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So Maybe You Don’t Need Snow Leopard!

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?