The client version of Apple's Leopard operating system is more dependent on Apple's server software than ever before - a trait shared with Microsoft's Vista clients and upcoming Windows 2008 Server combination.

Also shared with Vista were a seeming superfluity of bugs, user-interface behaviour problems, and occasional configuration file overwrites.

But, unlike Microsoft, which waited a year between ship date and first update, Apple released Version 10.5.1 of Leopard just two weeks after its ship date to quickly take care of the majority of initial difficulties we found.

While the Leopard Client contains incremental changes to its user interface and bundled applications, those same applications have newly enriched features that are tied to application services shipped with the Leopard Server edition.

As an example, Leopard Client's Mail application performs basic email functions readily. However, like the tie between Microsoft's Exchange Server and Outlook client application, Leopard Server's Mail system brings richer Open Directory workgroup features that aren't otherwise available to non-Leopard clients.

The ties become more advanced when the Leopard Server iCal application is used, as group calendaring information becomes available so that users can schedule personal and group resource time. The Apple Wiki server also becomes available to like Apple clients where files can be uploaded as part of a collaborative work process or as shared resources among a wiki's users

Perhaps the most useful improvement for this Apple-to-Apple combination is the seemingly ultra-fast file/content searches enabled by both client and server indexing. We upgraded a 10.4 Xserve server to 10.5.1 (via 10.5) and watched as its nearly 2TB of content was indexed by the server operating system. Searches through the content by use of strings, Boolean-qualified search strings, concatenated string searches, all were very fast. A search through the attached server storage-area network that took seven minutes for a text string search before the new version of Leopard was applies, vs. only 19 seconds afterwards.

Searching for all picture files on the server, as an example (.jpg+.jpeg+.gif+.tif+.tiff+.raw), would take 11 minutes before Leopard, and under a minute afterwards. Leopard found correct matches in files of a proprietary format as well (such as inside zipped files, Microsoft and OpenOffice formatted files, and other non-text formats).

We upgraded several Apple client machines (PowerBook G4/1.67GHz, Apple PowerBook G4/1.25MHz, and a PowerMac G4 with twin 1.25GHz G4 CPUs) and used a new MacBook Pro to gauge upgrades and performance. We first installed Leopard 10.5 and then upgraded to the recommended 10.5.1.

Upgrades went reasonably well, but several niggling items such as the user interface features resulting in cursor loss and missing folders from the Mail user interface, Time Machine server storage issues were clearly changed for the worse in the initial 10.5 release. But those issues were remedied with the 10.5.1 updates.

Issues that remained even with 10.5.1 were that the upgrade overwrote modified driver configuration files that caused subsequent peripheral failures. None of the upgraded machines could find our Lexmark C510 network printer, but we found a fix on the Lexmark site that pointed away from older drivers to the newer ones that weren't installed apparently during the upgrade.

We also tested the upgraded IPSec VPN client application that easily and cleanly connected (except for small authentication issues that were remedied with the 10.5.1 upgrade) each client to a Leopard Server across several network address translation points from an outside Wi-Fi hotspot.

Performance was mixed. The slower-CPU platforms seemed to take longer to both boot, and open and close applications, as well as switch between applications. We did not see these delays on the fastest machine we used for this test which was an Apple-supplied MacBook Pro with Intel CoreDuo 2.4GHz/800MHz front-side bus CPUs.

File copies took the same amount of time, before and after upgrades, uniformly. We also noted that Apple now joins Microsoft in its inability to calculate time remaining for large/bulk file copies, large installations and other timing operations.

We enjoyed using Apple's Boot Camp - a Windows XP installation program that works only on Intel-based Macs (our MacBook Pro). Boot Camp, although announced long ago with the advent of CoreDuo-based Mac hardware platforms, was in beta until the release of Leopard. The installation worked quickly, flawlessly, and in our cursory examination of Windows speeds, we could find no appreciable speed difference between the MacBook Pro and other brands of notebook PCs running XP in the lab.

Apple's Time Machine client-side backup application backs up the entire machine, and then allows subsequent way-back daily successive iteration of files to be examined and restored. While it is slick on the user interface, it's somewhat brain dead on the inside. For example, it can only use resources that are local, or predefined on an accessible Leopard server. Additionally, application files that are dependent on each other are not aggregated in a useful way. So that a document file dependent on a spreadsheet that's dependent on a picture file, which may have been altered at varying times rather than altogether, cannot be synched together. Time Machine requires an HFS+ filing system and stops cold if the machine is on battery rather than AC (if it's a notebook) as it ostensibly might run battery resources down, or fail to complete before battery power is exhausted.

Apple has changed the client side Finder application to be far more useful than before, although it's still pretty capable of hiding detailed information about objects it presents (files, folders, network servers and shared media/printers). Users are largely protected from finding or using IP addresses and instead use URIs or URLs and other mnemonic references.

Henderson is principal researcher and Dvorak is a researcher for ExtremeLabs in Indianapolis. They can be reached at [email protected]

Henderson is also a member of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of reviewers in the network industry each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to www.networkworld.com/alliance.