Review: Leopard is an upgrade that roars

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

OS X's included Preview utility is probably the most unheralded productivity program in OS X. (By default, it's the tool that opens images and PDF documents when you double-click on them in the Finder.) But it may be harder for Preview to remain a secret now that it's been given a major facelift with Leopard. Preview 4.0 gives Acrobat a run for its money when it comes to basic PDF features, improving support for PDF annotations, improving searches within PDF documents, and providing built-in tools to reorder pages and combine PDFs into a single document. Preview's image manipulation tools have also improved, including the addition of the "Instant Alpha" background-removal tool that Apple first introduced in iPhoto '08.

Numerous other included tools have received major improvements in Leopard, as well. Safari 3, which has been available in beta form since June, offers a dramatically improved Find command and resizable text fields for Web forms. It also includes Web Clip, a tool that allows you to "clip" part of a Web page and turn it into a Dashboard widget. (Despite the addition of this feature and a new movie widget, Dashboard still doesn't seem to be remotely the paradigm shift that Apple suggested it would be when it was introduced with Tiger. I often find myself forgetting that it's even there.)

The Dictionary utility has added support for Wikipedia as an additional information source, and it's nicely integrated into the application's interface. For everyone who hasn't abandoned DVDs for the wonders of the iPod, DVD Player has been completely overhauled, giving users much better control over navigating DVD content, including a TiVo-like jump-back feature. And Front Row, which replaces the Mac interface with a remote-control driven menu system for navigating iTunes content, has been updated to use essentially the same software as the Apple TV hardware device, meaning any Mac with an infrared sensor and Leopard can play back music and videos using the slick Apple TV interface.

The introduction of the Automator utility in Tiger suggested the promise of regular users taking advantage of automation technologies previously limited to people who knew their way around scripting languages such as AppleScript. As it turned out, Automator was pretty cool -- but once you wanted to automate more complicated tasks, you'd run into its limitations pretty quickly. In Leopard, Automator has been updated to address its two greatest limitations: you can now set and read variables during a workflow, and you can set a workflow to loop. Automator also now has a Record feature, which lets you record yourself performing certain tasks and then integrates those tasks into an Automator workflow.

Finally, Leopard shows remarkable improvement when it comes to handling networking issues. It's much easier to dismount remote servers, and attempting to access a server that's disappeared no longer causes an interminable wait. (That's an issue that should have been resolved by Apple long ago, but at least with Leopard it's finally been addressed.) The Networking preference pane has also been updated with a better-organized interface.

Improved security

Mac OS X and its users haven't yet felt the sting of a major hacker attack, but in the two years since the release of Tiger, Apple and other technology companies have come under increased scrutiny about the relative security of their products. And Leopard includes a large number of new features that specifically address security concerns.

Most regular users won't notice the fact that several Leopard applications are "sandboxed" with restricted access privileges that make them less likely to be used as tools in a hacker attack. Nor will they realize that Leopard now uses a shifting system of assigning memory spaces in order to make it impossible for hackers to bank on the presence of specific code in a specific area of a Mac's memory. What they will notice is that when they first attempt to run a program they've downloaded from the Internet, they'll be prompted with information about when they downloaded it and what program was used to download it. Apple has done a good job of making its security messages more understandable to regular users, which is good, since most users will simply click through a dialog box that makes no sense.

And hundreds more
It's impossible to detail the avalanche of new features in Leopard. Screen Savers and international spelling dictionaries aside, Apple's list of "300+ new features" isn't far off. If you use Photo Booth, Parental Controls, Image Capture, VPN, Terminal, or just about any other feature you can think of in Mac OS X, you'll find at least some changes.

Macworld's buying advice
So are 300-plus new features worth $129? That answer will vary, because no single user will ever take advantage of all -- or maybe even half -- of those 300 features. But given the impressive value of Time Machine and improvements to existing programs such as iCal, iChat, Mail, and the Finder, most active Mac users will find more than enough reasons to consider that upgrade cost money well spent. Despite a few interface missteps, particularly when it comes the menu bar and the Dock, Leopard is an upgrade that roars.

[Jason Snell is Macworld's editorial director.]

This story, "Review: Leopard is an upgrade that roars" was originally published by ITworld.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon