Five Days of Leopard

I’ve spent five days with leopard now, installing it four times on three different computers, the most recent one two days ago. It’s left one heck of an impression on me. Mostly favorable. If your Mac can run Leopard, you should install it. The sheer scope of the improvements is worth it. Having another computer, or a .mac account and integration with calendar and other services on a Leopard server will make it even more worthwhile.

Other people have given their short little overviews. Others have released articles in dribs and drabs on different features. Yet others have released a veritable book on the subject. As a result, this review will be heavier on my impressions and what I went through.

I got the install DVD on Friday. The packaging was, as usual, wonderful. I chose my Macbook Pro to install it on as between the three Macs that could be upgraded, it was not only backed up (as they all were), it was the machine I could suffer the most disruptions with.

So in goes the DVD. Reboot, choose “upgrade.” So far so good. I click through the initial menus and let the install procedure start as I go off to make dinner. A while later, my son wanders into the kitchen. “Dad? Is it supposed to have a blue screen?”

Uh-oh. Try the usual precautions. Safe mode boot didn’t work. Doing a file-system check in single user mode proved that the hard drive is still in good shape. I decided it was worth some time doing tinkering. I’d have to help other people out of their troubles after all, so I didn’t want to jump the gun and do an “archive and install” or “clean install”. I may be backed up but I didn’t want to spend hours rebuilding my utilities and preferences.

A little research and I dug up a thread in the Apple Discussion Boards where people were already fighting with the same issue. About halfway down someone had decided to poke around on the premise that a set of system extensions referred to as APE was at fault. APE, or Application Enhancer was a third-party system hack used by Cleardock, Shapeshifter, and other programs that modify the appearance and behavior of the OS. Needless to say this can make the system… unstable.

The official Apple page (recommending an archive and install but giving the instructions I followed) is here. Daring Fireball also has more on the subject, including how the Logitech drivers for mice and keyboards, among other things, can install APE without your knowledge.

So I reboot holding down COMMAND-S on the keyboard into the single-user command-line mode, type in the commands needed to check and mount the hard drive, delete the relevant files, and reboot. Viola! It works.

Finally I got my .mac information set up, verified I still had my mail library and signatures (Mail predictably updated the library) and started to see what changed and testing what broke.

Insofar as the kerfluffle with the stacks and the dock… I don’t mind the new dock, but I prefer to apply the default side-dock format to the dock as it’s cleaner and easier to tell what is running. I found the new stack behavior a little frustrating at first because I had several folder shortcuts that I wanted to go and open up the folder, but most of them I used by right-clicking to get a menu of the contents anyway. So, once I recalibrated my expectations and realized I was trading submenus for easier-to click targets and a slight inconvenience in actually opening up the folders (when actually needed) I was more than happy with the effect. In a roundabout way, this is a return of the “drawers” behavior of OS8 and 9, complete with spring-loaded folders that you can drag files and documents to.

I hate the icons for the stacks. I hate them for the simple fact that as an aggregation of the icons for the contacts, I’m trading a minimum of useless information about the contents of a folder for an easily identifiable target to click on. Without wasting time to hover each one, it’s almost impossible to identify which is which reliably. While I’m not a huge fan of the new dock, and less a fan of the hard-to-differentiate new folder icons, I cannot understate how much I loathe the dock. Please please make it possible to keep a stable icon there!


I discovered to my annoyance that the calendar does not keep a side drawer open with the details of the currently selected event. I can deal with this change because it also makes it clearer when I’m looking at vs. just editing an event, and minimizes screen usage when I don’t need the details. That said, I love the “current time” bar that runs across the window. It did miff me a bit to discover that all of the subscribed folders had been pulled out into their own category from the groups I had them in.

I checked out the new syncing preferences for .mac, and decided to forego the syncing of widgets and preferences. My laptop and desktop have many overlapping uses, but they are fundementally used in different environments (field vs. office) with different tools needed at my fingertips.

Parental controls now allow for remote control of other macs on your local network. Hmmm… so now if all my future computers are macs I can administer the ones my children will use centrally insofar as web access, and get rid of the proxy server I run. I can also set hours for when they can get on online. I can also run Fusion to let my kids play some W98 games like Zoo tycoon… and probably faster than the current old Win machine they have access to.

When waking from sleep, I get to the password prompt consistently faster. The wiki feature in the dictionary is cool, and makes a program I already use regularly vice pulling down my volumes even more useful. I also trashed a “refresh finder” script I had available because Apple finally, finally made it update in a consistently timely manner when new files are added.

Spaces took some time to wrap myself around. The biggest problem was me – trying to figure out a separation of work modes that would allow me to maintain different virtual desktops. That said – if you use it as a clutter remover it works great, because unlike many variants I’d seen, you still have access to all of your apps through the Dock or COMMAND-Tab – which instantly switches you over to the correct screen. After I figured this out I don’t do any manual desktop switching – which is easy enough to do. The one hitch I’ve had is I often use CNTRL-Arrow in text editing, so I have to find another default key to switch my spaces.

Screen sharing is easily turned on if you want to use the “Back to my Mac” .mac feature or just access your desktop from across the house using Chicken of the VNC or the built-in Screen Sharing app. Like all of the network services it’s off by default. The only thing that threw me was that turning on file sharing automatically allowed guest access to the public folders – though the guest account was otherwise disabled. While it’s easy enough to stop sharing out public folders or turn off ALL guest access, it did throw me.

Actually, I like how they implemented guest access in general. You can log in as “guest” and get a temporary, restricted workspace that erases itself when you are done. The next “guest” again gets a pristine, sandboxed space to access the web. This is a great way to give my kids access to my main desktop when they’re online…

Back to screen sharing for a minute. This has a few other implications. First, those of us in tech support and consulting can now easily access the computer of any client that we can iChat with. This feature also reduces the future need to install the more flexible VINE server on many client desktops, though the jury is still out on servers, depending on security needs. This is yet another way that a user-friendly feature will also be a big help for IT folk. it alsomeans that those of us with .mac accounts have less need for a service like GoToMyPC or LogMeIn.

Speaking of big help – Time Machine. This is possibly the biggest single reason to get Leopard – so that you can have effortless, consistent backups. I’ve lost count of how many clients do a poor job in maintaining backups. While it won’t help with keeping copies offsite, this feature will save a lot of headaches where it comes to “oops I deleted my file” or “oops, my hard drive died” in shops where we don’t have our hands on Retrospect enough to make sure that the users files are regularly backed up. Time machine makes this process almost effortless. One thing to beware of – If you have any Paralells or Fusion windows images, you may want to make them exceptions or back them up separately unless you’ve got a much, much bigger backup drive than your main drive. Aperture also has some issues with Time Machine

When installing this on my desktop, I noted a few other things. First of all, while the Sharepoints prefpane was still available, all of the SMB and Appletalk share configuration data had been wiped out. instead, those share points now were in the Apple sharing preference pane. Also, after opening Cronnix, I noticed that ALL of my scheduling CRON scripts were gone that I used for mounting my backup disks. Not much of a loss since I’ll be using time machine anyways, but you may want to back up your Crontabs if you’re geeky enough to use them. (I was using CRON to schedule applescripts and other scripts that I only wanted to run on my desktop instead of through iCal).

Insofar as most of my programs, here’s the rundown:

Mail improvements. Here’s where I got hurt the worst. While I don’t mind saying good bye to mail.appetizer (it can be obtrusive), Mailtags and Mail act-on effectively don’t work. The good news is that the creator is already making it Leopard-compatible, and the “Leopard” beta of mailtags is available. I’ll just hold off for the final version. That said, the note-taking ability is useful, the contact-data sensing is just phenomenal, and it can now indent without quoting! The templates are fluff, but slick fluff, and very well implemented. mail has always been great about letting you pick an alternate outbound server if you can’t reach your default, but now you can also choose a different outgoing server as you compose your email.

Inquisitor, an app that gives me instant search results as I type in Safari doesn’t work. It may never be updated as it relied on access to parts of the Safari WebKit code that Apple has severely restricted access to. I will miss it.

Transmit and Quicksilver seem to work fine overall (with updates) though the “open all files with this tag” feature of the tagging module needs updating. The growl notifications are working just great.

Chax has disappeared, but most of the features it provided were rolled into iChat anyway. As it is I’ll still be using Adium except when I need the new “theater” and “screen sharing” modes.

I haven’t run mine yet, but apparently Photoshop works, though may “crash” upon closing out the program. I know Adobe has posted some other issues but apparently the main graphics programs all work OK.

As noted previously, APE is (very) broken. Wouldn’t matter to most non hardcore geeks except Logitech uses it as a basis for their mouse and keyboard drivers.

LiteIcon, an App that allows you to change the default system icons is broken. We’ll have to wait for an update on that or Candybar (from the iconfactory).

Desklickr doesn’t change the desktop out.

Google Earth needed me to reinstall/download the latest version on my laptop.

My Cisco VPN settings were wiped out. I am not sure yet if simply reinstalling will fix this. I WILL get a Time Machine backup first….

Tinkertool says that it is not fully compatible, but shouldn’t break anything, even if some effects are unexpected.

The Wacom drivers needed to be replaced with a new version.

Internet Explorer 5 (OSX version) still works as well as it ever did, for what it’s worth.

Other things that apparently still work:

  • Bonjour Browser
  • MagiCal
  • Aleph One
  • MythII
  • MS Office
  • FlickrUploader
  • Synk (with an update)
  • Canoscan drivers

Stuff I still need to test:

  • Blender
  • Emulators
  • Freeciv
  • Handbrake
  • Lingon
  • NeoOffice
  • nethack
  • Pic2Icon
  • Picasa Web Albums

That’s it in a nutshell.

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