Snow Leopard: snow job, or great new OS?
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Snow Leopard: Apple’s New Big Cat
Apple has released the newest iteration of its highly stable, very popular, and clearly best operating system, OS X version 10.6 (aka Snow Leopard.) You can get Snow Leopard at the bricks and mortar Apple store near you, the online Apple store ( http://store.apple.com/us), and various other retailers who sell Apple ware (e.g., Best Buy, Fry’s). The cost: $29 for a single license and $49 for a family pack (up to 5 users). The catch: Snow Leopard is an upgrade to Leopard, and you need to take your computer to that level to use it. The OS requires a Mac with an Intel processor. If you still have a Mac running on an earlier processor, you should seriously consider upgrading to a more modern version. The newer versions offer far more computing power, better aesthetics, and better pricing than their predecessors.
Picture courtesy of Apple, Inc.
Apple bills Snow Leopard as an upgrade to its Leopard OS. I think that description (and the relatively low purchase price) fairly reflect the new OS. It represents a tune up to Leopard, but it also adds some significant new features, such as exchange server capabilities that will allow the system to work better in larger network environments.
It will probably take some time before you see the benefit of the most significant enhancement for the new OS: its support of 64-bit software. Once vendors start producing 64-bit code for programs, you should see a marked improvement in processing speed. Until then, not so much. Apple has announced that it has converted its key system applications to 64-bit, so you will see a speed jump there right off the bat.
We are in the process of an evolution from two- to four-core processor computers. Apple designed the new OS to take advantage of the new multicore processors. As we move to the four-core processors, the new system will flex its muscles and help us get optimal performance and considerably greater speed. The significance of this evolution equates to the difference between commuter traffic running on a two-lane road as compared to an eight-lane freeway. A lot more traffic can cover the route in a lot less time. The 32-bit technology we have operated with for some time allows Macs to run on 32GB of RAM, but only address 4GB at a time. The 64-bit systems will enable the computer to address 16 exabytes of memory (16 billion gigabytes). As we move to more cores in the operating system, we will also move to increased memory to facilitate the operations of the multicore systems running 64-bit software.
Apple has had multiple core processors available in its Mac Pro line for some time. The Mac Pro line offers you a choice between a quadcore and an 8-core processor. Apple recently refreshed its iMac line. As a part of that refreshing, Apple announced that it will ship a 27" quad-core processor iMac in November, 2009. I look forward to the experience of trying one of them out with the new OS. The quadcore iMac will come with 4GB of RAM and the option to upgrade to 8GB for $200 using four 2GB boards to fill the available memory slots. If you want to consider moving up to 16GB at a later time, you may want to spend the extra money it takes to get the 8GB as two 4GB boards (an additional $400 for a total increase of $600). Alternatively, if you have an extra $1400, you can get 16GB right off the bat, filling each of the four memory slots with a 4GB board. Unless you have a screaming need for more than 8GB of RAM, I would go with the $200 upgrade. For the near term, 8GB should prove quite adequate.
One of the new features of the Snow Leopard OS is Grand Central Dispatch. GCD operates as a traffic controller, scaling and shaping the data flow traffic to distribute the work among the number of cores in the processor. It takes up operating resources when the program requires them and releases them to other activities when the program does not need them for what it is doing. By taking this burden off of the programs, the OS helps the programs realize greater operating efficiency, especially if the developer did not invest the effort to make the program multicore capable.
The new OS also features Open CL technology to allow the computer to more efficiently handle graphics and graphic resources. It also allows the computer to make use of the computing power of graphics processors for other activities. Places where you will likely find this benefit appearing in the near term include financial modeling programs and gaming programs.
I installed Snow Leopard over existing Leopard installations on two different generations of iMacs, a MacBook, a MacBook Air, and a MacBook Pro. Each of the installations went smoothly and fairly quickly. I had no problem with any of the installations. After completion of the installation, all of my current versions of programs worked just as they had before the installation. I did have a few older programs that had problems with the new OS, but most of them have been fixed by Snow Leopard compatible updates that were released within the last month. If you upgrade to Snow Leopard, I strongly recommend that you check out your existing software and make sure that you have the most current versions of the programs you need. If you do that, you should have no significant problems from the new OS.
Apple also upgraded the OS for servers. The server version will cost you $499, inclusive of an unlimited number of client licenses. Apple describes it as “a full 64-bit Unix server operating system.” Apple claims the new server software will perform twice as fast as the previous version.
Apple has devoted a section of its website to Snow Leopard and its features. You may want to take some time to look through the website to help you decide whether you want to upgrade. You can find the information at http://www.apple.com/macosx/. The site discusses several new features, including:
- A faster finder, rewritten in Cocoa, to take advantage of 64-bit technology and Grand Central Dispatch.
- Enhancement of Exposé and Stacks. Expose appears in the dock, allowing you to click and hold the application icon in the dock and see a display of all open windows for the application, allowing you to choose the one you want to work with.
- Quicker backups with Time Machine.
- Faster wake up and shut down.
One other feature may prove important to you—the OS installation takes up less space than its predecessors. You will find that particularly useful if you have a smaller hard disk or a flash drive such as Apple has made available for the MacBook Air and other laptops. After installing Snow Leopard on my MacBook Air, I discovered that it had recovered more than a gigabyte of free space that did not exist before that installation.
Along with the release of Snow Leopard, Apple released new versions of several of its core programs. QuickTime X and a new QuickTime player replace earlier versions with a more powerful media technology. It allows both the playback of your own videos and facilitates Internet video streaming, supporting HTTP live streaming. The technology steams both audio and video from the Internet. It launches faster and runs smoothly and quickly. I did notice, however, that some older versions of software depending on QuickTime did not recognize it and told me that they could not run without QuickTime. Upgrades to those programs have solved those problems. I did discover that some of my older videos in .ASF format would not run properly. I had no problem with those in .MOV format. Converting the .ASF-formatted files to .MOV solved that problem.
Safari 4 moved from beta to release in connection with Snow Leopard’s release. The release version is not very different from the last beta I saw, but it does show great improvement over version 3. If you have not yet moved to Safari 4, you will want to do so. Apple has written Version 4 in 64-bit code to take advantage of the new OS and operate at greater speed.
Apple also has rewritten its iCal, Mail, and iChat applications in 64-bit code, so that all will work most efficiently with the new OS and also gain operating speed. I have not noticed a significant increase in speed on my iMac, MacBook, or MacBook Pro, all of which have 4GB of memory. I expect to see a more noticeable speed change when I move to an 8GB quadcore iMac later this year.
One final point regarding the new OS—programs written in 64-bit code can have greater complexity than those written in 32-bit code. Apple has enhanced the security features in the software to make hacking more difficult and to limit the accessibility of malware to the computer. As Mac owners have known for some time, the Mac gives less reason for concern about malware than Windows-based computers. With the move to the 64-bit OS and the enhanced security measures Apple has written into it, it appears that advantage will continue into the future.
Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the law firm of Graves & Allen with a general practice that, since 1973, has emphasized negotiation, structuring, and documentation of real estate acquisitions, loans and other business transactions, receiverships, related litigation, and bankruptcy. Graves & Allen is a small firm in Oakland, California. Mr. Allen also works extensively as an arbitrator and a mediator. He serves as the editor of the Technology eReport and the Technology & Practice Guide issues of GP Solo Magazine. He also serves on the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. Mr. Allen regularly presents at substantive law and technology-oriented programs for attorneys and writes for several legal trade magazines. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, Jeffrey has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He is an associate professor at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. Mr. Allen blogs on technology at www.jallenlawtekblog.com. You can contact Jeffrey via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2009, American Bar Association.