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

Mac OS X Snow Leopard offers a slew of hidden features and lays the groundwork for big advances to come.

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You can also press the Command and Tab keys to move to the next application, whose open windows spring into view. And Dock folders and windows finally support drag and drop.

The Dock now sports a sleeker-looking contextual menu with white text on a semi-transparent black background. The Keep in Dock, Open at Login, and Show in Finder menu options have been consolidated into an Options submenu, but Quit and Hide are still easily clickable, and multiple windows that are in use by the app still display. (It looks good, and Apple should have extended the new Dock menu look to contextual menus.)

Drilling through folders in the Dock is easier, too. You can scroll through items using Grid view.

Stacks windows in the Dock can now be scrolled. (Note scroll bar to the right of the icons.)

Stacks windows in the Dock can now be scrolled in Grid view.

System Preferences get tweaks

There are a number of changes in System Preferences that generally build on the features already present in Leopard:

  • In the Security preference pane, you can now set a delay time for sleep or screen saver password entries. "Use secure virtual memory" is now enabled by default, and you can disable Location Services.
  • The Keyboard preference pane features a new Shortcut interface, making it easier to assign shortcut keys and activate specific options, such as which abilities are displayed in Services.
  • The Date and Time pane allows you to set your location automatically using Snow Leopard's built-in Location Services. Safari also taps into this feature, showing the closest results for certain search queries. These should be handy for people who travel a lot.
  • The MobileMe preference pane gets an update: Syncing iDisk now gives you the option to always keep the most recent version of a file, which will automatically resolve syncing conflicts based on that criteria.
  • The Accounts pane now features more account avatars.
  • The Trackpad pane doesn't offer new features in terms of gestures, but these gestures are now supported on laptops with first-generation multi-touch capabilities, including the original MacBook Air and 2008 MacBook Pros.
  • And while the Time Machine preference hasn't gotten any new features, it has gotten faster, according to Apple. (I haven't had time to confirm this.)

Some third-party preference panes haven't yet been rewritten to take advantage of Snow Leopard's native 64-bit operation. If you try to open one that's not been updated, you're prompted to relaunch System Preferences so it can run in 32-bit mode.

Beefed up security?

Although Apple hasn't said much about efforts to beef up security in Snow Leopard, reports started circulating this week about a little-known addition that could be used down the road to strengthen the OS. Users with access to the final build spotted an unusual file that extends a File Quarantine feature already part of Leopard. Currently, if you download a file using Safari, Mail or iChat, Leopard warns you that it's from the Internet when you open it -- sort of a cautionary "Do you really want to open this file?"

Snow Leopard takes that warning a step further and will scan all files downloaded by Safari, Mail, or iChat for Trojan horses or other malware. It will then put up an alert saying the file could damage your computer. The warning also apparently tells you to put the file in the trash.

Intego, which makes anti-virus software for Macs, highlighted the addition, as did Gizmodo. At this point, the feature offers limited protection, as it apparently checks for just two known Mac trojans, according to the Register.

Updated signatures for newly discovered Trojans will apparently be downloaded by Software Update and added to the "XProtect.plist" file. Computerworld confirmed that the the XProtect.plist file is indeed part of Snow Leopard.

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