Leopard at six months: Does it live up to the early hype?

Though some thought it was released too soon, Mac OS X 10.5 has matured into a solid operating system

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Whether you were happy with these interface changes seemed to depend on whether you were a longtime Macintosh user or a recent convert. Generally, long-time users found the new animations and graphics superfluous; new users, by contrast, liked them and found the animations useful.

No taste for eye candy

Complaints seemed loudest about the more graphic-intensive Dock, especially its new reflective quality and 3-D appearance; those complaining preferred the older two-dimensional look. Resourceful Mac fans soon devised ways to change the Dock's appearance -- some involving command-line access, others involving more extensive system changes using third-party software.

While the Dock's appearance could be changed, a new feature called Stacks couldn't. Tiger users had grown accustomed to a Dock that showed folder contents as hierarchal, text-based lists, which allowed them to traverse folders and files without relying on the Finder. But Leopard's Stacks displayed icons in either a grid or as an arching fan of icons, depending on where the Dock was on the screen.

If you had a folder with 10 items or less and your Dock was located on the bottom of the screen, icons arched out from a folder when you clicked on it. If you had more than 10 items in that folder, however, you got icons lined up in a grid. And if the Dock was located along one side of the screen, all you saw was a grid.

That's not exactly the model of user-interface consistency that Mac users had come to expect from Apple, to be sure. Adding to the unpredictability: A folder's Dock icon changes to reflect the most recent file added, annoying users accustomed to a consistent Dock interface.

While these seem like minor issues, devoted Mac users take these things very seriously. Apple apparently did so as well -- when the second update for Leopard was released in February, it allowed users to display folder items as they had in Tiger, using hierarchical menus or icons. Right-clicking on a Dock icon now opens a customizable pop-up menu that allows users to choose among the various options, even allowing each folder to have its own setting.

Choosing the List view for folders on the Dock
In OS X 10.5.2, you can right-click a folder on the Dock, then choose the List option (highlighted on left) to display the folder's contents in the Tiger-style hierarchical mode (shown at right).

That same update offered a "fix" for Apple's new translucent menu bar at the top of the screen. Until Leopard, it had been white; with Leopard, it looked more like frosted glass. The new look allowed desktop pictures to show through, potentially making menu commands harder to read -- something that was never an issue when the menu bar was a solid white.

As with the Dock, innovative users quickly devised ways to make the menu bar appear to be a solid color, while others tried desktop pictures with a white strip across the top. With the 10.5.2 release, Apple added an option to the operating system that allows users to toggle the menu bar between translucent and solid. (It's located in the Desktop & Screen Saver System Preference.)

solid menu bar
Leopard 10.5.2 also lets you revert to a solid menu bar.

Late additions: Java and disk backups

Just as easily remedied was the initial lack of Java 6 support. While most users of Leopard never noticed a problem, Java developers who rely on Mac OS X did -- Java SE 6 offers a slew of new features for developers, such as simplified graphical user interface development, streamlined Web services and a standardized framework for scripting languages.

Apple released a build of Java 6 on Dec. 14, 2007, about six weeks after Leopard's release, quieting the complaints coming from Java developers. It also released another update in mid-February, adding even more improvements over the initial release, though compatibility is still limited to 64-bit Intel chip sets.

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