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Waiting for Leopard Book V: Should You Just Wait?

With worldwide Leopard coming out parties, and lots and lots of copies arriving the very first day Mac OS 10.5 is out — and maybe sooner if you can believe some reports — you’d almost expect massive upgrades being performed over a period of several days.

This is a vision that seems real enough, although I have to wonder if some of you are going to be highly disappointed that you didn’t wait and take a breather.

But why should that be, considering Leopard has some 316 new features and enhancements that cover the length and breadth of the operating system, from fancy eye-candy to increased levels of security? Whether you’re a consumer or businessperson, surely there’s plenty to delight in, right?

At the same time, just because something is new and does more things that what it replaces doesn’t mean it’s better. I’ll grant that it just might be, and, in fact, I’m highly optimistic that it is.

But I am absolutely going to ignore any comments from people who claim to have somehow been “privileged” to get their copies a day or two ahead of Leopard’s release date, or found an alleged “Golden Master” disk image on a peer-to-peer networking site. You see, I am not going to take any of that stuff seriously. While it’s possible a few copies of Leopard left Apple’s shipping plants early, by error or due to cute marketing trick, I prefer to wait for the real thing.

When that happens, you’ll get a full report here, and, no doubt, you’ll be inundated with Leopard lore for weeks, and perhaps speculation about what member of the feline family will grace the installer DVD for 10.6. Indeed, some mainstream news outlets have already run official reviews of Leopard, since Apple relaxed their confidentiality agreements in a few cases.

But should you “just wait,” as I said in the headline? Well, it’s look at this seriously.

Many of you don’t use your Macs just to update your checkbooks, check email or organize your iTunes songs and videos. You actually use your Mac as a tool to get some work done. So you need something that is predictable and reliable, something you know will stay out of the way and allow you to be productive.

It may well be that Leopard will be all that and more right out of the starting gate. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some early release bugs that’ll cripple some functions or cause crashes with others. That’s the way with point-zero releases for any product, and when you find one that’s relatively free of such ills, consider yourself mighty lucky indeed.

Even if Leopard is essentially devoid of a show-stopper — which would make it far better than Tiger when it came out — what about your third party software? Do you know that you’ll be able to process your images in Adobe Photoshop, prepare ads, books, brochures and magazines in Adobe inDesign or QuarkXPress? What about the “vertical” applications that you need to run your dental or legal office? Indeed, there are such tools on the Mac, even though a few Windows fanboys would prefer to tell you otherwise.

Moreover, what about really old software that has served you well for years, through thick and thin and despite periodic updates to the Mac OS? Did know that the Classic environment will not be supported with Leopard? That’s not a conspiracy theory or just a guess (educated or otherwise) from some online tech commentator.

Indeed, Apple has confirmed that Classic is history and not just for users of Intel-based Macs: “Classic applications do not work on Intel processor-based Macs or with Mac OS X 10.5. Upgrade your Mac OS 9 applications to Mac OS X versions. Check with an application’s manufacturer for more information.”

All right, so you can add the end of Classic to the loss of support for the G3 and any G4 slower than 867MHz. I also understand that XPostFacto, the little utility that lets you install Mac OS X on unsupported hardware, probably won’t function at all under Leopard. I would hope this isn’t true, for the sake of those of you with older Macs that you want to keep running for a few more years with the latest and greatest.

On the other hand, you cannot expect Apple to support older hardware and software forever. Consider Classic. Mac OS 9 came out eight years ago, and there has been more than enough time for most applications to get some sort of Mac OS X update. That, of course, doesn’t mean such updates will ever appear. Many companies that delivered products years ago are no longer in business, or have exited the Mac platform.

If you depend on any of those applications to run your business, then you should stick with Tiger, at least for now. Yes, some third parties have experimented with ways to run Mac OS 9 on Intel-based Macs, and perhaps there will be ways to make it happen under Leopard. But I’m not expecting miracles, and no doubt there will be performance issues and unexpected bugs. Indeed, XPostFacto, through a great piece of work from programmer Ryan Rempel, had its share of issues, despite help from outside sources. On some Macs, sound never worked properly, and even then, performance was merely adequate.

I realize that many of you will have to confront a serious dilemma here. Do you migrate to Leopard, even if you have to buy a new Mac to do it? Or do you stick with what you have, preserving the old applications that you’ve grown accustomed to all these years.

Then, there’s nothing wrong with having an extra Mac around, right?