A slightly-delayed post on my experiences with the new Apple OS…
The complete experience
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 🙂
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.
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! 🙂
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.
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.