In Depth: Apple's Leopard leaps to new heights

A refined look, revamped apps and new options build on an already solid OS foundation

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Unix-certified and a dash of developer news

Ever since Mac OS X was first announced, Apple has been very careful to market the operating system as BSD-based and not Unix-based. Six version numbers later, Mac OS X is now a fully certified Unix operating system. According to Apple, Leopard now conforms to both the Single Unix Specification (SUSv3) and Posix 1003.1. What that means is that IT staffers can now deploy Mac OS X within a Unix environment and expect full compliance.

Although Tiger offered some 64-bit support, Leopard is the first Apple OS release to fully and seamlessly support both 32-bit and 64-bit applications. 64-bit applications can now take advantage of more than 2GB of RAM, although the operating system remains completely backward-compatible with any application running in 32-bit mode. It's a forward-thinking approach that guarantees Mac OS X's relevance for years to come without sacrificing any functionality today.

Attention, software developers: Leopard also offers a veritable playground for developers, with Ruby on Rails, Mongrel and Capistrano all baked into the operating system. Developers also get DTrace, which is built into the operating system's core, allowing developers to observe, debug and tune applications in real time.

International support

Apple finally offers a localized version of Mac OS X for Russian, Polish, and Iberian Portuguese (though Apple has had a Brazilian Portuguese localization for years). The enhanced support for these localizations include Russian and Danish spell checkers, giving Apple fans in those countries something to cheer about.

Leopard also includes support for more international fonts, including Polish and Russian, two new Tibetan fonts and Persian support for built-in Arabic fonts. Japanese fonts also get updates, including support for Hyogaiji, the new standard for Japanese character sets (as defined by the National Language Council and the Japan Industry Standards Committee).

All in all, Leopard's beefed up international support shows that Apple is looking to expand its market base beyond the U.S. borders.

Final thoughts


Computer users decide whether to upgrade their operating system based on a number of considerations: cost, ease of upgrade, new features they need, old hardware they don't want to replace -- and often, simply because they want the latest and greatest from Apple. In this case, Leopard represents a solid leap forward for Mac OS X, offering a snazzy-looking yet clean interface, new applications that will make users happy and much-needed tweaks to older programs.

Still trying to decide whether to make the leap? Computerworld will offer extensive coverage of Leopard with a series of in-depth stories beginning on Monday, Oct. 29. Among the topics we'll cover: a closer look at the new user interface; Time Machine; the extensive under-the-hood changes; and, eventually, our recommendation on whether the new OS lives up to its promise.

After extensive use of Leopard, we can say at this point that it looks like Apple has again delivered the goods. We'll have a final verdict after we've put the release version through its paces.

Ken Mingis is online news editor at Computerworld and editor of the Macintosh section of the Web site. Michael DeAgonia is a computer consultant and technologist who has been using Macintoshes for a decade and working on them professionally since 1996. His tech-support background includes tenures at Computerworld, colleges, the biopharmaceutical industry, the graphics industry and Apple. Currently, he is working as an independent consultant at YourMacTek specializing in all things Macintosh.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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