The Sophisticated Wildcat


5 Aug 2011
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Delayed by a few months, Apple’s latest operating system puts a fresh coat of paint on its line of Macintosh personal computers. Codenamed Leopard, Mac OS X v10.5 promises more than 300 new features, an impressive claim. While there’s been a huge amount of tinkering under the hood, users also have a fair number of new things to look forward to.

You’ll notice a number of visual updates to the desktop. The default wallpaper is a dramatic deep-space starfield design, unlike the sweeping blue gradients that have come with every previous version of OS X since its release in 2001. Even the menu bar permanently attached to the top of the screen has been overhauled. The Apple and Finder icons now take on a black, engraved look, while the bar itself is semi-transparent, taking on the hue of whatever wallpaper you have below it. Whether you like it or not, there’s no easy way to go back to the old look.

Also changed is the Dock, which has received its first complete makeover. The new dock is a glassy, semi-transparent, 3D platform on which each icon rests. Active programs now have a glowing blue orb under their icons, rather than black arrows. There isn’t really any functional or aesthetic benefit to this new design; it’s just one of those changes that has been made for the sake of changing things. At least in this case, you can switch to a more demure black box with a simple terminal command (the option isn’t available through the normal Preferences panel).

Functionally, there are quite a few additions to the desktop. The Dock is now host to Stacks; folders that open up to reveal their contents right on the desktop. Folders with fewer files in them open as curved fans, while those with more icons open as grids on a semi-transparent background. There’s one special stack for the Downloads folder, so files saved from the web while surfing in Safari end up here instead of cluttering up your desktop. The concept is neat, but it means an extra step if you want to just open the folder to see what’s inside.

Unfortunately, each Stack takes on the icon of the most recent file added to it. You’re supposed to be able to see all the files’ icons layered behind each other, but you can really only see the one in front. Not only does this mean that the Stack’s icon keeps changing, but also that it’s easy to confuse a Stack with the actual file that it’s using as its icon.

The last major change to the desktop is Spaces. A simple multi-desktop manager, Spaces allows you to configure up to 16 virtual desktops. You can work with one set of programs in one space, and keep another set in another space. It’s more efficient than constantly maximizing and minimizing windows, and it’s a great way to reduce clutter (or quickly hide what you’re really doing). You can set up keyboard shortcuts and force certain programs to always open in a particular space. Unfortunately, you can’t have different wallpapers for each one, so you might wonder where your programs are when you need them.

The Finder
The Finder has also been overhauled. Its new look is largely modeled on iTunes, in a move designed not only to make things easier to find, but also to make Mac OS more familiar to Windows users. The left panel is now categorized, with collapsible sections. But more interestingly, it’s also inherited the Cover Flow view, which lets you flick through a row of large icons representing each file. Each icon is of course a live preview of the file’s contents, whether it be a photo, video, text document, PDF, or even an application’s executable. It’s a neat way to find your documents, though flicking through huge folders tends to choke the system a bit.
Whether in Cover Flow or any of the other views, hitting the space bar while a file is selected brings up a new Quick Look window. Now, you don’t need to wait for each file’s associated application to open a file. You can even play videos, scroll through multi-page PDFs and view files fullscreen. Most common filetypes are supported, and third party plugins should take care of the rest.

Time Machine
With home and office computers becoming home to all our precious documents, photos, music and video, a simple user error or computer crash could mean complete disaster. Apple’s own surveys showed that less than 26 percent of its users had ever backed up some data, and that less than four percent had a regular backup routine in place. The need for a simple, always-on solution has now been met with Time Machine. In an effort to make it as simple as possible, Time Machine isn’t a very configurable piece of software. Yet, it might just mean the difference between losing all your memories and having them automatically backed up somewhere safe.

Time Machine works if your Mac has a second internal hard drive or an external USB/FireWire drive plugged in. It doesn’t work over a network yet, though this might be an option with a future update. It creates compressed backups of every file on your computer, or of only the ones you specify. Say you accidentally deleted a file from a folder. With that folder open, simply click the Time Machine icon in the dock (though why there isn’t one on the folder toolbar is anyone’s guess) and watch the magic happen. In typical Apple style, the entire desktop just melts off your screen, leaving the Finder window for that folder in the middle, with an infinite line of windows behind it stretching into a supernova-esque pattern. Stars whizz by the screen as you look at your window on a different plane: instead of other windows to the left and right, you’re looking at different versions of the same window over time, in front of and behind it. Use the giant arrows to step through backed up states of the folder, or drag the mouse over the timeline bar on the right of the screen. When you see a version of that folder with the file you want, simply highlight it and click the Restore button. When you’re done, exit Time Machine to restore your desktop, with that file pulled back into your folder’s current state.

Here’s the best part – Time Machine works with any kind of folder view, including Spotlight search results! You can simply search for the file you want to restore and activate it to search for that file through space as well as time. And yes, you can also preview the contents of any version of any file with Quick Look. Behind the scenes, your backups are compressed and indexed for easy retrieval. Time Machine manages space by preserving one backup per hour for the last 24 hours, one per day for the last week, and then one per week after that.

Other Programs
The bundled programs that have received the most major facelifts are Mail, and iCal. The two programs are also more highly integrated; a move that puts addresses, appointments and reminders at your fingertips. Mail now includes Stationary, a wide collection of email-friendly templates that you can use to create high-quality invitations, newsletters and photo collages. These can be seen in any email client that supports HTML formatted emal. Also, new Data Detectors allow you to quickly snip bits of information such as names, email addresses, phone numbers and times so you can quickly add new contacts or create new calendar appointments.

iChat also comes with a large set of improvements. Multiple conversations can be shown in a single window with a sidebar that alerts you when new messages arrive. You can now superimpose yourself in front of any photo or video, to simulate green-screen effects such as flying over mountains, placing yourself inside movies, or even presenting a weather report! You can now video chat with friends and colleagues while sharing documents, which means that both can work on them together. This is a great way to collaborate on a project, conduct a slideshow with narration, or even step a client through a PowerPoint presentation while maintaining eye contact—all online. And it’s not just files—you can share your entire computer with an iChat buddy, so you can quickly grab a file off your home computer from work, or help a friend with by simply taking control of his machine from where you’re sitting.

Safari also moves up to version 3.0, with the only major new feature being Web Clips. Now, you can literally “snip” any portion of a web page (Safari automatically divides pages into snippable zones based on their markup) and turn it into a Dashboard widget. So if you see something on a page that refreshes often, such as a word of the day, comic strip or news ticker, you can now just snip it out and place it on your Dashboard.

Boot Camp
With the release of Leopard comes the demise of the free version of Boot Camp, The tool that lets you load Windows on any Mac is now a part of the OS itself. The final version includes all the drivers that you’ll need to run Windows smoothly, and doesn’t force you to burn them all on a separate disc before installation.
Testing and Impressions

Leopard’s system requirements are rather modest. It runs on Intel and PowerPC G4/G5-based Macs (867 MHz and above), 512 MB of RAM and 9 GB of available disk space. Keep in mind that Time Machine will require a separate hard drive. We tested it on a three-year-old PowerBook with a 1.5 GHz G4 CPU, 1 GB of RAM and integrated ATi Radeon 9700 graphics. Performance was quite smooth, and we didn’t notice any lags or hiccups (except briefly while using Cover Flow on heavily populated folders). Leopard seems to run quite well, and was in fact a little snappier than Tiger (v10.4) while opening applications on the same machine.

At Rs 6,200 (there’s just one version that includes everything), there’s no reason not to upgrade. Any new Mac should come with Leopard preinstalled, which is pretty good value. The few headlining features such as Time Machine are pretty cool, though it’s really the smaller tweaks and improvements that make it great. Users will see it more as a refresh than a complete update, but it does bring a lot of improvements to an already polished line of operating systems.

Source : Chip Magazine
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