The first impression I got upon hearing that Apple would be releasing Snow Leopard was that its price was unbelievably affordable. Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate upgrading if it only costed me $25 for a brand new operating system that would not only speed up my Mac but free up some hard disk space, as well as letting me at some really cool new features.
While I was in London, I visited the Apple Regent Street Store to grab a copy of the latest OS to upgrade my Mac. Is it actually as simple as that? Quick answer – no.
There happens to be some fine print that everyone should be aware of.
Firstly, the $25 price is only applicable if you are already using Leopard. I spoke to a Genius about this and it turns out that Snow Leopard is actually an upgrade from Leopard. This means that if you are currently running Tiger, you’ll have to purchase the Snow Leopard Mac Box Set which sells for $169. But then again, this is all just legal mumbo-jumbo — there is no black magic preventing you from using the $25 disk to upgrade from Tiger. If you do this, however, keep in mind that the “automated upgrade” process won’t work for you and Apple will not support your Mac if they find out that you upgraded to Snow Leopard from Tiger.
Secondly, as everyone should be aware of, Apple decided to drop support for all PowerPC machines. This means that if you have an older Mac, you won’t be enjoying the performance bump or any of the cool new features.
So, as I said before, I’m a proud legal owner of Apple’s latest operating system that I’m eager to try out. Let’s get on it, shall we?
Preparing to upgrade
Upgrading to Snow Leopard was undeniably the easiest upgrade I have ever performed. Before actually upgrading though, you should always have a backup of your files and documents. You could use Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cleaner to equip yourself with a copy of your hard disk for safekeeping. Or you could do it the old-fashioned way, like I did; manually backup these folders to an external hard disk:
- Any other location where you keep important documents
Now that you have your precious files all backed up and secure, here’s another thing you need to know about Snow Leopard: you won’t need to restore them. You see, Snow Leopard automatically performs an Archive and Install procedure when installing itself. It will keep all of your files, folders, preferences and applications untouched while replacing essential system files. In a nutshell, your entire home folder will be backed up and restored after the installation process is over.
Initially, I was a little skeptical about the whole automated upgrade process. So after backing up my files, I decided to give it a try. Low and behold — after 40 minutes, I was greeted with the Snow Leopard intro movie and everything was still intact. Even my customized Geektool desktop still showed. Some applications have yet to support Snow Leopard and those were the only things that broke during the upgrade process.
When creating Snow Leopard, the techies over at Apple really had their wavelength synchronized with their user base. By making it as “noob-friendly” as possible, this will definitely encourage a lot of their current users to upgrade as well as reduce the number of unpleasant incidents while doing so.
To further streamline this process, I suggest getting hold of an uninstaller and start getting rid of applications that you no longer use and documents that you have no need of. In other words, do some spring cleaning! By doing so, you are minimizing the number of unwanted apps and their preference files from being transferred over to the new operating system. Less clunk and less time wasted.
Sure, some people will advice you to perform an Erase and Install — this method is a little bit more manual and shouldn’t be attempted by the faint-hearted. The benefits of this option are two fold:
- You end up with a much cleaner, leaner and meaner system — having gotten rid of anything that was slowing down your Mac.
- You have more free disk space.
However, this will also mean that you have to manually set up accounts and authorize plug-ins and re-download preference pane apps and re-installing applications and….you get the drift. If you do decide to head down this road, make sure to have everything backed up safely somewhere, remember your Keychain passwords and application serial keys.
The buzz on the InterWeb whispers something of Snow Leopard freeing up more disk space. Well, there is some truth to this.
Since Apple dropped support for PowerPC processors, the OS X installation in Snow Leopard excluded the PPC component — hence, saving a couple of gigabytes. Furthermore, Snow Leopard calculates disk space using base 10 measurement. This may be a little hard for the regular user to comprehend but I’ll try to word it as easily as possible. In OS X 10.5 Leopard, the amount of disk space was calculated using base 2 (binary) measurement — 1MB = 1,048,576 bytes. That’s why you can only “see” 465GB from a 500GB hard disk.
In Snow Leopard, disk space calculation is measured using base 10 (decimal) system — 1MB = 1,000,000 bytes. So, you will actually “see” 500GB from a 500GB hard disk. So there’s the mystery of the “additional recovered space” revealed. There is a discrepancy though: software and physical memory (RAM) are still calculated using base 2.
However, this is a good thing. Most users don’t really understand why their 4GB thumbdrive only shows 3.7GB of free space. The new calculation system will help clear the confusion and generally make things a little simpler.
Besides that, due to some unknown internal Apple voodoo, my system feels slightly (not dramatically) snappier and more responsive. Naturally, after I upgraded using the automated path, I couldn’t help but perform an Erase and Install. What I’m trying to say here is, your mileage might vary.
Other cool implementations are:
- Dock ExposÃ© – clicking on an application in the Dock will reveal all of its windows in ExposÃ©. Windows that were minimized are displayed but separated from the active ones
- Application stack – No further tweaking required. Apple has heard you and put a stack for your apps on the Dock
- Browsing within Stacks – clicking a folder in a Stack will now take you to the folder without opening a Finder window
- Supercharged Finder – previewing documents and videos is incredibly easy now. As you hover the cursor over a file, preview buttons pop up that will allow you to flip through a PDF or play a video — directly within its file icon
- Quicktime X – this is no ordinary Quicktime. Not only will it play videos in a new sleek, borderless player, it will also allow you to record screencasts, edit and trim them, then share it with the world. Perian is still required to play videos if they are not Quicktime movie files
- Location Services – Snow Leopard will determine your current location based on your IP address and if enabled, automatically set your date and time zone to your location. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the clock and weather widgets in my Dashboard already set to my location
- New Image Capture user interface – I use Image Capture a lot and the new interface makes it really easy to import individual images
Surely, there are more new features being bragged about Snow Leopard; these are just a few that I thought I’d share with you. It’s actually amazing to see that Apple can make an old machine work faster with a new operating system, unlike other vendors.
How many of you have taken the leap and bought Snow Leopard? Are you satisfied with your purchase? What is your favorite new feature? The comments are yours for the taking.
Explore more about: OS X Snow Leopard.