First Look At Leopard

contentfooter_osxserver20071016.pngI’ve had Leopard up and running on four Macs for 24 hours now and I think I’ve seen enough to talk a little about it.
I installed the shrink wrapped version (10.5 build 9A581) on a brand new iMac, an original MacBook, and a nine-month old MacBook Pro using the upgrade method. In all three cases the upgrade took around 90 minutes and went perfectly. (The installer checks the install DVD before installing and this took an additional half-hour or so on my iMac, but once the disc was verified I skipped that process on subsequent installs.)

Apple told me in my briefing Thursday that the default upgrade install should work fine, and it did. Leopard disabled the now incompatible Mail extensions (Spam Sieve, GPG, Mail Act-On) and left everything else intact. I had to re-enter my .Mac settings and resynch my data, but all my installed apps seem to work fine, including Photoshop and Lightroom. Normally I recommend at least the “Archive and Install” option, but in this case Leopard seems to handle the upgrade smoothly.

I did an Archive and Install on my production machine, the Mac Pro, just in case, but I probably didn’t need to. My experience was very much the same. Despite the negative experiences some had had with the Betas, Leopard seems completely cooked. The install experience is flawless. The new look and feel is beautiful, and overall performance seems much snappier.

The New Dock

Now for a look at a few of the new features.

FinderThe new Finder is beautiful, fast, and functional. Coverflow makes a lot of sense for previewing your documents – I won’t be able to go back to the old column view – and I like the new 3D dock so much that I actually moved mine back to the bottom of the screen from the more sensible left-hand side. But it’s not just eye-candy. The Leaning-Tower-Of-Pisa Stacks folder display, as silly as it looks, make sense. Like the rest of Leopard the new finder feels very solid and polished with small changes that make a big difference in work flow.

SpacesI didn’t think I’d use Spaces, but Apple has done it better than other workspace implementations and I’m actually liking it a lot. For example, you can attach programs to specific spaces; Safari always loads in Space 3 for me, Mail in space 4. That little difference means you spend no time organizing your workspaces. They organize themselves. And that slight difference makes it useful. It even works with VMWare in Full Screen mode – so one of my Spaces is full screen Vista.

Similarly the implementation of notes and tasks in Mail is so logical and seamless that I’ve found myself relying on it almost instantly. Notes automatically migrate to your IMAP server by the way – they’re treated like message drafts – which is another nice touch.

Time Machine is a simplified backup for people who never backup. It’s turned off by default but it’s on the dock, and I suspect most people will want to turn it on. Keep in mind you’ll need a second drive that has enough free space to copy everything on your system. Leopard clearly wants to dedicate an external hard drive to Time Machine – it even changes the icon to a Time Machine icon. Configuration is very limited. You can tell Time Machine to leave out drives or folders, but there’s no wildcard ignore. Time Machine runs all the time in the background but it doesn’t seem to slow the system at all.

Time MachineDespite what Apple told me, Time Machine only seems to work on local disks. I couldn’t get it to recognize a mounted NAS drive. But if you’re at all sophisticated you’ll probably prefer the flexibility of something like ChronoSync anyway. I’m using Time Machine on the iMac but will continue to use ChronoSync to backup to my NAS on the Mac Pro. I won’t bother with Time Machine at all on the laptops. (Update: some commenters say it works if the NAS supports AFP – I’ve been using CIFS. I’ll give it a try.)

Spotlight works with Time Machine, and is much much faster. I turned off Spotlight on Tiger and turned to Quicksilver instead. On Leopard I’m turning off Quicksilver and using Spotlight. It’s that much better.

The Parental Controls offer per login site filtering, time limits, and controlled hours of use. I’ve already turned them on for my kids.

index_ichat_20071016.pngiChat looks amazing with high quality audio and video recording, plus desktop sharing, and playback of Keynote presentations. I think we’ll be able to use it to produce an amazing net@nite – I’m playing with it this weekend and I’ll keep you posted. I’m hoping it won’t require a prohibitive amount of bandwidth.

Overall I have a few strong impressions of Leopard.

First, it’s rock solid. The extra time Apple took developing this shows. It works right right out of the box.

Second, there are lots of little changes everywhere – subtle changes that accumulate to make a big difference in usability. For example, Spotlight now automatically selects the Top Hit during a search, so instead of hitting Command then Return to launch an app you just hit return. The new Help menu features a search box as the top item. You can search for a command in a program and it will open that menu and point to it. It’s a small thing, but something you’ll appreciate.

Leopard is not a revolutionary release – I wouldn’t expect it to be, it’s a mature operating system – but it is easily the best OS X ever, the culmination of a decade of UI research and OS refinement. It’s elegant, fast, and eminently usable. Amazingly there are no showstoppers or major compatibility issues. I’ve only found a few tiny things I don’t like – where’s the Info Panel in iCal, for instance, and what happened to the nice transitions in Front Row – but I’ve been stumbling across dozens of little touches that just make me smile.

If you have an Intel Mac the Leopard upgrade is a must have.

(If you’d like to hear the new Leopard voice synthesizer reading this post press play here: Alex speaks.)

72 Replies to “First Look At Leopard”

  1. Leopard seems to be just Tiger with a facelift. I have been running it for a while and there isn’t one feature that was worth the upgrade. Hopefully Core animation will bring a new wave of cool apps that will make the upgrade worthwhile but at this time I guess I’ll just enjoy the new look.

  2. I’m loving Leopard as well. I do not get the outcry of the dock…I really like it.
    Unlike you, I did a complete erase and install. I wanted to scrap every inch of speed out of this and no old clutter laying around (plus I haven’t reloaded my Macbook since I bought in in May 2006).
    Going to work on a big review on my blog, but so far, I can’t imagine going back to Tiger.

  3. Nice review! it really makes me wish I could afford a Mac instead of thie emachine. At least we got it recently with XP and not Vista!

  4. I did an archive & install on my MBP and it works great, it’s really snappy.
    Another thing that is worth to mention, is that there is no DRM, activation, and not even a serial number. Apple doesn’t treat their customers like thieves, and that makes me wanna pay for their products.
    I blame Sony, Microsoft and all the other DRM activists, who treat us as like bandits, even if we pay for their prodcuts!
    Lookin forward to your next netcast, you’re the best!

  5. I ran out to Compusa, our local Apple dealer, on your recommendation from jaiku, and picked up leopard. I trust your judgement, since we have the same macbook, and the same hair.Thanks for the review. Can’t wait to install it.

  6. “If you have an Intel Mac the Leopard upgrade is a must have. ”
    Do you not recommend Leopard for PPC Macs? Or, are the reasons less compelling? I have a 1.8GHz 20″ iMac G5, circa Dec 2004. Any reason not to install Leopard? For that matter, any chance it will breathe some life into my aging 15″ Titanium G4 Powerbook?

  7. Leo, according to SpamSieve, the latest version 2.6.4 does work with the latest seed of Leopard. Once in SpamSieve, you just select Install Apple Mail Plug-In. I will try that tonight once I upgrade my MacBook Pro.

  8. Glad the upgrade option worked for you Leo, check out Mac Fixit and the Apple Forums, lots of problems when people select the upgrade install.

  9. I am having a terrible time upgrading on my brand new Intel iMac. Half way through the install my iMac just decides to switch off.
    What a pain.

  10. Definitely SpamSieve still works. Just make sure to “reinstall” the plugin from SpamSieve. This was just a conservative precaution on Apple’s part.

  11. It’s great that so many influencial and highly respected “journalists” are reviewing and recommending products with less than 24 hours of use under their belt. I know it’s labeled a “first look” but people read this (and gizmodo/engadget/tuaw etc) and will quote it for the next few years as gospel.
    Leopard looks good but c’mon! The Apple world needs to give products time before speaking of them so highly. So far so good with the interesting but tame features. But I’ve crashed apps more than I have in the last 2 years total. Plus my upgrade killed my BootCamp windows partition and required a full format to get me going.

  12. Leo, great review.
    As for it being a facelift of Tiger, Michael, maybe on the surface it might appear that way, but underneath the covers is a POSIX complaint engine, 64-bit OS support and soon a new file system (ZFS).
    Bryce, you are correct, it works with afp mounted file systems or locally attached USB drives (I have only tested USB).
    I don’t know if I need Time Machine or not, but the idea is nice, I prefer to use rsync, but, hey I’m a geek.
    Thanks again, Leo

  13. So I bought Leopard today, but I am concerned that programs such as skype, AudioHijack, and so on may not work great. I wonder if there is a decent list that someone can put together otherwise I will wait. Anyway nice job Leo, I thought you would wait but it looks like you went full steam ahead. I can’t wait to begin using leopard.

  14. I got Leopard in the Mail early friday morning and have been loving it. I don’t know why, but I’ve been checking this blog the last 24 hours, just to hear what you thought. There were plenty of expert opinions out there already, but I couldn’t wait to hear what Leo had to say about it. Thanks, keep up all the great work!

  15. Ok so I got my copy of Leopard today and everything went fine with the install. I get into Ichat to play with the feature I really really bought the thing for and its gone. They striped the R2D2 Hologram effect out. I know this is trivial but it was one of the things that got me interested in purchasing the thing. Have to say I am kind of disappointed and let down with this whole experience.

  16. For those who don’t want the new 3D dock, “Eternal Storms Software” have written a utility to turn it on and off (link below). The 2D is like the view you get when you put it on the left of right of the screen.
    As much as Steve (and now Leo 😉 like the 3D version, I prefer the 2D as I find it less visually cluttered. It still has the bright dots, which show up real nice if you use a darker wallpaper.

  17. I wasn’t a big fan of Mail before this upgrade. I’ve ditched Thunderbird, though. Mail imported everything without a hitch (even subfolders).
    IMHO, Spaces alone was worth the upgrade cost – it’s going to vastly increase my productivity at work.
    Great post, Leo! I think you nailed everything.

  18. Finder crashed on 1st boot and time machine got caught up the 1st time with a not accessible file error. After another reboot it all seems to be alright.

  19. […] First Look At Leopard As usual, Leo does a great job on discussing the Leopard OSX upgrade. I just did this upgrade yesterday and would say, “ditto!”. It really is a beautiful upgrade. I’ve ditched Thunderbird for Mail, which imported my mail (and subfolders) perfectly. (tags: leopard thunderbird mail osx apple) […]

  20. Leo,
    Great review and thanks for the advice on ChronoSync.
    We got our copy of Leopard via Fed-EX yesterday morning and did our backups and upgraded quite nicely, thank you. I’m still a relative n00b on the MacBook but this was one of the easiest upgrades that I have ever done going back to the DOS days.
    I finally started using last night as gmail is now supporting iMap. I can see where I will be using the to do lists and have already started using the data grab for putting events in iCal.
    Remarkable is how I would describe the new features in video iChat. My son and I played around for an hour with it and he has already figured out how to really use it like a green screen.
    All in all a good move by Apple and it seems perfectly cooked!

  21. I’ve got to say that I’m impressed with Leopard. It definitely has a lot more fit and finish and it’s solid.
    But I do have to say, this is not the revolutionary upgrade Steve Jobs made it out to be. However, there is a lot of useful under-the-hood stuff:
    For one, battery life running on a few full-out load cycles seems to have improved on Leopard over Tiger. Where as, I was pretty consistently getting about 3:00 to 3:15 of battery life, I netted nearly 4 hours on my last two goes since upgrading to Leopard. So it seems that power management has improved.
    It wouldn’t surprise me if the increase in power efficiency is due to the improved task scheduler which seems to make much better use of multi-core machines.
    Tiger clearly showed it weakness with multi-core processing, with single-thread processes managing to bring the system to a crawl. The new affinity management seems robust.
    However, I would disagree about Spotlight vs. QuickSilver at this point.
    Spotlight is still fundamentally just a search and launch tool (with a new simple calculator). It does not have a lot of the functionality of QuickSilver, and can’t do a lot of the very useful tasking like archive files, moving files, grouping files, emailing files, and opening URLs like I used QuickSilver to do on a daily basis.
    Not to mention I’ve already noticed some indexing glitches in the new spotlight. Despite being present at the time of the install the latests vmware fusion (release candidate 1) does not show up in the index. Searching for “vmware” or “fusion” yields results from the browser cache and the actually install disk image itself. But no Application. I have rebuilt the spotlight index, and this didn’t seem to abate the issue. So clearly there is a spotlight glitch here.

  22. You’re right about Quicksilver – there were just too many things I was using triggers for and so on. However, I’m moving quicksilver to Control-Space and leaving spotlight on Command-Space. On Tiger I disabled Spotlight entirely!
    I’ll do another post on Networking, Desktop Sharing, and Back To My Mac – these may be the most interesting features of all. Back To My Mac uses IPSec so it’s essentially a VPN. Another gold star for Apple.

  23. I put it on 3 Macs – Mac Mini (1.66/1G) , MacBook (C2D 2/2G) and Macbook Pro (SR 2.2/4Gb) – clean DVD install on the mini took upward of 75 minutes sans the DVD check. And it flies on this weak machine – I don’t feel like the machine has only 1Gb RAM – it works as if that is unlimited – perfect VM implementation! So far way better than Tiger – apps load so fast and there is no slowdown whatsoever even when Time machine is backing up.
    Next proceeded to my wife’s Macbook – no erase/install allowed there! This time I clone the DVD to Firewire disk and start the install from there – Upgrade goes on faster than the DVD install. But I’ve got problems – it feels slower than Tiger but not so much. Logout operations take infinite time, there are random beachballs infrequently etc. Not good but usable.
    Next a clean install from Firewire on my MacBook Pro – under 30 minutes to completion! But the machine feels very slow. I debug it a bit and find out it is having trouble with DNS – around 900 ms to resolve each time. So I install Macports and dnsmasq (local DNS cache) and it gets better but not as fast as the Mac Mini – wonder why.
    But overall I am pleased – all my 3rd party apps work, I love Spaces, Desktop Sharing and the new Finder so far, not to mention for a developer like me the new and DTrace are godsend. Very sweet!
    Oh and Leo – you need to take a lesson or two from Apple on usability! 😉 The comments form does not indicate what is mandatory (Name/Mail/Website) and when I submit I get an error – I come back to the comment form and my long comment is vanished. I had to retype this! (Hope you do not mind the feedback).

  24. Oh and I forgot to mention – my Sony DR-BT21G Bluetooth headphones are working well (Stereo) with Leopard. Yay for A2DP support!

  25. Great review, I can’t wait to have it in my hands … but I live in Mexico so I’ll have to wait for a while until finally get it. If you want to know more about why we can’t have all products from Apple in time visit my blog @

  26. “However, I’m moving quicksilver to Control-Space and leaving spotlight on Command-Space.”
    I wish I could do that. 🙁 Unfortunately I’m a software engineer and ctrl-space tends to be the de-facto standard for code complete in most development environments. So I get burned on that one.
    My compromise has been to put QS on Command-RightKey

  27. Not in my case. I tried Archive and Install on my 24″ iMac and when it got to the end — big yellow triangle error. I finally got it to install after two more times, but by that point it had completely demolished all my data. (Luckily I had backups) Still, I ended up reformatting, reinstalling, and reconfiguring, and have spent the entire day resetting up all my programs.
    On a similar machine at the office — no problem. Installed without incident.
    Go figure.

  28. Spam Sieve works if you reset it by opening the app and “reinstalling” the Apple plug-in from the menu.
    Am missing Mail Act-On terribly, which I use frequently. Any idea if this is going to be updated for Leopard use and when?

  29. This now in from Apple:
    Aperture: Avoid doing Time Machine backups or restores during Aperture sessions
    Issue or symptom
    Running Time Machine backup or restore operations while Aperture is running may lead to inconsistencies in the Aperture database.
    Products affected
    Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
    If you use Time Machine with Leopard, be sure to set your computer up so that Time Machine only does manual backups. Avoid performing either backups or restores while Aperture is running.

  30. I, too, was wondering where the cool Front Row transition went (with the desktop floating back into the distance and the icons circling in.)
    Disappointing that both Safari and Mail completely lack any way to import RSS feeds from OPML–er, well, anything. Please, correct me if I’m wrong on this.
    Otherwise, agreed. Worth the price of admission.

  31. Hi, Mail-Act-On seems to be working for me. If you go into the ~/Library directory, there are 2 folders, “Bundles” and “Bundles (Disabled)”. You can move the Mail-Act-On bundle across from the Disabled folder and it seems to work absolutely fine.

  32. Not rock solid at all, Leo. The install blue screen’d on my son’s MBP. Sadly he did not know how to deal with it and did not call me for advice. He tried again and did an erase+install and did NOT have any backups, 1.5 years at College, gone. Sigh.

  33. Hey Leo! Glad your liking make wanna buy a apple computer. anyhow,i may just do that this week. 🙂

  34. I had a great install experience on my MBP. No problems at all. The only problem I do have is with Talkshoe. I hope this doesn’t affect net@night too much. Seems to me like it is an issue with how Leopard talks to Java. I’m sure there will be a fix soon though.

  35. I am very very tempted with this update. I have done my clone of the system and am ready to go.
    I think you really should have a backup, anyone without a backup really is running in the dark… so if it goes wrong for them i feel its kindove thier own fault…
    Jamie & Lion

  36. As an IT guy I live in all the desktop worlds and this version of OSX is the best of all. Compared to the MS Windows world OSX is what Vista should have been. My upgrade from Tiger could not have been cleaner or easier on both my MacBook Pro and G4 Mini a couple of clicks walk away and come back to a fresh OS. Vista has moved into fourth place behind OSX, Ubuntu, XP then Vista…what a shame and waste of potential. I think I understand what Microsoft is trying to accomplish with backward compatibility but it may be time for them to shed the legacy and clean up the code; it was painful for Apple but they survived and excelled and we have Leopard to show for it.

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