- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

Apple’s Macintosh OS X version 10.6, more commonly known as Snow Leopard, is perhaps the smoothest computer operating system upgrade in recorded history. At least it is the smoothest in this reviewer’s “recorded history,” which goes back to 1983. I could almost say it’s worth the $29 price tag just for the install experience.

Here’s how it worked, on two different Intel-based Mac computers: Pop in the disk, click on an icon, make a selection, click some more and wait less than an hour. Restart the computer, which happens automatically when the install is finished, and away we go.

As stated, that’s pretty much how it’s been with all sorts of computer operating system upgrades, Mac OS and Microsoft’s Windows. But things in computing are often more than whats stated, and in the case of Snow Leopard, the “more” is that there wasnt much more in the way of hassles, adjustments and the like.

And that, as Sherlock Holmes would have said, is “the dog that didnt bark,” the unusual thing. Often, after an operating system upgrade, users find all sorts of hassles, complications and glitches. This time, there were just about none: one program, Zinio’s “Reader” software for digital magazines and books, caused a hiccup, but it was easily resolved by reinstalling that program.

Snow Leopard isnt a major upgrade of the Mac OS, but rather refinements and enhancements that should make life easier for all. The biggest of these, for those in businesses and large organizations (the federal government, for example), is integrated support for Microsoft Exchange, a corporate e-mail and calendar standard. This should give Mac-toting users a better gateway into corporate information systems, and lowers one more barrier to Mac adoption in “enterprise” (read: corporate or government) operations.

The other big boost is that with Snow Leopard, everything seems to run much more quickly and smoothly than under plain ol Leopard. Whether its switching between applications, running a bunch of different programs at the same time, or even the “virtualization” of running both the Mac OS and Microsoft Windows 7 at the same time — everything works better here, in my experience.

This is no trivial matter. Under any operating system, having all sorts of programs open while adding another operating system can tax things heavily. Thats why I take comfort in the initial stability of Snow Leopard: If it can work well under pressure, it will probably do fine under “average” use.

Apples announcement implies that much of the speedup is because of the 64-bit instruction set used by processors such as the Intel Core2 Duo in my 2007-vintage MacBook Pro and in even higher-capacity Intel CPUs in models such as the 2009-issue iMac the company supplied for testing. A 64-bit operating system for a 64-bit CPU chip can process more data more quickly than 32-bit architectures, so thats where much of the boost comes from. I also imagine that in rewriting the OS for these chips, a lot of refining took place.

This is, however, the “rub” for owners of non-Intel-based Mac computers, some of which may have been sold as new models as recently as 2006. Snow Leopard is the first Mac OS that wont run on the non-Intel PowerPC processors many users already have in their machines. A good number of such computers are still running quite happily; my father has a PowerPC-based Mac mini at home.

For these users, a switch to Snow Leopard will come when they switch computers, and many of these units will probably be ready for replacement in the next year or so. Otherwise, I’d expect a few continuing updates to “regular” Leopard, at least short term.

But just as the Mac OS has long been a compelling argument for users to switch from Windows to the Apple platform, so Snow Leopard makes a highly compelling case for switching to an Intel-based Mac. Its an easy switch, with results exceeding expectations.

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