B&H Photo Video Pro Audio- Leopard Review
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Spotlight on Leopard

By Jim Fisher

Mac addicts rejoice! Apple released Leopard, first previewed way back when in 2006, a few weeks ago. The latest iteration of Mac OS X, v10.5 for anyone who is keeping track, has 300 more features than its predecessor. Now, many of those are minor enhancements, little touches and refinements that make you glad that you use a Mac.

You will probably notice the bigger changes pretty quickly. The dock looks different, for one thing; "shiny" is the best way I can describe it. Finder now sports Cover Flow navigation, you've got integrated backup thanks to Time Machine. Multiple virtual desktops are created using Spaces, and Quick Look breezily browses the contents of files.

Finder and Friends

The local gentry will be quick to inform you that Finder and the Dock go together like a horse and carriage. OS X echoes the "glass and aluminum" design of the iMac through and through; the dock now features a reflective surface, along with glowing blue indicators to show that a program is running. It also implements Stacks; you can drag a folder onto the dock, and quickly preview its contents. If the folder has more documents than can be shown, you have the option of opening it in a dedicated Finder window. Of course, you'll be able to launch any file from a Stack with a single click.

Stacks in Action

Stacks in Action

The prospect of integrating Cover Flow, first introduced in iTunes last year, into Finder had me scratching my head when it was announced. While the idea of browsing through music by album cover makes a lot of sense, does it extend to a file system? Well, thanks to its marriage to Quick Look, it extends to the file system pretty well. Cover Flow creates a thumbnail of almost any type of document: PDF files, Pages documents, Keynote presentations, QuickTime movies, digital photos, you name it. It works especially well with digital pictures. Need to quickly find a shot, without digging in Aperture, Lightroom, or Bridge? If you know what folder it's in, Cover Flow handles the job quite nicely, take a look:

Cover Flow excels for digital photo browsing

Cover Flow excels for digital photo browsing

Need to see more? Click the seeing eye icon, that's Quick Look. It will let you read a PDF, view a photo, watch a video, or listen to an audio file. This is all integrated into Finder; you don't have to open QuickTime, Preview, iTunes, or another helper application to do this. You can even add a picture to iPhoto with a single click. Because you're still browsing files in Finder, you can even do a quick Command+I to Get Info on a file, which will show you, among other things, EXIF camera data for digital photos.

The Quick Look window, showing a digital photo

The Quick Look window, showing a digital photo

Finder also adds Spaces to its repertoire. Leopard's virtual desktops can be configured in a variety of ways. Professional photographers and video editors may find themselves using Spaces quite a bit. Photographers can keep Bridge, Photoshop, and Lightroom in different spaces. You'll be able to create up to 16 virtual desktops using the feature, which is controlled from the same Preference Pane as Exposť. Spaces is a truly customizable experience, you can assign applications to be present in a specific space, or in all of them. Navigating from space to space is done one of two ways; you can use the Control key in conjunction with arrows, or assign a function key to bring up an Exposť-like view of your virtual desktops.

A very basic example of Spaces

A very basic example of Spaces

Safari 3, Now with Web Clips

At first glance, Safari 3 isn't that much different than Safari 2. It offers the same speed and quality of web browsing as its predecessor, with a few new bells and whistles. It features enhanced PDF viewing controls, text entry box resizing, enhanced tabbed browsing support, and Web Clips.

The tabbed browsing enhancements are nifty. You'll be able to rearrange tabs, simply by dragging them. You can also bookmark a set of tabs, and merge open windows into one tabbed window. Safari can also open the last set of tabs and windows that were open when the program closed, which is helpful for those times when you accidentally quit the browser.

The enhanced tabs are certainly welcome, but Web Clips is, as they say, a whole new ball of wax. Did you ever want quick access to a web page, or portion of a web page? Well, you can click on the scissor icon in Safari, and the browser will prompt you to select an area of the web page. This Web Clip is then turned, magically if you ask me, into a dynamic Dashboard widget. Take a look, in the following example I grabbed the top set of links and search box from the B&H web site, but this can also be used for local news, your favorite blog, and your fantasy football team's status. If it's on the web, it can live on your Dashboard.

Select the clip...

Select the clip...

... and it's on the Dashboard.
... and it's on the Dashboard.

Time Machine, the Professor and Mary-Ann.....

If this was the first season of Gilligan's Island, I would have said "and the rest..." Of course, this article would have to be in black and white with a lot more Bob Denver, so we'll go with the more recognized theme song.

Time Machine is Apple's integrated backup solution. The application, which requires a dedicated external hard drive to function, backs up your data in real time. It runs in the background, backing up data as it changes on your system. You'll be able to navigate through previous versions of your computer in a Star Trekkian interface, complete with a starfield. Time Machine lets you find and view a document that you may have deleted a few weeks ago, or a previous version of one that you've recently edited. Time Machine will also let you do a full restoration of your system, in the event of a hard drive crash. With hard drive prices at such low prices, Time Machine serves as an extremely practical backup solution.

Boot Camp, the utility that lets you dual boot between a Windows system and OS X, is now out of beta and built into Leopard. Boot Camp will create a Windows partition on your hard drive, allow you to select an operating system on boot, and it includes a full set of Windows drivers for your Mac. Intel Mac owners who need to use Windows for certain applications will appreciate how easy it is to install Windows on a Mac using Boot Camp.

Airport DropdownLeopard also enhances its two main communication applications, iChat and Mail. iChat now supports screen sharing. You'll be able to share a Keynote presentation, photo slide show, or any other document that works with Quick Look. Professionals can use this for remote group presentations and training; photographers can use it to go over photographs with clients, and families can use it to stay in touch over long distances. iChat also allows you to record audio and video chats, and lets you to use special video effects during chats.

Mail has also benefited from several enhanced features. It features support for RSS feeds, virtual sticky notes, and to-do lists. Mail also features 30 professionally designed stationery templates. These templates can be used to add a bit of flair to your e-mail messages.

Oh, and one last thing. The network selection drop down menu for Airport now shows you if a network requires a password to login. This is a great way to find an open hotspot for Internet connectivity. Coffee houses, book stores, and casual eateries often have open Internet connections, but finding them in Tiger was always a game of chance; now you'll know if a network requires a password for access.

Caveats and Conclusions

Now, with new software comes new bugs and glitches and compatibility questions. While the Leopard launch has, from all accounts, caused less misery and mayhem than that of Windows Vista, you should still check and see if frequently-used software has been tested with the OS. Adobe aficionados should be especially concerned; the company has posted a support FAQ for Leopard.

Also, Pro Tool users are advised to wait until Digidesign has certified the OS for use with their software. This is not news for Pro Tool users, who are used to waiting for Digi to certify OS updates. Avid Xpress users are in the same boat; Avid is planning to support Leopard in a future release of the editing suite.

Support for G3 Macs and the OS 9 Classic operating environment has been dropped from Leopard. Users on older computers, and those who still need to run legacy OS 9 applications, are probably better served with their current OS.

Overall, my experience with Leopard has been overwhelmingly positive. While it may look a bit different than Tiger on the aesthetic side of things, the OS is just as easy to use. Time Machine works very well, and I find myself using Stacks very often. Leopard is not a drastically different operating system than Tiger, but it does feel like the next logical iteration. Assuming you are not using a non-certified application professionally, it's a recommended upgrade. Apple has already released the first update to Leopard, version 10.5.1. It is available via the Software Update menu in OS X.

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