It’s hard to believe it’s only been six months since Leopard’s release. At this stage most of the commentary and reviews have been done and dusted for months and people are just getting on with using Leopard. Although it’s only been six short months we’ve already had two major updates to the OS and we’re expecting a third any day now. The reviews ranged from un-fettered admiration to utter condemnation. Reality is of course somewhere in between. I’ve heard a lot of comparison’s made between Leopard and Vista and at least one of them is correct. Like Vista, the first release version of Leopard should have been called a public Beta. Like Vista Leopard was late yet still only half-baked when it did finally ship. However, other comparisons to Vista don’t hold. Leopard has delivered substantial new functionality and it has done so without adding significant bloat. Sure, Apple’s list of 300 changes was hyper-inflated but there were still some real gems in that list. Also, Leopard runs just fine on my first generation Mac Mini which was underpowered even when it was new over three years ago!

The ultimate question is whether or not Leopard was enough of an improvement on Tiger to warrant the price of the upgrade? Are many of the new features actually useful or are they just eye-candy and fluff? Six months on I’m taking the time to reflect and ask myself which Leopard features I’d really miss if I was forced to down-grade to Tiger in the morning.

[tags]OS X, apple, Leopard, Tiger[/tags]

Before getting started I just want to mention that Leopard has been a step backwards in just one regard, the firewall. The new Application based firewall may have promise for the future but right now it’s just not up to scratch.

Other than the firewall my Leopard experiences have all positive. However, six month on I’m a little surprised by what I’ve found useful and what has turned out to be fluff. I was convinced I’d love the new CoverFlow view in the Finder, but I almost never use it. I’ve made up the odd excuse to use it but on a day-to-day basis it adds nothing to my Leopard experience. A lot of people are really happy with new print dialogues but for me they are just fluff. I can see that they are better, but I almost never print so I just don’t care.

Of the obvious stuff it is Spaces, SpotLight, and QuickLook that I just can’t live without anymore. These three have become so totally inter-woven into my daily workflow that I simply can’t decided which of them I would miss the most.

Spaces has dramatically reduced the clutter on my screen and made it easier for me to remain focused on the tasks I’m supposed to be doing. I have difference spaces for different sets of tasks and when I move to a particualr space all the distractions from the other spaces vanish and I can just get on with what I’m supposed to be doing. For example, I do all my blogging in Space 2 where I can write in peace without seeing my mail client, my chat client, or my Twitter client. All these distractions are in Space 1 where they are out of my way when I want to get real work done.

The new and improved SpotLight has become my application launcher, my calculator and my dictionary. I hardly ever use it for generic searches yet I reach for command+space tens of times a day. If I need to launch an app I hit command+space and type just a letter or two before hitting return to launch the app. If I want to calculate the VAT on an item that costs €245 I just hit command+space and type 245*1.21 and I have my answer. If I can’t remember whether hoped or hopped is the past-tense of hope I hit command+space, type hopped and hover over the result from the dictionary to see the definition, that is if the snippet which shows up right in the results isn’t enough by itself. In Tiger SpotLight showed promise, in Leopard it delivers in that promise.

As for QuickLook, the concept of actually having to launch a whole application just to see if I’ve found the file I was looking for seems ridiculous to me now. Imagine having to open an application to view an image, read a PDF, or watch a video, madness! I use QuickLook literally hundreds of times a day and simply couldn’t do without it.

TimeMachine has also completely revolutionised how I back up my system. I still do a clone backup which I keep off-site for DR but my in-house backup is now handled automatiocally by TimeMachine. It’s a massive improvement over the old clone backup I used to try to remember to do each day. Now I’m not over-writting everything each time but keeping a long history of versions, and without any effort on my part. Sure, the GUI for restoring files is a tacky waste of bits but it works and you can always just browse your backups in the Finder anyway!

Finally, the new Finder has a lot to offer. Sure, CoverFlow for files is just a gimmic, but the little list of all the machines on your network is fantastic when you’re working on a home or small office network. I use it all the time to move stuff between my Mac Mini and my MacBook Pro. The fact that .Mac now allows me password-less connections between my Macs really makes this feature immensely useful. Also, the fact that problems with network drives no longer lock up the Finder is a real god-send. It’s a completely hidden feature but it’s the best thing about the new Finder.

As you can see Leopard has had a dramatic effect on my day-to-day computing life. Leopard is clearly an incremental improvement, and one which-for me at least-was well worth the money. I was happy with the jump from Panther to Tiger, but it was significantly smaller than the jump from Tiger to Leopard.