10.26.2007 | Liveblogging* Leopard: First impressions

Rite of initiation: Getting a free T-shirt for being one of the first to show up. And Photo Booth doesn't look half bad, either.

Okay, so now that I'm an Apple geek I get to take part in one of the Apple fanboy's time-honored transitions: slavishly whoring oneself out for Apple's marketing purposes the day they launch their new operating system (or is that just all the time?).

In other words, I waited in line. In front of people. Showing up at an Apple Store the day of a software release announces to the world either that their latest release was really worth waiting that long for – or that you're a hopelessly devoted nerd devoid of friends, girlfriends, social skills, or all of the above (there were a few of those in line, no doubt).

But it wasn't all geekiness. Or maybe it was, but it was geek chic.

Apple's stores were closed Friday, presumably to upgrade their machines to Leopard, the latest release of Apple's flagship Mac OS (or Macintosh Operating System, in 1980s speak – this is version 10.5 for those of you who are counting). The 6 p.m. Friday release echoed a similar event this past summer when Apple chose the time and day of the week to release its much-hyped iPhone (and given the iPhone's strong numbers, the hype appears to have been deserved).

As the premiere event approached, a roped-off line snaked halfway down the plaza, cameras snapped, and Apple Store associates served Starbucks coffee to those waiting in line. And at the grand moment, the opening of the door, store associates clapped and cheered, I grabbed my T-shirt and promptly exited the line for those waiting to buy the new software. I headed instead straight for the bank of computers awaiting an OS that I had been waiting for since I got my first Apple in 2005.

Did it live up to the hype? Well, as much as I love Apple, I have to say it doesn't match the groundbreaking release of the iPhone. Instead, Leopard is just a nice refresh to keep the OS as useful as ever and shiny and new. I'll go over the main features here:

  • Time Machine. This is the biggie. Basically, your computer is now able to backup every change you ever make in real time, and you can go back in time whenever you want. Pretty cool, but get the largest hard drive you can if you want this feature to work the way it should. A terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) no longer sounds quite so large.

  • Spaces. If you hear something about Leopard "conquering time and spaces," this is why. You can now have multiple desktop spaces to keep windows open in, a handy way for a chronic multitasker like me to stay organized. As you can see, I have my movies playing in one window; working on photos in another; my calendar in notes in one … let's just say I could get used to this. Oh, and one more thing: you can make more than 4 spaces if you want – up to 16.

  • Quick Look. Not revolutionary, but potentially incredibly handy. For applications that support it (Microsoft Office excluded at the moment), you can see what a document looks like without having to open a separate program. It saves time and keystrokes.

  • Grid and Fan. It seems simple enough, but it's probably one of the greatest leaps forward in Mac OS usability yet. It would be even better if Applications were one of the default icons in the dock so you could use it like a faux Start button (something to help the switching Windows users out there). But when you add it, you have instant access to your programs. Cool beans.
  • Finally, Cover Flow. Now you can look at the files on your hard drive like you can browse album covers in iTunes. This is especially useful for photos, and as more applications support Quick Look, can get really exciting. But I'll try to contain my enthusiasm for now (Apple has spoiled me into thinking that features like this are something to be taken for granted).
So that's a "Quick Look" at the features of Leopard – I didn't even get into the add-on software that comes with the OS, and there are more features that can't be captured in one photo. Aside from having the first computer I tried crash on me twice when I tried to use Photo Booth's more advanced effects (hopefully not an omen), everything was surprisingly slick and smooth. Computing has definitely been vaulted into the next generation, at least until Apple releases its next update in 12-18 months.

* The asterisk in the title? It would have been liveblogging, but I had to yield my computer for about an hour while an Apple Store associate gave some pretty impressive demos of Leopard features (thank goodness for Blogger's autosave feature; I almost lost this post). So while I may not have been impressed with Leopard's features on my first go around, it just goes to show that if you take some time to sit down with it, you might be surprised by what you'll find. In other words: there's more than one way to skin a cat.

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