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Review: Apple's Snow Leopard opens door to a fab future

August 26, 2009 09:26 PM ET

Now when you pop the installation disc into the optical drive, the installer offers just two basic options: a Utilities button that lets you run basic programs like Disk Utility and restore from Time Machine backups, and a Continue button that takes you through the license agreement to a window from which you select your hard drive.

Customizing options include Printer Support (with optional installs for Printers Used by This Mac, Nearby and Popular Printers, and All Available Printers); additional fonts; a host of language translations; X11 (the windowing system for Unix environments); Rosetta (which allows Intel Macs to use software written for PowerPC-based ones); and QuickTime 7 (for compatibility with older media formats).

For more about the upgrade process, see Upgrading to Apple's Snow Leopard OS: What you need to know.

If a program (such as Mail Status Control) requires Rosetta, Software Update will offer to install it.
If a program (such as Mail Status Control) requires Rosetta, Software Update will offer to install it.
Click to view larger image.

After choosing where to install the new OS, Snow Leopard will copy a large chunk of the data needed for installation from the DVD to your hard drive. That helps speed up the whole process -- Apple says it's 45% faster than the old installation routine because the installer reads the data copied to your hard drive rather directly from the DVD.

About halfway through the installation, the Mac reboots and finishes up the task at hand. You may notice that the screen goes dark during the installation. That's because the whole process is automated and you don't have to monitor what's happening. If you move the mouse or touch the trackpad, the screen wakes up and you can see where things stand.

Note that you cannot install 10.6 onto a hard drive that reports a S.M.A.R.T. failure. If a power outage occurs during installation, the installation picks up from where it left off.

After the installation is done, you get the traditional Apple intro movie and registration, and a desktop that looks just like Leopard: same menu bar, same Dock, same translucent menu at the top of the screen, and the same space-themed background.

Apple made few changes to the overall look of its OS; this screenshot was taken using the Grab application.
Apple made few changes to the overall look of its OS; this screenshot was taken using the Grab application.
Click to view larger image.

Fear not: Snow Leopard has some serious changes, even if they're not apparent.

What's waiting under the hood

Upgrading to Snow Leopard gives you additional hard drive space. Because it removes all of the old operating system files -- in previous OS X upgrades they used to go into a "Previous System" folder -- hundreds of megabytes, if not gigabytes, of space are freed up. The OS also takes up less room because the Universal code that was built into Tiger and Leopard to run PowerPC Macs is no longer needed, since Snow Leopard is Intel-only. According to Apple, most users will gain back 6GB of space. (AppleInsider delved into this issue right after Snow Leopard was announced in June 2008.)

While there are a few UI changes, the true value of Snow Leopard lies in the technologies waiting to be unleashed in applications: the ability to run programs in 64-bit mode, the use of OpenCL and the incorporation of Grand Central Dispatch.



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