The verdict: Leopard spanks Vista, continues OS X's reign of excellence

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Bigger changes, more reason to wait

Leopard is clearly a far more ambitious upgrade than Tiger was. I was a little disappointed by the Tiger release, whose best and, to my mind, only important feature was Spotlight (perhaps a better top feature than Time Machine). But it did fix some things, and it was a relatively painless upgrade.

The same sentiments don't apply to Leopard. We're still in the early days following Leopard's Oct. 26 release, but we've already seen some upgrade issues, albeit ones that probably weren't caused by Leopard. Apple changed a lot more in this release, especially under the hood, than people may realize. Version 10.5 tries to take a definitive step forward, to raise the bar, improve the value proposition and push the envelope a bit.

All of those are good things, but end users and businesses alike might want to hang back a few weeks or months before taking the plunge. Unlike some other builds of OS X, I'd also recommend delaying upgrading a bit to wait for the first round of bug fixes to be issued. (I'm aware of four minor Apple updates since Leopard shipped.)

That said, I have no doubt that most people will prefer Leopard over Tiger once applications (such as FileMaker) and customization software (such as Firefox add-ons) have been updated for Leopard. Leopard is different, but not a radical departure. Most early adopters have expressed delight at the performance and slew of interface refinements they find. The improvements to and tight integration among bundled apps like Mail, iCal, iChat and many others will be worth the $129 upgraders will pay.

Apple's in business

Though Apple has been gaining popularity among consumers, it has a long way to go to make major inroads in enterprises. But even there it appears to be on the rise, presenting a truly viable alternative to Windows PCs for business.

On my desk in Computerworld's offices, three different computers sport four different operating systems. My two Macs -- one Leopard, the other Tiger -- both run Windows XP with Parallels software. I've also got a dedicated Vista machine.

In late 2006, I switched from a PC to the Mac as my primary computer on a lark, assuming it would be a three-month period of frustration. It wasn't. In fact, I was immediately impressed by the simplicity of the Mac UI and the reliability of the operating system. My thinking began to change, the trial period stretched on, and I settled on OS X as my primary operating system.

Leopard's release comes at about the one-year mark for me as a Mac user. What I've learned over that year is that there are a handful of minor annoyances related to the Mac way of doing things that Windows handles better. But the advantages of the Mac far outweigh those minor annoyances.

It can be described in a lot of different ways, but it boils down to this: Even in a Windows-centric IT setting, I'm far more productive on the Mac than I was with Windows. During this year, my only tech support call to our IT department came when a routine change was made to my network log-in password, and for some reason neither the old nor the new password would work on the Mac or Windows. It took about five minutes to fix.

Despite any teething pains that accompany almost any OS upgrade, I expect those advantages to continue with Leopard -- and the gap between it and Vista to widen.

Bottom line

Leopard is a very welcome upgrade after the almost two and a half years since Tiger debuted. Apple made the best of that development time. For starters, it didn't fix what wasn't broken. It listened to constructive criticism. It heavily refined OS X and made its bundled apps more powerful, its user interface more usable and the overall package more useful.

Two thumbs straight up.

Scot Finnie is editor in chief of Computerworld. He has covered operating systems and software for more than 20 years.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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