The Snow Leopard appreciation society

Apple's latest OS doesn't aim to wow with a host of new features: it's the little things that count. It's kind of like repairing a used-car. You never realized how much better it could be.

A lot has been written about Snow Leopard since its release two weeks ago: but maybe the best way of describing Apple's latest operating system update is by comparing it to a second-hand Volkswagen I owned a couple of years after finishing university.

Apple aficionados will no doubt be appalled by the choice of car comparison. Usually, when people trot out car metaphors for Apple the company is represented by a BMW or a Merc.

Must Read: Snow Leopard Special Report

However, this was the early 1990s and arts graduates weren't loaded then (or now). Besides, it's my metaphor and I'm going to stick with it.

The Volkswagen in particular was a perfectly good car. Solidly made, comfy and easy to drive. It had around 65,000 miles on the clock. OK, it had some little idiosyncrasies - little rattles and tiny flaws. Nothing that stopped me getting from A to B. Slightly annoying, nonetheless.

It was serviced annually at a local garage and one year I happened to mention to the mechanic the little problems.

A few days later I realized the persistent rattle in the driver's door had gone. Bliss. A week went by before the heavens opened and suddenly it struck me that the wiper, which previously missed a patch of windscreen just to the right of the driver's eye line, had been sorted. Heaven.

Likewise, you can't fully appreciate Snow Leopard until you've spent a couple of weeks in the big cat's company and remembered what it was like before the upgrade.

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard

There was a lot of talk from Apple about the disk space it clears up but this was just a fleeting joy. Yes, it was great regaining 12GB of HD space but as an external drive junkie, this was a mere drop in the terabyte ocean.

The delight that endures is the discovery, in many cases by surprise, that dozens of the little annoyances you'd forgotten because you've learned to endure them for so long have been swept away and have been replaced by elegant and swanky little finesses.

What was exciting about Panther, Tiger and Leopard were the range of new features. Plus the fact that your applications worked.

There were the essential new features, like Time Machine and Spotlight. The genuinely useful like Spaces, Dashboard (which still has its critics) and Expose.

Then, there were the clever but generally cosmetic stuff like Fast User Switching. Woo... oh. Finally, there were features that looked pretty but were frustrating to use, like Stacks.

Those shiny features gave Apple's easily excitable marketing department something to crow about. With Snow Leopard, you can imagine the tumbleweeds rolling through the minimalist Cupertino offices when the product spec landed.

Snow Leopard is not a brand new car, just the one you've already got with a lot of the flaws, problems and squeaks ironed out and some minor but noticeable tweaks to performance.

Some examples:

  • A QuickTime player that lets you record video and audio and edit them simply, for free
  • Quicker loading and more responsive native applications
  • Allowing an application to be shared across multiple desktop Spaces
  • Moving the keyboard and mouse preferences into two

In other words things that make a real difference to the way you work. Or at least the way I work, you may find other tweaks that delight the senses.

There have been reports of incompatibility with software (in my case with six-year-old Windows virtualisation software), some applications need the Rosetta software emulator and it is slightly puzzling that a week after the release of Snow Leopard the first update (10.6.1) was released.

In many way, it's very anti-Apple but I'd be very happy to dispense with future eye candy if the next iteration of the Mac operating system is as packed with hidden treasures. It's a software release which proves definitively the old aphorism that 'less is more'.

Beep! Beep!

This article was originally posted on silicon.com.