Leopard lays the foundation for the next generation of personal computing. It offers a better user experience as well as the reliability inherent when you are able to integrate hardware and operating system. It's an evolutionary release with parts that are downright revolutionary.
I don't have the space here to give you a complete rundown on what Leopard can and can't do. What I can tell you is how Leopard has impressed me.
Boot times were quick, and the system's Sleep and Resume features worked flawlessly on the MacBooks I used for testing. On a variety of G5 and Intel-based Macs, I had no performance or stability issues, even when I upgraded from Leopard's predecessor, Tiger, instead of performing a clean update. In only one instance did a system freeze. That's a level of stability I haven't achieved with any machine running any other operating system.
As with most new operating system releases, computers older than, say, 18 or 24 months may need an upgrade of memory or disk drives.
While Apple lists 512MB of RAM as a system requirement, 2GB is a more realistic number. Of course, your mileage may vary. As with Windows Vista, a lot of that memory is needed to support the eye candy. Apple has again redefined what personal computing looks like.
Tiger fared well against Microsoft's offerings, but Leopard takes a real leap ahead. It builds upon the already solid Mac OS X platform and advances almost all of the core features.
The Finder has been given a new coat of virtual paint, with transparent menus and a new Dock that "reflects" the applications stored there. Users can collapse applications and document folders into the Dock and then easily access them via fly-out menus. Cover Flow, a feature first used in iTunes, lets you browse files visually and then see a file's contents without opening it.
Apple's IM client, iChat, runs rings around what's available for other systems. It now has green-screen capabilities that allow users to place themselves in front of still or animated backgrounds, and it lets users share screens or applications for collaboration.
Vista has widgets, but they can't beat Leopard's for ease of use. Dashboard lets users take any webpage and turn it into a widget that auto-updates, going well beyond the concept of creating HTML applets that can show snippets of information.
I've always used my email in-box as a to-do list, and Apple's Mail client makes that really work. You can turn any email in your in-box into an item on a to-do list and then keep track of what needs to be done.
Does any of this matter to IT? More and more, it does, now that getting Apple's software to work as part of an infrastructure is mostly a nonissue. And Boot Camp, Apple's method for running Windows natively on Intel-based Macs, allows those who must use Windows applications to consider a Mac. (With Leopard, Boot Camp is integrated directly into the operating system.)
There's no doubt that the vast majority of IT shops will stick with Windows, but there are always users for whom a Mac makes sense. Thanks to Boot Camp, it's no longer a one-or-the-other question. And there's certainly appeal in Leopard's host of refined productivity features and rock-solid stability. With little or no price premium for a Mac, more will say yes.
Michael Gartenberg is vice president and research director for the personal technology and access and custom research groups at JupiterResearch in New York. Contact him at email@example.com. His weblog and RSS feed are here.