, told me that “VMware is excited about the release of Mac OS X 10.6.3, as the improved graphics drivers greatly improve 3D and interactive performance for VMware Fusion customers.”

In digging around the update files, I do see many changes related to graphics, such as the CoreGraphics framework. There are also new drivers for ATI video cards, though not (as far as I can tell) for Nvidia cards. I would assume the improvements in 3D will extend beyond the land of virtualization, and should be noticeable in most any application that uses 3D graphics—but I haven’t had a chance to test that assumption.

It’s also not clear if these changes would benefit users of both ATI and Nvidia cards, or just those using ATI cards. If you’ve seen improvements in your Mac’s 3D performance, feel free to share your findings.

Undisclosed modifications

Instead of drilling down into this update in great detail, given the extensive notes provided by Apple, I’m going to focus on those programs that were updated, and yet didn’t even merit so much as a mention on Apple’s notes pages.

This is where you come in…if you use any of these programs, and you can find anything new at all in any of them, please post your findings. I’ve been digging around for a couple hours now, and I’ve come up blank…but maybe I’m not looking in the right spots.

So here’s my list, with an attempt to exclude those apps that were listed only because of changes to their language files (Photo Booth and Preview are two such programs, I believe):

  • Address Book: A part of the user interface named “NameView” was updated…exactly what that part is, though, I don’t know. (This file is stored in a compiled form, and you can’t open compiled interface elements in OS X 10.6.)
  • Automator: The application stub was updated. I couldn’t find any obvious new functionality.
  • Dashboard: No specific widgets are listed, just the app itself.
  • Dictionary: The helper panel, the floating one that appears when you define a word in a supported application, has been updated.
  • Front Row: The application itself has been updated.
  • Image Capture: Again, the program itself has been updated.
  • Audio MIDI Setup: The “AudioPanel” interface item was updated.
  • ColorSync Utility: Something’s changed in the Calculator tool in ColorSync. There are also changes in Devices, Filters, and First Aid.
  • Disk Utility: Many changes here, including to the Disk Utility Support framework, and many modules including Apple Software Restore.
  • Spaces: The app itself was updated.

There are obviously tons of other changes, as you’d expect in a 438MB download file. If you’re curious, you can see the huge list of every single modified file yourself. Open Terminal, and copy and paste this command, then press Return:

lsbom /var/db/receipts/>~/Desktop/1063_changes.txt

That will dump the contents of the detailed changes in 10.6.3 into a file named 1063_changes.txt on your Desktop; you can then open it in a text editor and browse. Warning, it’s 35,998 fun-filled lines of geekdom!

If you notice any new features or behaviors in the Mac OS X 10.6.3, either in programs on my list or just in general, feel free to share your observations here.

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Generally faster than Leopard
    • Most applications run in 64-bit mode
    • Rudimentary malware checking
    • Supports Exchange
    • Improvements to Exposé and Dock


    • Many features won’t truly be exploited until Mac hardware evolves
    • Lackluster QuickTime Player update
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