Tag Archives | Apple OS X

Snow Leopard: The First 72 Hours

OS X Snow LeopardThis isn’t a review of Apple’s OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard–here are a bunch of those–but rather just some notes on my first three days with it. (I showed up at my local Apple Store at 10am on Friday to buy it, and was on the way back to my car at 10:01–sure beats waking up at 3am to buy an iPhone.)

Herewith, random musings:

Installation on my MacBook Pro went well. It took 38 minutes (less than Apple’s 45-minute estimate) and required virtually no input from me.  Snow Leopard reported almost 11GB more free disk space than Leopard did, which got me all giddy. I’ve since learned that Snow Leopard, like hard-disk manufacturers, defines 1KB as 1,000 bytes rather than 1024, and some of the reclaimed space is therefore imaginary.

I’m still getting a sense of its speed. It’s always dangerous to read vendor claims about performance increases–unless you’re a really skeptical sort, being told that an OS is zippier may have a placebo effect. Overall, this MacBook was pleasingly speedy under Leopard, and is pleasingly speedy under Snow Leopard. The one place where I know I see a performance increase is one that’s important to me, but one which Apple makes no claims about in its discussion of speed improvement: Spotlight searches, which were sometimes quite slow in Leopard, are reliably quick now.

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Mac Security Improves with Snow Leopard

While Apple still has significant security work ahead of it, its Snow Leopard operating system makes prudent progress toward securing Mac OS X. But a security expert says that Apple is still playing catch up to Windows.

That is the opinion of Charlie Miller, a leading Mac security researcher. Miller is co-author of The Mac Hacker’s Handbook, and is also known for discovering critical vulnerabilities in the OS. He told CNET today that Snow Leopard “made some improvements,” but has not implemented some of the security features that Microsoft built into Windows Vista in 2007.

After being slammed with a series of major security incidents at the start of the decade, Microsoft made security a part of its development lifecycle. Products cannot ship from Microsoft unless they have gone through a review process, and consequently, the number of security vulnerabilities in its products has dropped markedly. It was tough, expensive work, and required a strong commitment from management.

Microsoft is now making its Security Development Lifecycle (SDL), as well as some of its internal security tools, available to developers in an effort to secure Windows applications as well as the OS itself. Apple has not taken similar steps.

To the best of my knowledge, Apple is still lacking an SDL-like approach to software development. That might be why I’ve had to download several massive security roll ups to patch my Mac over the past two months. As much as I love my iMac, the experience reminds me of Microsoft just a few years back.

However, Snow Leopard demonstrates that Apple, like Microsoft, has made security a higher priority. To thwart attacks, Snow Leopard introduces limited malware protection, and other protections including improved Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), and Data Execution Prevention (DEP). It also sandboxes applications, which is made possible through mandatory access control that was introduced in Leopard.

I have made no bones about my opinion that Apple has done a lackluster job at security, but it deserves credit for moving in the right direction.


Snow Leopard: The Verdict(s) Are In

OS X Snow LeopardApple’s OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard isn’t arriving until Friday, but a bunch of reviews hit today. More than with most evaluations of an operating system, they’re consistent–most critics say that it’s no earthshaker, but worth the $29 it’ll cost folks who already have Leopard.

I haven’t tried Snow Leopard yet–I’ll pick it up on Friday–and while I’m looking forward to getting it and will tell you what I think, I believe that waiting a bit before you install a new OS is always a defensible move. Snow Leopard isn’t going to work perfectly out of the box on every Mac it’s theoretically compatible with. Walt Mossberg found hiccups with VMWare Fusion and his Verizon EVDO adapter; Engadget’s Josh Topolsky (who apparently tried the OS on a lot of Macs) encountered glitches with installation, Safari, Spotlight, and Wi-Fi.

Both Apple and third-party developers are going to identify and fix problems over the next few weeks; a lot of sensible people will let early adopters do the suffering. That said, none of the reviews report any catastrophic problems.

As usual, checking out the last paragraphs of reviews is the fastest way to get bottom-line advice–here, I’ll help…

Walt Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal:

Apple already had the best computer operating system in Leopard, and Snow Leopard makes it a little better. But it isn’t a big breakthrough for average users, and, even at $29, it isn’t a typical Apple lust-provoking product.

David Pogue, The New York Times:

Either way, the big story here isn’t really Snow Leopard. It’s the radical concept of a software update that’s smaller, faster and better — instead of bigger, slower and more bloated. May the rest of the industry take the hint.

Jason Snell, Macworld:

Snow Leopard is Apple’s lowest-priced OS update in eight years. Granted, it’s a collection of feature tweaks and upgrades, as well as under-the-hood modifications that might not pay off for users immediately. But the price of upgrading is so low that I’ve really got to recommend it for all but the most casual, low-impact Mac users. If you’ve got a 32-bit Intel Mac (that is, one powered by a Core Solo or Core Duo processor), the benefit of this upgrade will be a little less. But for most Mac users, especially the kind of person who reads a Web site devoted to the subject, the assorted benefits of Snow Leopard outweigh the price tag. I’d pay $30 just for the improved volume ejection, the ability to create services with Automator, and the improvements to the Dock and Exposé—though I admit I’d pay slightly more to not have the misguided QuickTime Player X as a part of the package. If you’re a user who connects to an Exchange server every day, upgrading to Snow Leopard really is a no-brainer. For everyone else, maybe it’s not quite a no-brainer—but it’s awfully close. Snow Leopard is a great value, and any serious Mac user should upgrade now.

Ed Baig, USA Today:

In my experience, Mac OS X was already a superior operating system to Windows. With Exchange and other technologies, Snow Leopard adds bite, especially for business. But as upgrades go, this one is relatively tame.

Joshua Topolsky, Engadget:

Here’s the thing about Snow Leopard, the single inescapable fact that hung over our heads as we ran our tests and took our screenshots and made our graphs: it’s $30. $30! If you’re a Leopard user you have virtually no reason to skip over 10.6, unless you’ve somehow built a mission-critical production workflow around an InputManager hack (in which case, well, have fun with 10.5 for the rest of your life). Sure, maybe wait a few weeks for things like Growl and MenuMeters to be updated, and if your livelihood depends on QuickTime you might want to hold off, but for everyone else the sheer amount of little tweaks and added functionality in 10.6 more than justifies skipping that last round of drinks at the bar — hell, we’re guessing Exchange support alone has made the sale for a lot of people. If you’re still on Tiger, well, you’ll have to decide whether or not you want to drop $130 on what’s essentially a spit-shined Leopard, but if you do decide to spend the cash you’ll find that the experience of using a Mac has changed dramatically for the better since you last upgraded.

Andy Ihnatko, Chicago Sun-Times:

But just $29? To make your Mac this much faster? It’s a gimme.

Brian Lam, Gizmodo:

The changes here are modest, and the performance gains look promising but beyond the built in apps, just a promise. If you’re looking for more bells and whistles, you can hold off on this upgrade for at least awhile. But my thought is that Snow Leopard’s biggest feature is that it doesn’t have any new features, but that what is already there has been refined, one step closer to perfection. They just better roll out some new features next time, because the invisible refinement upgrade only works once every few decades.

Brian X. Chen, Wired:

This upgrade won’t deliver any radical interface changes to blow you away (not that we would want it to), but the $30 price is more than fair for the number of performance improvements Snow Leopard delivers.

Jim Dalrymple, Cnet:

Overall, we think that Snow Leopard did almost everything Apple says it set out to do: it refined and enhanced Leopard to make it easier to use. Though the system performs well in everyday use, many of our tests indicate it is slightly slower than the older version of Leopard in more intensive application processes. Still, we highly recommend upgrading for all the new features and Microsoft Exchange support.

Once you’ve tried Snow Leopard, let us know what you think.


Parallels Aims to Help Windows-to-Mac Switchers

Parallels Switch to Mac Editio Parallels Desktop was the first software that let you virtualize Windows on an Intel Mac (and is current archrival of VMWare Fusion). Today, Parallels is announcing that it’s releasing a new version of the software aimed at an obvious audience: folks who are moving from a Windows PC to a Mac.

Parallels Desktop Switch to Mac Edition includes Parallels Desktop itself–which, as usual, lets you run Windows within OS X in a window, full-screen mode, or the cool Coherence view that puts Windows apps right inside the OS X interface. It bundles it with software and a USB cable for transferring your current Windows setup–OS, applications, and files–from your old, real PC into a virtual one on a Mac. I haven’t had a chance to try this utility, and system-transfer tools are one of the tougher things to do in software. (Even Apple’s own Mac-to-Mac Migration Assistant doesn’t always do the job without glitches.) But it’s a nifty idea if it works well, since it would simplify moving a licensed copy of Windows you’ve already paid for onto the Mac so you wouldn’t end up having to pay for a new copy of the OS.

The package also comes with two hours of interactive training that introduces OS X and helps Windows types make the leap:

Parallels Switch to Mac

Parallels Desktop Switch to Mac costs $99.99 (not including a copy of Windows). That’s twenty bucks more than the standard version–not unreasonable if you need the transfer software and hardware and would find the training useful.

I’ve used both Parallels and Fusion over the years and have been mostly happy with both; I’ve been running Fusion lately but plan to give this version of Parallels a whirl once I get my hands on a copy. Windows-on-Mac users: Which virtualization software do you prefer, and why? Anyone out there still using Apple’s Boot Camp?


Snow Leopard Arrives on Friday

Snow LeopardRumors that Apple might beat its self-imposed September deadline to ship its OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard operating system were true: It’s now official that the upgrade will show up for sale this Friday, August 28th. The date is nowhere near as big a deal for Apple aficionados as October 22nd, Windows 7’s release date, will be for the Windows-using majority. But I’m still looking forward to trying Snow Leopard, and to hearing what Mac users think about it.

Unlike Windows 7, Snow Leopard has virtually nothing in the way of significant new features, with the exception for Exchange support in its Mail, iCal, and Address Book apps. Instead, Apple has done major renovation below the surface to make the OS faster, more powerful, and more robust–it’s rewritten various pieces of code to make them faster and added 64-bit versions of bundled applications, for instance. In theory, at least, it all makes Snow Leopard a noticeably more agile breed of cat than its predecessor. But it also makes the upgrade a more complicated proposition than typical new OSes with lots of new features. (OS X 10.5’s Time Machine, for instance, was a really tangible reason to get Leopard.)

Ultimately, if Snow Leopard feels strikingly quicker and more reliable than Leopard, it will be well worth the $29 upgrade price ($49 for five users). In my experience, Macs are less prone to problems than Windows machines, but they’re still far from bulletproof: They get bogged down, misbehave, and suffer crashes just as deadly as Blue Screens of Death. I kind of admire Apple for trying to sell an upgrade that’s mostly about making the OS do what it’s supposed to do more reliably, and wouldn’t object if the next version of Windows were something along the lines of, um, Windows Snow 7. (Windows 7, like Snow Leopard, is mostly about unglamorous-but-useful enhancements, but most of them are interface tweaks; under the hood, it’s not a massive overhaul of Vista.)

Looking over Apple’s list of Snow Leopard improvements, I see that one that it mentions at some length is remarkably mundane: Snow Leopard ejects optical discs more reliably than its predecessors. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to cajole CDs and DVDs to come out of Macs; if Snow Leopard removes that hassle it, would make my life meaningfully better in a way that Leopard’s flashier Spaces desktop manager, say, has not.

Let’s end this with today’s T-Poll:


Will Windows 7 Win Back Defectors to the Mac? Probably Not. And That’s OK.

Windows 7 and Snow LeopardDaring Fireball’s John Gruber has posted a piece titled “Microsoft’s Long, Slow Decline.” As with most of what he writes, it’s both provocative and thought-provoking, whether you agree with all of it, some of it, or none at all.

Gruber writes about such matters as Microsoft’s recent lackluster financial results, the recent news of Apple’s utter domination of the high-end retail PC market, and the cartwheels Microsoft COO Kevin Turner supposedly turned in the hallways over Apple’s response to Microsoft’s “Laptop Hunters” commercials. He mentions Windows 7 and says:

But no one seems to be arguing that Windows 7 is something that will tempt Mac users to switch, or to tempt even recent Mac converts to switch back. It doesn’t even seem to be in the realm of debate. But if Windows 7 is actually any good, why wouldn’t it tempt at least some segment of Mac users to switch? Windows 95, 98, and XP did.

I haven’t heard anyone contend that Windows 7 will convince Mac switchers to come back, either. Then again, I haven’t heard anyone say it’s not good enough to change the game. But it’s an interesting question.

It’s also one that’s hard to answer just yet. For one thing, while Windows 7 looks quite promising, we don’t yet know what PC manufacturers are going to do with it, and there’s a real chance that at least some of them will muck up a respectable OS with demoware, adware, and various other forms of unwantedware. For another, Windows 7 will compete against Apple’s Snow Leopard, an OS which doesn’t go on sale until September and which–unlike Windows 7–has had no period of public preview.

Based on the months I’ve spent running pre-release versions of Windows 7, I think there’s a good chance it’ll have a meaningful impact on the whole “PC or Mac?” question. It significantly narrows the gap between OS X and Windows for usability and overall polish, and while it doesn’t eradicate OS X’s lead, it should leave Windows users at least somewhat less likely to abandon ship.

But Gruber wasn’t talking about whether Windows 7 will stop more people from leaving Windows; he was talking about whether it’ll convince Mac users to switch from Macs, and saying that if Windows 7 is really good, it will.

I’m not so sure. History suggests that people don’t like to switch operating systems and the most striking significant shifts in operating-system market share have happened when one OS has been on alarmingly shaky ground. Back when the exodus from Macs to Windows 95 and Windows 98 that Gruber refers to happened, Apple’s OS was floundering and it wasn’t clear that the company was going to survive. And Apple has made major inroads over the past couple of years in part because Windows Vista was such a mediocrity.

Apple is positioning Snow Leopard as an OS that’s very much like Leopard, except faster, sleeker, and more reliable. Unless it somehow turns out to be a less appealing Leopard, it’s going to be really pleasing. People tend not to dump pleasing OSes, even if there are also other pleasing OSes. S0 I’m not going to judge Windows 7 based on there whether are meaningful quantities of Mac users who are drawn to it…


Sixteen Random Questions Prompted by Apple’s WWDC Keynote

iPhone 3GsIn the end, predicting what Apple wll announce at a press event isn’t nearly as difficult as some folks make it. If you’ve been listening to scuttlebutt over the past few months, nearly all of the stuf you heard that was basically plausible came true today. Snow Leopard is indeed a minor OS X upgrade focused on under-the-hood improvements. The new iPhone is in fact a faster model with double the memory and a better, video-capable camera, but otherwise not a radical departure. There were new Macs, and their newness indeed consisted mostly of bringing features from the 17-inch MacBook Pro to its small cousins. And Apple finally lowered the price of the current iPhone to $99, an idea that’s been in play in the blogosphere for many months.

Rumors that were either less plausible or supported by fewer convincing details turned out to be groundless, at least for now. There was no tablet, and no iPhone Nano. And, of course, no Steve Jobs.

As for out-of-nowhere surprises…well, you know that an event is short on them when the two biggest ones may have been the introduction (at last) of Macs with SD slots, and the return of FireWire on the 13-inch Mac.

As usual, the event prompted as many new questions as it answered. After the jump, the sixteen that leap to my mind most immediately.

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