The Leopard Experience

A slightly-delayed post on my experiences with the new Apple OS…

The complete experience

Leopard World Premiere As people who follow my Twitterings and Flickr photos will know, I went for the full-on Leopard experience by waiting in line at the Southampton Apple store. There were some good reasons for doing so (complicated logistical reasons involving airports and overnight stays away from home, but still wanting to get my hands on a copy for the weekend). It was slightly amusing to have people come up to the queue to ask “what are you all waiting for” and have teenagers shouting “geeeks!” at us. Whilst waiting I got to try out an iPod Touch, and had some interesting conversations with others in the line, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

Just before the store opened, Justin commented on my blog that the feature to perform Time Machine backups to an Airport disk had been pulled at the last moment… I spent a little while checking out various blogs and forums and it did seem like the feature had been removed. Once inside the store I asked a member of staff, who assured me that Time Machine would work with the Airport Extreme and an attached disk… how wrong he turned out to be!

Pictures from the launch event are on Flickr.

Interlude: MacLive Expo

On the way home from the airport on Saturday, I popped in to the MacLive Expo event that was going on at London’s Olympia. The event was surprisingly quiet and low-key, I thought, especially given the launch of Leopard the night before. In fact one exhibitor said that it was the worst Expo in several years… I replied that it was the first one I’d ever been to, but I was slightly disconcerted by an exhibitor actually saying that to me themselves!

Really the best part of the show was the opportunity to catch up with Nik Fletcher from Realmac Software and TUAW‘s token UK blogger. I first met Nik at random at the Flickr party at Tate Britain in the summer, and have been following his Twitterings. He showed me Realmac’s RapidWeaver product, which looks like a really nice application for creating websites… certainly far nicer than iWeb, and I guess it would be a great step up from that for people who wanted something easy-to-use but slightly more powerful. I suggested a few enhancements like the ability to output ATOM feeds for blogs… who knows, I may have said something useful πŸ™‚

Cleanup, backup, install

Back at home, it was time for an upgrade.

The first thing I did was a cleanup of any cruft from applications that I no longer use, as recommended in various online articles.

leopardtshirt.jpg

After that, I wanted to make sure I was as up-to-date as possible with Leopard-capable versions of my favourite applications. I found a really nice application called AppFresh which scans your disk for applications, widgets, preference panes etc. and then attempts to check whether you are running the latest version… once it has found out, it will then download, and optionally unpack and install the updates. For the most part it did a great job, including discovering various application updates that were several months old which I’d failed to upgrade to, so I’ll definitely be keeping it around.

I did a complete backup using SuperDuper! before doing the upgrade, so that I had a bootable copy of my system on another disk in case something broke. Lovely piece of software, and impressive that it is so easy to make a bootable image of a Mac – it’s a nightmare on Windows.

My installation method of choice was an upgrade, in the end. I could have gone for the clean install and migrated my stuff from the backup, but I figured that a) it is a relatively ( < 12 months old) system, and b) I wanted to see how well an Apple OS upgrade works. So far, no problem… the installation time was estimated at a couple of hours, but in fact it was less than an hour and everything went perfectly smoothly. Impressive.

Impressions: good and not-so-good

Once I’d booted, it didn’t take long for me to try out most of the major new features. The first sign of something new was the galaxy/nebula background, and the Forgotten Password button on the Login screen. It is quite surprising – the things that I’d most been looking forward to (Time Machine, Stacks) have turned out to be underwhelming, whilst some of the lesser features and enhancements have been, for me, by far the best ones.

For example, Stacks. What a lovely way to clean up the desktop, right? Well the first thing I did was reconfigure Firefox to drop downloaded files into ~/Downloads instead of ~/Desktop. I also dragged the stuff that had been on my desktop, into the Downloads folder. The only trouble is that now, I have more than “a full stack worth” of files in the stack, so I get a “xx more in Finder” button at the top. Worse, the icon shown for the stack on the Dock is the same as the bottom (newest) file – so if it is a disk image, the stack icon on the Dock shows a .dmg file, for instance. Oh, and the Applications stack which opens into a lovely grid doesn’t work brilliantly, either – it always shows Address Book as the icon (since that’s the first application in my Applications folder), and the grid view only gets as far as the “O”s before I have to click the button to open the Finder to see the other 44 installed programs. Thank heavens for Quicksilver! πŸ™‚

Time Machine is very nearly a complete waste of time for me. My Mac is a laptop so I don’t plug it in to an external disk very often. Since Apple removed the feature to backup to a network drive at the last minute, I can’t just get home in the evening and let the machine connect to the wireless and start syncing the Time Machine backups, I have to remember to put the thing on the desk and plug in the USB disk. Yes, I know there are some workarounds that claim to get Time Machine working with an Airport disk, but I’ve tried them and they simply aren’t working for me. Time Machine will see the backup disk when it is plugged in to the network, but it won’t let me restore files from it. On top of that, the default hour interval for performing incremental backups is slightly awkward for me as a photographer, since a typical use case for me might be to import a bunch of photos from the camera, and then rapidly delete ones I might decide I’m not sure about – I guess they will be in the trash until I empty it, but basically Time Machine isn’t going to catch those files since they are created and deleted within the hour… not a big deal but a limitation worth being aware of. I’d still like to use Time Machine, but it is just a bit of a pain at the moment. Here’s hoping they restore the Airport disk feature before too long.

I wasn’t impressed to discover that the firewall is switched off by default, either. Soon fixed that (once I did realise, anyway!). Oh, and I’ve switched off the 3D Dock, which looked pretty enough but was just a little more eye candy than was strictly necessary.

So what does work? Well for one thing, the consistent UI is great. I’d previously complained that applications on OS X were a horrible mix of Aqua, Brushed Metal and other styles, and Leopard has unified things nicely – albeit in a fairly grey way, but the look has definitely grown on me. Quick Look is lovely, and Cover Flow in the Finder (something I’d mentally dismissed as annoying and pointless) is absolutely lovely, particularly for images and documents, and it works beautifully over a network and to non-Mac machines, too.

As a Linux user I’ve been a fan of virtual desktops in the past… and Spaces is a lovely implementation. I can tap Ctrl-arrow to switch between them; Ctrl-number to go straight to one I want; and I’ve setup a hot corner at the bottom right of the screen to invoke the Expose/Spaces view so I can see all of them and move windows and apps between them. Wonderful. So now I have 2 columns and 3 rows of Spaces; from top-to-bottom, column 1 is for mail/web/blogging and column 2 is for entertainment/photography/coding. Great stuff, and much cleaner than things used to be.

The new Front Row looks really nice – Andrew Webb has a nice write-up of that one, but I’ve not played with it much yet.

What’s left? Well I’ve not tried iChat theatre or screen sharing, which I saw as a killer feature prior to launch. Oh, and the Last.FM client is crashing really horribly – I think that’s the last piece of essential software which isn’t working quite right for me.

Finally

I’ve been using Leopard for over a week now, and it really is a nice-looking upgrade which has improved my productivity. Not as revolutionary in all areas as I was expecting – in fact probably pretty disappointing in several areas, not least Time Machine – but the things I never expected to impress me, really have.

I’ve had one crash, and I can’t say what that was about. That was annoying.

Probably the best parts for me are the consistent user interface, Spaces and cover flow. I’ve shown the new OS off to a few people in the office, and I’m not sure what the general consensus is… but I’m glad I made the change already.

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15 responses to “The Leopard Experience

  1. and you got a nifty t-shirt as well. πŸ™‚

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  2. Nice. I agree with alot of that! I was a lucky one i had a very straightforward install πŸ™‚ And its been great so far!

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  3. thanks for the link andy… I’ve actually now done 8 installs 4 upgrades and 4 fresh of leopard, and weirdly a fresh install with formating seems to run faster than an upgrade once the system is up and running (I confirmed with on the new iMac being upgraded.. then being fresh installed..) the apps seems zipper and faster as did the screen animation..

    what I have REALLY loved in leopard is the screen sharing (not through ichat as I havent tried that yet) but through the finder.. its really impressive.. I also have Back to My Mac via .mac as well and that seem quite good..

    what you might find worth doing is a time machine backup of your system, format and reinstall and use the migration assistant to restore your apps etc onto the clean install.. my moneys on the system will run much faster.. (migration assistant now allows migration from a time machine backup!!)

    i have found myself using spotlight alot more for finding apps.. and completely agree with you on the stupid decision to make the doc icon for stacks to be the last icon used (or newest), in actual fact its ALL the icons in the folder, and you just see the last one… meaning.. if your clever and following this hint you’ll be able to assign your own icon to each stack..

    I have applications, downloads and documents in my dock…

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  4. I’m tempted by the fresh install option now!

    What I’m intrigued by is whether it will restore apps like Lightroom which use installers rather than just the “drag-to-Applications” method of installation. I’ve also got stuff like camera drivers, scanner drivers etc. buried in the system so I’m wondering whether the migration assistant will deal with those levels of customisation. The nice part about the upgrade is that the amount of customisation I’ve had to do is minimal, it’s still the same system.

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  5. I’ve had a much better reaction to Time Machine than you did, possibly because it fits my style of working better than it fits yours. I just plugged in an old 400 GB firewire drive I had, and accepted the pop-up asking me if I wanted to use it as the Time Machine backup.

    I haven’t fiddled with it afterwards (except to open the System Preferences Time Machine and watch it tell when the next backup will be, then just for fun watching it do the backup at that time).

    I’ve dismounted the external drive a few times, also rebooted the machine (after bootcamping into Windows) and Time Machine just picks up where it left off.

    For me it’s perfect. However, I can see that if you want more control (shorter time between backups) or if it doesn’t do something you want (backup wirelessly) then it’s not for you.

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  6. I agree that TM is easy to set up, and to be honest if only I didn’t have to physically put the machine down somewhere and plug it in, it would be perfect. I like the concept, though, and what I do see of it, looks great. Don’t get me wrong, I’m using it… but I reckon a SuperDuper backup every now and then is going to be at least as useful today, until they get the wireless stuff back in officially.

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  7. Andy… migration assistant moved everythign over for me.. that included photoshop CS (installer) OfficeX (installer), Scanner drivers, all my email from apple mail, preferences, icons, all documents applications and gubbins… i did need to upgrade my scanner driver as under leopard it was ‘broken’ but all drag and drop AND installer type applications moved just fine… it took about 2 hours to move 64 gig of applications and documents over.. it also setup all the user accounts for me and michelle… it’s big.. and its clever πŸ™‚

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  8. Keep the backup drive in the same place you usually charge your laptop while you’re home. Time Machine will pick up where it left off when you unplugged it. It’s not as convenient as “Time Machine Over Airport”, but it’s better than pretty much everything else available for laptop backups. Read the Ars Technica article on Leopard (17 pages!) for the reason why Time Machine is actually more impressive under the hood than on it’s face.

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  9. Good to hear the install worked for you however, I spent 3 hours trying to get it to install on my MacBook! The first time, it went half way through the install to then say “Sorry, and error occurred. Please try again”, then I tried again but when it came to the step to ask what disk to install to, my HDD had an exclamation on it, and would not allow the install to it. I ran disk utility to verify the disk was OK, and it was. I then rebooted into Tiger to make sure it was OK, which it was.

    I couldn’t get rid of the exclamation mark so decided to backup all the data, and try the format option. This time the install started, but then came back with a error “Couldn’t write file….”. My HDD was formatted now with no OS on it. Great. Tried once more, failed.

    Then tried another time with another format. This time it worked! So, now have to install everything again.

    So much for a seamless installation process! The MacBook was all very standard, no real interesting software installed, etc…

    I also got a copy of iLife ’08 and got that up and running as well.

    After playing around with it, I am with you Andy that I am underwhelmed. The folder icons are horrible, and the way stacks are displayed is totally unintuitive, and there is too much gray (I think they should have followed the way Camino looks for a guide to redo the l&f, but that is just my 2cents).

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  10. Tedious, yes, I pretty much do have my backup drive on the desk where my laptop lives overnight. That means it gets ~10 identical incremental backups through the night but at least one new one a day. I agree that Time Machine is impressive.

    Justin, I only heard on Saturday night that you’ve left again! sounds like an unpleasant install experience. At least you are up and going now… right, I agree on the folder icons not being the best, and the way some things work isn’t quite as amazing as it all seemed with the sheen of marketing… but overall I am still impressed.

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  13. Andy,

    I’m not sure I’d get too hung up about not being able to backup over the network. In my experience data transfer over wireless to NAS type external disks sucks, big time. For instance I am currently transferring ~180GB of FLAC files (approx 25MB per file) from my iMac over 802.11n to an Airport Extreme to an ethernet attached NSLU2 with a 200GB USB2 Maxtor drive. By this morning it had been going for 36 hours and still had 60GB to go. Admittedly the hourly backup done by TM will be much smaller than this, but I really hope you don’t have any virtual machines on your MBP…

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