Upgrading to Apple's Snow Leopard OS: What you need to know

With a spiffy new installer, the Mac OS X upgrade process is quicker and easier than ever

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When you come back, your Mac will be running Snow Leopard. When you first log in using the new OS, the Setup Assistant plays the standard Mac OS X welcome video. If you've done an upgrade rather than a clean install, there is nothing to set up and you can close the Setup Assistant window after the movie plays. If you did a clean install, you'll need to provide registration details, and then the Setup Assistant will guide you through the basic setup and configuration steps. You're on your way.

Customizing the installation

Of course, you can customize the installation if you want to. Before clicking the Install button, click the Customize button to see the screen shown farther down the page.

As with previous Mac OS X installers, you can opt out of language translation packs and additional fonts for languages that don't use the Roman alphabet (like Cyrillic, Chinese, or Arabic) to save a bit of hard-drive space.

You can also choose which printer drivers to install, though this really isn't needed: The installer automatically looks for printers connected to your Mac or on your local network and installs only the drivers for those printers, saving a lot of space in the process. If you later connect a different printer, Snow Leopard will automatically download the appropriate driver when it's connected without any action on your part -- the complete plug-and-play dream, finally realized.

If you want to run applications that use the Unix X11 interface, you can choose to install X11. It's selected by default; if you don't want, deselect it.

Another option is to install Rosetta, the software emulator that Apple created so Intel Macs could run software designed to run on PowerPC-based Macs. For most people, leaving Rosetta out (that's the default) should be fine. Apple began the transition to Intel processors more than three and half years ago, so unless you have an app that hasn't been updated since sometime in 2006 you really don't need Rosetta.

You also have the option of installing QuickTime 7. Snow Leopard features a new version of QuickTime (the system files and applications that support multimedia playback) called QuickTime X. QuickTime X offers much improved performance, a very clean, minimalist interface, and new video streaming capabilities. Some older media formats might still require the older version of QuickTime, which is why Apple offers it, but most people won't need it.

Snow Leopard's customized installation options
Snow Leopard's customized installation options.

Once you've made all your customization selections, click the Install button and proceed as outlined above.

After the installation

After finishing the installation, you're ready to start exploring Snow Leopard. A few of the things you'll notice immediately:

  • Better overall performance, even in basic tasks like navigating the Finder, which has been rewritten
  • An improved implementation of Stacks that allows you to browse hierarchies of folders from within a stack
  • Preview icons in the Finder that actually do live previews, meaning you can click through pages of a document or play a video file in its icon
  • QuickTime X's interface and ability to record and trim video using your iSight camera
  • Smarter text selection and annotation features in Preview, Apple's tool for viewing and working with PDFs, which also now sports the ability to directly scan documents and create PDFs of them

Over the next few days, Computerworld will have more on Snow Leopard, including details about the differences between 64-bit and 32-bit computing and our performance tests comparing Leopard to Snow Leopard on various Mac models.

Ryan Faas is a frequent Computerworld contributor specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. His newest book, iPhone for Work: Increasing Productivity for Busy Professionals, will be available from Apress this fall.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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