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Living with Leopard: Book VI — I’ll Never Go Back!

Years ago, I would often tell my friends that once they used Macs, they’d never go back. Well, I suppose that was true for some, but others chose to embrace Windows and claimed that it was every bit as good as a Mac and maybe better.

Oh well, I suppose there’s no accounting for taste.

However, it’s also true that, when you become accustomed to something, it may be difficult or impossible to change your ways. Take the Classic Mac OS. Yes, development essentially chugged along until 1999, with the release of Mac OS 9. Aside from some maintenance updates, Apple abandoned it and charged full steam towards delivering Mac OS X. But the first release of the long-awaited industrial-strength operating system upgrade met with a huge amount of criticism about what was omitted and especially what was changed.

The former was easy to understand. In effect, Apple was building a new operating system based on the tried-and-true Unix underpinnings utilized by the NeXT operating system. They were also several years late, and I suspect that the first couple of Mac OS X releases were delivered as much to provide credibility as deliver a robust system upgrade for Mac users.

That didn’t stop people from complaining about various interface decisions, and it really got out of hand in Tiger when Apple’s applications variously incorporated platinum, gray and brushed metal windows. Although it didn’t bother me much, as variety is supposed to be the spice of life, I can see where some folks preferred a more orderly presentation.

That came in Leopard, but the gray/blue-gray motif still doesn’t satisfy everyone, but it doesn’t matter what choices Apple makes.

Now comes the easy part for me: I have no problem with the look and feel of Leopard. I think the Finder windows look just great, and the transparent menu bar doesn’t disturb my ability to use it. I can see where certain types of artwork might cause trouble, particularly if the menu bar is blackened and provides little contrast and visibility for the labels. With judicious selection, however, this shouldn’t be an issue. And with menu bar opaquing utilities already in place, you can get rid of the effect if you choose.

However, maybe Apple should be thinking seriously about putting a slider in the Appearance preference panel where you can make that setting yourself. It’s not as if the system doesn’t provide that capability. That’s how the third parties get it done.

The same goes for the Dock. 3D? Fine with me. I realize that the tiny shaded blue lightbulb-style indicators might seem a poor choice to display which applications are open. You can certainly use a Terminal hack or a third-party system enhancement utility to go back to 2D, and even to change that indicator. But the human eye is an amazing thing. If you give it just a little time, without clouding your mind with prejudgments, you may discover you like it, and that you’ll still be able to detect the open applications without a second glance.

The most important element of a computer operating system, though, is whether it can stay out of the way and let you get your work done. Here Leopard doesn’t disappoint. I continue to run the very same applications I ran with Tiger. Except for the printing oddity with Microsoft Office 2004, where it reports pages as out of range, and the fact that Entourage 2004 doesn’t like Spaces, I’m pleased.

You see, performance is noticeably snappier. That’s a subjective reaction, and it may well be that a benchmarking utility will show little or no change from Tiger, but perceived performance is extremely important. What’s more, Leopard doesn’t crash for me, and the only restarts I’ve done were to install software that required them.

Now I’m realistic enough in my outlook to understand that some of you may have had perfectly awful encounters with Leopard. Maybe you did an Upgrade installation, and confronted that dreaded blue screen of death on the first startup. All right, we know that a third-party system enhancement, most likely an older version of Unsanity’s Application Enhancer, may be responsible. In addition, a Terminal hack in the startup single user mode or a full Archive & Install should exorcise that problem for good.

I also realize that, with thousands upon thousands of possible Mac system configurations, anything can happen and probably will at some point in time. Again, this is nothing unusual, and any of the serious problems will be taken to heart by Apple and repaired, if need be, in a forthcoming system update. Or, if the fault lies strictly with an independent developer, they’ll do what they have to do to be compatible with Leopard if they hope to remain in the Mac marketplace.

As you might imagine, I will be writing regularly on Leopard in the days to come. But with appropriate cautions — and an eye to the compatibility of your applications and utilities — I recommend Mac OS 10.5 without hesitation.