Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard review


App changes


Mac OS X ships with about four dozen applications and utilities, large and small, that form the foundation of the Mac user experience. Most of them have been tweaked, at least a little bit, in Snow Leopard. If you’ve got a favourite, you’ll probably notice at least a few minor changes.

The biggest changes are probably in Preview, Apple’s catch-all utility for viewing images and PDFs. I’ve been using Preview as my default PDF viewer for years now, and find it superior to Adobe Reader in terms of speed and interface. Snow Leopard’s updates to Preview include improved selection of text within PDFs, especially those with multiple columns of text. There’s also a new Annotations toolbar for users who need to mark up PDFs with comments.

Several programs, including TextEdit, Mail, and iChat, can take advantage of a new systemwide Substitutions service that can autocorrect common mistakes (think teh to the), convert straight quotes to curly and vice versa, and turn double-minuses and triple-periods into em dashes and ellipses, respectively. Even better, a tab in the Keyboard pane of the System Preferences app lets you add shortcuts of your own.

System Preferences is also where you’ll see the ugliest evidence of Apple’s conversion to 64-bit applications throughout the system. If you’re using Apple’s stock preference panes only, everything will work just fine. But if you click on a third-party preference pane that hasn’t yet been upgraded to a 64-bit version, System Preferences will tell you that it has to quit and reopen itself in 32-bit mode in order to open that preference pane.

While it’s nice of System Preferences to go to that trouble, it gets frustrating after you do the launch-quit-launch dance a few times. The solution is for developers to update their preference panes, which presumably will happen quickly. But it makes me think Apple should have just forced System Preferences to open in 32-bit mode by default, at least for now.

Individual applications can choose to support the new systemwide text auto-correction settings.

Snow Leopard ships with Safari 4, the latest version of its Web browser. That version has been available for Leopard for some time now, but in Snow Leopard it runs in 64-bit mode. That accelerates some JavaScript math routines. More importantly, Apple says that browser plug-ins such as Flash run as separate processes within Safari on Snow Leopard, meaning that plug-in errors won’t kill your whole browser.

However, in a few weeks of using Safari on Snow Leopard, I never encountered a case where a plug-in actually crashed this way. Several times, however, the entire browser did crash, leaving me with no recourse but to relaunch Safari and browse my History menu for the pages I was reading before the cataclysm.

QuickTime Player X's interface floats over your video, obscuring the content (top). When you move your cursor away, every aspect of interface fades away (bottom).

NEXT: QuickTime


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