Both Apple and Microsoft have new operating systems.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


New Mac operating system is faster and leaner; new Windows 7 is coming soon

Oct. 11, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   This is a great time to own a Mac. But it's also a great time to own a Windows PC.
   Both Apple and Microsoft have new operating systems -- Snow Leopard for the Mac and Windows 7 for PCs. I'll tell you about Snow Leopard this week, and we'll cover Windows 7 for three consecutive columns after that. (Windows 7 gets added coverage not only because Windows is so much more popular but because Windows 7 is so different from previous versions.)
   Snow Leopard is the latest in Apple's series of "cat" system software for Macs, succeeding Leopard, which in turn followed Tiger, which came after Jaguar. (No, I don't know why Apple likes big cats so much. What's wrong with naming an operating system "Standard Poodle"? My dogs would love it.)
   First, the bad news. Snow Leopard runs only on modern Macs, the kind that have Intel processors. It won't install on an older, non-Intel Mac. One of my Macs, a G4, fits that category, as does my wife's iBook, so we're both feeling left out. Apple designed Snow Leopard to take advantage of special hardware in current Macs, so Macs without that hardware are just plain out of luck.
   But there's a lot of good news. Snow Leopard, also called OS X 10.6, has an improved dock (ghostly windows of running programs pop up when you hold your mouse button down on a dock icon) and -- at last! -- an improved Finder. The Finder, which controls all the file and folder operations in Apple's OS X operating system, finally sheds its sluggishness and even provides a way to eject disks that are in use by various programs.
   Snow Leopard is much snappier overall. Apple made major changes to the "plumbing" that supports the operating system, cleaning up the code while fixing hundreds of little inconsistencies. Apple also made the files that make up the operating system smaller (through compression, mostly), producing something unusual in the computer business -- an improved version of an operating system that takes up much less space than its predecessor. You'll save many gigabytes of drive space when you install Snow Leopard.
   Among many other improvements are speedier backups with Time Machine, Apple's automatic hourly backup software, further resistance to lockups and crashes and tight integration with Microsoft's Exchange server. This makes Macs with Snow Leopard fully compatible with heavy-duty office systems using Exchange.
   Most unusual is Apple's price. Snow Leopard costs only $29 -- $100 less than Apple has charged in the past. Although Apple advertises Snow Leopard as an upgrade for Leopard (OS X 10.5), you can install it over Tiger (OS X 10.4) also. Amazon.com sells Snow Leopard for less, as do some other discounters. Amazon's price is $25. (If you bought a new Mac with Leopard after June 8, Apple will sell you Snow Leopard for $10.)
   Next: With Windows 7, Microsoft takes a daring new approach.