So Maybe You Don’t Need Snow Leopard!

September 8th, 2009

A few of the more negative reviews about Snow Leopard make a very basic point, that most of the changes are in the plumbing. Hence you don’t need to worry about upgrading right now, so might as well stick with what you have.

One important reason to feel this way is the fact that you don’t necessarily buy a personal computer to run an operating system, or at least you shouldn’t. Before you suggest that I’m somehow ignoring my oft-repeated concerns about Windows, let me assure you that I’m not. You have to consider your computer as a tool with which to run the applications you need for work or play.

So if the app you need only works under Windows, you aren’t left with much choice, except to find another tool that provides the same functionality, if you can. That in part explains why so many businesses have Windows; they require special vertical market software for which there’s no Mac equivalent.

Sure, you can run Windows on your Mac, as we all know, but you’d also want to use apps from the Mac environment to justify the investment, since Windows is an extra cost item.

But let’s assume you are using a Mac, and now you are confronted with the issue of whether to upgrade to Snow Leopard. Since Mac OS 10.6 doesn’t support the PowerPC, the larger question is whether it’s time to retire that old Mac and buy a new one after just a few years, and that’s a question I can’t answer for you. If you’re running Tiger on an Intel-based model, the price of admission to what many regard as a glorified Service Pack may seem daunting. Is it worth $169? Well, probably not, but consider that the entire bundle also includes the latest iLife and iWork. When you factor in the regular price of those two app suites, Snow Leopard is a mere $11 extra.

Or just buy the regular Snow Leopard upgrade kit at $29, since the installer doesn’t care whether you have Tiger or Leopard. Yes, this is more of a marketing issue from Apple’s standpoint, and they do concede that this alternative works just fine. Under like circumstances, Microsoft would encode a poison pill in the installer that would prevent anyone except the skilled hacker from doing that sort of upgrade.

So it’s clear that Snow Leopard is, in the scheme of things, a pretty casual investment. More so if you bought a new Mac with 10.5 on or after June 8th of this year. Then the Snow Leopard Up-To-Date program, which expires near the end of the year, shaves roughly $20 off the price of admission. How can you miss?

Well, you may want to pass Snow Leopard by if the app or system enhancement you’re using isn’t compatible, and perhaps won’t be for a while. In my situation, I had to use a little trick to fake the Logitech Control Center software (used with my MX Revolution mouse and diNovo Edge Mac keyboard) to install, by launching the installer direct from the package contents. It seems the current 3.0 version is hard-wired not to accept a drive with Snow Leopard as a destination for installation. But all of my other software pretty much just works, so this was not a decision that was difficult to make.

Then there the usual early release bugs. There are glitches in Apple Mail, for example, that may cause problems sending messages under some circumstances. Apple is evidently aware of all this, and there are already rampant rumors that the inevitable 10.6.1 update is coming soon. That may indeed be the time to switch.

Or maybe not.

Granted Snow Leopard is a hair snappier than Leopard in most respects. Granted the little refinements to the Dock, the Finder and other components of Mac OS X are neat and all. But what Snow Leopard offers to most of you is the promise of something far, far better, and it’s a reality that isn’t quite here just yet.

Take the Grand Central Dispatch feature, which will make it far easier for developers to harness the power of the extra processing cores on your Mac. OpenCL will allow chores to be offloaded to the graphics hardware, and 64-bit computing means you can get lots of extra memory and actually have it mean something.

If you are using apps that might really offer greater productivity, you will want to buy the expected Snow Leopard-savvy upgrades, which aren’t apt to be free, when they’re available. That may be the time to get Snow Leopard, but if you are just interested in email, Web browsing, word processing and other tasks that never tax the limits of your Mac’s computing power, where’s the rush!

But if all or most of your key apps are compatible, and you just want a more streamlined, slightly more robust computing environment, Snow Leopard is worth every penny. Besides, what were you really going to spend that $29 for anyway?

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5 Responses to “So Maybe You Don’t Need Snow Leopard!”

  1. MichaelT says:

    Apropos of nothing you’ve written here, Happy Birthday, Gene!

    And, of course, Peace!


  2. Walt French says:

    Hey, remember that “tight integration” between hardware and software that Apple is famous for?

    Snow Leopard is their latest-and-greatest software for any machine with more moxie than my aging MacBookPro/17 with a Core [Not 2] Duo. It plays movies better. Switches between tasks and starts/stops apps faster. Juggles multiple tasks better, due to those queuing fundamentals and its better Exposé and Spaces. Your favorite photo editor, audio recorder, heck, even spreadsheet will work better and their next updates will be a bunch better.

    I’m not happy about how hard it was to early-adopt, despite installing onto a fresh disk and migrating from my old one, so I supposedly would never be dead in the water. Miserable control of information flow, only partially helped by the heroic efforts by MacInTouch and others. WTF that supposedly major s/w houses are quoting November? They’ve had developer releases for about a year. They’re opting out of this business line, or counting on a lack of competition—risky business in this world.

    But even on this older machine I already like the plusses. I am impatient enough that I can no longer imagine snoring through page loads on the web, many-second updates of my monster spreadsheets, or the awesome power of Mathematica. If a five-year-old machine is good enough, there’s no reason to talk Snow Leopard. Anything newer, once the gear-grinding is over you’ll appreciate the more buttery flavor.

  3. Andy B says:

    For anyone having issues with MBP startup black or grey screen issues. I went through the Leopard years thinking my MBP was screwed. Since upgrading to Snow Leopard on release day, my laptop has restarted normally every time (incl install startups as well as third party software startups). Hope anyone with those issues has the same joy I have now

  4. dfs says:

    I don’t think anybody has an urgent need to upgrade to Snow Leopard at this moment. The hassles of software that breaks when you upgrade your OS, and the expense you may incur if you have to pay for upgraded software able to run on your new one probably outweigh any immediate benefits you will see from installing Snow Leopard. In the first place, Leopard itself is a truly great OS and it has the benefit of having being polished by eignt upgrades and Lord knows how many security patches since its first release. In the second, chances are that your present Mac is fast enough that the extra zip you will get from Snow Leopard won’t make any dramatic difference in your computing experience. If you expect it will, having read some press hype, chances are you’ll be disappointed. The situation will change as soon as Snow -Leopard friendly software becomes available, probably starting with iLife and iWork, which can take advantage of its under-the-hood improvements. As more and more such softwre comes on the market that can take advantage of multiprocessing and use your graphics processor for new and better things, then it will be a different story. The only software I have seen so far which gives me any kind of glimpse into the future is the BOINC screen saver that crunches numbers for SETI At Home and similar projects, which does truly use multiprocessing (it simultaneously crunches a different sent of numbers with every processing core). Trust me, the difference in its performance with Snow Leopard is genuinely dramatic. I. m. h. o. the only compelling reason to make the upgrade is that it’s an investment in the future.

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