The Snow Leopard Report: Features or Refinements?

June 15th, 2009

The conventional wisdom — which is seldom conventional — has it that Apple and Microsoft must tout loads of flashy new features to justify asking their customers to pay for their ongoing operating system upgrades. That may be true, all right, but it only presents part of the picture.

Now as some of you recall, Mac OS X Tiger was sold with the promise of over 200 new features. Most of them were merely enhancements to existing products, but this was the sort of bullet point game that Apple played, and play it well they did. For Leopard, they had to go farther, to justify its prolonged development time, so the promise was inflated to 300 and counting. Again, I’ll leave it to the reader to consider the significance of many of those features.

For Snow Leopard, Apple confessed that they would take a pause in the action to clean up the system, and focus on a handful of significant features that were designed to make 10.6 run faster, more efficiently, with greater stability and freedom from potential malware.

All well and good, and certainly the $29 upgrade price is a trivial matter, assuming it’s near as good as they claim. As far as those orphaned PowerPC users are concerned, well I suppose Apple will continue to support the standard version of Leopard for a while yet, particularly when it comes to security matters. That, too, is the conventional wisdom, but also the result of past experience.

Where that leaves the Tiger user, however, is another story entirely. If you want to stay put at 10.5, it’s still $129 for the upgrade package. If you have an Intel-based Mac and prefer to jump direct to 10.6, the cost is $169, but you also get iLife ’09 and iWork ’09 in the package. Since these two sell separately for $79 each, you are essentially paying $11 for Snow Leopard. If you have these two application suites already, well that’s how it goes. Apple is going into this assuming that most Snow Leopard adopters already have Leopard installed, and the rest will probably just consider buying new Macs at the appointed time. That’s what it’s really all about anyway.

What gets even more fascinating is the fact that Snow Leopard has a lot more going for it than you’d expect at first blush. Aside from the few items touted as new features, such as Microsoft Exchange support, there are actually some 100 “refinements” in Snow Leopard, according to Apple.

When you look at the list, you’ll find lots of stuff that would have previously ended up in the new feature column, such as a Finder rewritten in Cocoa and offering a lot better performance. This is where playing the name game can yield some fascinating possibilities, particularly when you consider that one person’s feature is another person’s refinement.

It is, in fact, really nice to find so much in the way of meat and potatoes from a system upgrade that was meant mostly as a clean-up. I wonder how Microsoft will react when it begins to market Windows 7 heavily, since it appears to be basically a Vista refinement with a few visual alterations in an apparent bid to justify a decent upgrade price.

Among the new capabilities, features, refinements or whatever in Snow Leopard is the return of a lost Classic Mac OS feature, known as Put Back. It’s function is simply to let you take an item in the Trash and send it back to its original folder. In Classic, it was known as Put Away, and since it is something that was not previously restored, it would seem to me that calling it a new feature is a better fit.

Just the other day, I was talking with someone who ranted about messiness of the Leopard Finder’s sidebar. You could remove, for example, all the items in a particular category, such as Places or Search, and the label itself would stick. Apple made the sensible decision to have the sidebar behave in a logical fashion for Snow Leopard. You uncheck or remove the contents of a category, and the label itself is history. Why didn’t they think of this before?

As you move through the bill of particulars, you will no doubt find lots of stuff that will really help reduce your list of Leopard complaints. Refinements they may be, but they are surely compelling enough to make you want to upgrade. How can you miss?

Now I realize that Snow Leopard is not in final release shape. Apple has given developers and computer book authors, under strict confidentiality agreements, access to copies of a near-final beta. Sure, some people are breaking those agreements and publicizing their experiences, and I suppose they can get away with it so long as they do not reveal anything that hasn’t already been made public.

However, with roughly three months left before Snow Leopard is released, I expect that any comments on its performance and reliability are premature. While Apple claims this is the final feature set, and it would make sense not to keep developers in the dark at this point, I suppose they could unleash a few last-minute surprises on us.

Having moved to all Intel Macs a couple of years ago, I am anxious to get ahold of the final version. Since my birth date is September 9th, which falls on a Wednesday this year, I could always hope for Apple to deliver my $29 birthday present by then. However, they usually push out releases of this sort on a Friday, but September 11th is the sort of anniversary we all want to forget. So I’ll accept September 18th as a suitable compromise. What say you Apple?

| Print This Article Print This Article

15 Responses to “The Snow Leopard Report: Features or Refinements?”

  1. hmurchison says:

    I’m loving what I’m hearing about improved performance. $29, IMO, is a pittance for the polish that we’re seeing even in beta form for Snow Leopard. I’m sure there are even more tweaks and improvements that will be left unsaid by Apple but will add up to a mature and “now” polished OS. Finally…I’ve waited for this OS for years and it’s here.

  2. Andrew says:

    This is one upgrade cycle where I think Apple and Microsoft both have the right idea. Snow Leopard looks so good that I would gladly have paid $129 for it, though I’m delighted that it will be only $29 instead. It promises to be the best OS X ever.

    Windows 7, despite the strong Microsoft-bashing on this and other sites, is actually quite good though. Dare I say that Vista, at least since SP1 is also quite good. I use both Vista and Leopard every day at work, neither one crashes, both do what I want them to with no hassle and both are extremely intuitive, if you are a regular user of the respective platform. The biggest problem with Vista isn’t technical, its emotional.

    Snow Leopard promises to be a massive overhaul of Leopard, cleaning up the remaining annoyances and making the system faster and more efficient. Sounds a lot like Microsoft’s promises for 7. Why is it that when Apple announces an evolutionary improvement o Leopard everyone cheers, but when Microsoft announces an evolutionary improvement to Vista we poke fun? Vista was a major shift in Windows much like Tiger was for OS X, and if I recall, Tiger, a great OS no doubt, had a lot of teething problems on first release.

  3. @ Andrew: The Windows 7 issue may depend on Microsoft’s upgrade policy. If they keep the prices real low, they will be doing the right thing. If greed prevails, they deserve the criticism.


  4. Andrew says:

    And had Apple priced Snow Leopard at its usual $129 would the world have been angry?

    Apple is breaking the mold with its low upgrade pricing, which by no means requires Microsoft to do so. I don’t consider normal pricing as greed, but rather Apple’s discounted pricing as a big “Thank you”.

  5. Dave Barnes says:

    Andrew wrote:

    Snow Leopard looks so good that I would gladly have paid $129 for it, though I’m delighted that it will be only $29 instead.

    I agree. I was prepared to pay $199 for the family pack and now I get upgrade the entire family for $10/machine.
    A stupidly low price.

  6. hmurchison says:

    Count me in on the upcoming SL/Mac Box Set family pack

    I’ve got Leopard running on the two Mac minis that I have but I want something that will give me the option for a clean install and of course the family pack.

  7. Frantisek says:

    I think that $29 should be only for owners of retail version of Leopard or for 10.4 as well.
    apple makketing machine is well known. Microsoft has still big part of market to need that.

  8. Frantisek wrote:

    I think that $29 should be only for owners of retail version of Leopard or for 10.4 as well.
    apple makketing machine is well known. Microsoft has still big part of market to need that.

    Possibly, but consider that a heavy percentage of the people who can upgrade to Snow Leopard — people using Intel-based Macs — are already using Leopard. The $169 bundle will include iLife and iWork, making the “net” cost of Snow Leopard with that bundle just $11. Also, the chances that people with Tiger already are using the latest iLife and iWork are also exceedingly slim, since people who don’t upgrade an operating system are less apt to buy new versions of the software suites.


  9. DaveD says:

    I’ve got my first Intel-based Mac late last year. Wanted a MacBook Pro to semi-retire my aging (seven years) Titanium 667-Mhz PowerBook G4, but the level of funding was not there. I opted for the lowest MacBook (white plastic with FireWire) to partially fill my need for speed and become acquainted with Leopard. My PowerBook G4 took me through the transition from Mac OS 9 to OS X and is running on the end of the OS line with Tiger.

    The performance of the MacBook was such an eye-opener for me. I did not realize how slow my PowerBook had become where the spinning rainbow beach balls are such a common sight. My MacBook will not get all of the benefits of Snow Leopard. So, I look forward in getting a MacBook Pro 12 to 18 months from now. It seems to be an ideal time as Intel rolls out their 32-nm Nehalem processor for notebooks later this year and a “seasoned” Mac OS X 10.6.n.

  10. Ex2bot says:

    Vista’s UAC was annoying. When a necessary feature is annoying, people tend to turn it off. So much for improved security. And Vista SP1, though a big improvement, continues causing some people problems. When business as usual didn’t create the wanted results Microsoft created Windows 7. 7 Is a distinct improvement in being easier to work with, e.g. more finely tuned UAC and sequestered notifications.

    It still has to be activated, though. Who cares? I do. I’m steamed because I have to activate my licensed copy of XP over the phone because I made one too many changes to my system / VM. I have to call MS and enter a 15 digit code every time and explain why I’ve activated it so much. Makes me dislike MS all over again. And since I have a choice, I’ve chosen to use the Mac. I use XP occasionally for games, but I’m tempted to get a pirated copy to avoid the activation. And I’m a paying customer!


  11. tom B says:

    People forget that Win 7 still isn’t UNIX. It may well get Windows back from a “Vista” to an “XP” level of performance, but it can’t exactly be called “modern’. MSFT is, thus; still over 9 years behind Apple (10.0.x was released in 2000, I think) in terms of the “internals” of thier respective OS’s.

  12. Richard says:

    Not being UNIX is not an intrinsically bad thing – and the design on NT was markedly more sophisticated than that of UNIX (NT being inspired by VMS). However, the original design has been bypassed at the behest of users who wanted things to ‘just work.’ Making something with worse security that UNIX was quite an achievement.

  13. Ex2bot says:

    Richard, I’m not sure if I understand your post. Unix had certain advantages to NT in its sophisticated CLIs and security, especially pre-XP SP2. And there has been an incredible amount of development of UNIX over the decades. It is powerful and robust. So too is Windows, of course. OS X adds decades of development of user interface to Unix. Apple also offers significant advantages to consumers in software and interface design.

    I think to say one OS is hands-down superior to the other would ignore the complexity of the systems. Windows’ main advantage is in its support of business computing needs. It is still a major advantage, though Apple has made significant headway.


  14. tom B says:

    @ Ex2bot:
    My point was that Windows will never be very robust, like UNIX. I’ve used XP a LOT and it totally bogs down when you have more than a few apps going.

  15. Did Windows 7 do away with the registry, DLLs, and the need for disk defragmentation?

Leave Your Comment