What It’s Like Dancing With the Spotted Cat

As you can guess from the title, I bought myself a copy of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. That means I’ve had my hands on, and have been using Leopard since it’s announced release date of October 26th.

I’ve posed 7 questions to myself that folks have either asked me, others, or I think are likely to ask, with “Would You Recommend Leopard?” being the last question. I’m very sure I’ll be writing more about Leopard as time permits, but seeing that the little person in my wife’s belly is due to make her (at least that’s what the ultrasound tech says) at the end of February, odds are likely that things will slow down considerably around that time. In any case, let’s move on for now.

Did Apple Release It Too Early?
Because I ordered it online, I actually got Leopard four hours earlier than the official release time of 1800L. As someone accustomed to Microsoft releases being delayed, I was pleased about this. Mr. Jobs and company sort of made up for the initial delay. Oh, don’t you remember that? I’m guessing you don’t hear about it very much from the blindly loyal Mac folks. Suffice it to say that while I think OS X rocks, I’m not an Apple-can-do-no-wrong type (see my postings about the iPhone, which I’m still not convinced about, btw). Leopard was supposed to initially be delayed in the summer, but it was delayed because the iPhone needed more programming help. Now I’m not still sore about that (REALLY!), but I’m not going to act like most of the popular press when it comes to things Apple and give Mr. Jobs a pass because it’s so pretty. No. Let’s remember that Leopard is actually several months late.

That said, from what I’ve experienced so far, they’ve more than used the time they had wisely. Though I’ve only been using Leopard for a little over a week (8 days to be precise), it is the best OS I’ve ever used in my life, so far. (Note I’ve been using PCs since 1992, and in a professional capacity since around 1993. The range is early, early Windows, Sun Solaris, a touch of Unix, no Linux (yet!).) However, that statement can be a bit misleading, and I don’t want to mislead anyone; hence, the next question.

How Is It Compared To Tiger?
Before Leopard, Tiger was, bar none, the best OS I’d ever experienced before. The stability, intuitive design, security, stability, good looks, flexibility, stability, extra power offered to the user under the hood offered in Unix, and did I mention stability? (hey, I work with Windows all day long, folks), were all in Tiger. I was finding it hard to believe Apple could improve on such a product when they were already ahead of the crowd. But I’m happy to say I was wrong. The Cupertino crowd did, in fact, improve things quite a bit. Is it revolutionary, as some have been saying? No. I’m going to have to agree with Walt Mossberg of Wall Street Journal Tech fame, and call it evolutionary. I see it as the logical next step in OS X being executed very well. But I’m just going to say “very well”. More than likely this is because I’m a firm believer in perfection being nearly impossible to achieve in this life. Imperfection has a way of constantly showing up. Such was the case for Leopard’s roll out.

Did You Experience the Dreaded “Blue Screen” During Install?
Here’s an example of the IT geek truly coming out of me. My wife’s wonderful cousin Sami, and his lovely wife Maarit arrived from Finland on the day Leopard landed in my hands. Yes, we knew they were coming. In fact, it had been planned well in advance. I wouldn’t get to see them that day, but we would definitely be spending time together the next day, Saturday, and I was very much looking forward to it. They’re fun to hang with, and Sami’s got one of those infectious laughs that makes you want him to laugh some more. The smart thing to do would’ve been to simply hold out and fully enjoy their visit. Sadly, the IT Mr. Hyde in me couldn’t be kept at bay that long. I finished my backup on Friday night, so I could cleverly sneak my install into the agenda. What could go wrong? Right? So I inserted my disk, and selected the choice to “Upgrade” my Max OS X one hour before they, as well as my mother-in-law and brother-in-law arrived for brunch.

Then it happened. Right around when I finished my eggs. The dreaded “blue screen”.

Now, forgive me for being nit picky here, but there is actually a different between the Windows “blue screen of death” (a.k.a. BSOD) and the “blue screen” I was experiencing. What was the difference? This window was simply blue with my mouse cursor working just fine. Nothing more. With the Windows BSOD, at least if you were techy enough to know what all the codes on the screen mean, you have some clue as to what may be causing the sudden unwanted state. Some would argue that being able to move the mouse around was an indication that it wasn’t actually a “blue screen of death“. …yeah. …right. The result was the pretty much the same. In the end I couldn’t do anything more than move my mouse around. However, I didn’t panic, although I was not happy. I managed to sneak out of the kitchen, grabbed my wife’s MacBook, went online and found the cure to what was ailing me: reinstall using Archive and Install. This took care of what I needed. After reinstalling using “Archive and Install”, the choice I should have made from beginning, Leopard was successfully installed. But was it functioning as it should have been? Not quite. Nevertheless, I was smart enough to know that I had to be decent enough to wait until what turned out to be a very pleasant evening was over.

What About Compatibility Problems? Yep. But iChat Helped Out BIG TIME!
Notice that above I only wrote “Leopard was successfully installed”. Nothing in that statement indicates joy, happiness, or any of the positive adjectives one would expect following a totally good install. I couldn’t. Why? Because when logged on and started using Leopard it was as slow as molasses, uphill, in the dead of winter. That was VERY unusual for my MacBook Pro (MBP). I had initially checked my Activity Monitor, but I couldn’t find what was slowing me down. Thinking back, I suspect I started to panic just a little bit here. As fortune would have it, despite my processors being pretty much maxed out, I was able to start and use Skype. There I ran into my good friend and Mac guru Erik (chilling at his home on the country side. It pays to run your own successful IT business in Stockholm). I chatted away my woes to him, since he had also installed Leopard and was doing just fine. He made the grand suggestion of us logging onto iChat and trying out the new screen sharing feature (click and read “Share and share alike”). Well folks, I’m here to tell you that screen sharing in iChat worked like a charm. After Erik requested and I okay’d the screen sharing session, he was moving my cursor and executing the necessary clicks to solve my problem. Next thing I knew “VOILA!” The problem was pretty much solved.

It turned out that a long, long ago (about February-March 07, I believe), I downloaded a trial version of what I’m sure is a great network security product called GlowWorm. One of the things the makers of GlowWorm tout on their home page is that their product will offer you the chance to: “Protect your privacy by taking control of your computer”. Well, I don’t know how much I was able to protect my privacy (I never did buy it), but GlowWorm definitely took over my computer. After upgrading to Leopard GlowWorm was suddenly using up 99.5-9% of my processing power! That’s no small feat in a MBP with 2.16 GHz Intel duo core processors. And it wasn’t a matter of simply deleting it either. That puppy was buried rather deep into my system (as security protection systems ought to be, actually). Erik had to go deep into Unix and do a little bit of surgery to remove all the pieces.

All-in-all, it was a pretty good bad experience. I don’t blame Apple or GlowWorm. It’s a just-released product. I knew the risks I was taking when I installed (hence the backing up bit) Leopard. I call the bad experience good because:

  1. both Erik and I got to check out the new screen sharing function of iChat first hand. I, the now obviously biased user of iChat screen sharing, think it’s a great function. I can tell you it worked
  2. when Erik needed to log into my Terminal application, he had to wait for me to type in my password before he could execute anything that would alter my system state
  3. everyone who needs help on their Macs will be remotely available now

In a nutshell, the new iChat rocks, as well as Erik. 😉

What Do You Think of Time Machine?
This, in my humble opinion, is probably reason enough for average folks to upgrade from Tiger to Leopard, and probably for some to switch to from Windows to Mac. I know that’s a lot to say, but I think Time Machine is that good. If anything is actually revolutionary about Leopard, I believe Time Machine would qualify. Let me describe my configuring of Time Machine for you:

  1. plug external hard disk into USB port
  2. start Time Machine
  3. give Time Machine permission to reformat disk (this will have to be your choice eventually, btw)

Yep. That’s pretty much it. You can, of course, get more specific about your backup jobs (what files to backup, what files not to backup, etc.), but you don’t have to.

Time Machine will then begin to back up your data. The initial backup will take some time because Time Machine copies the entire contents of your machine, but the updates after that are only incremental, which means it only updates the changes you made since the last backup. For me, the updates are hardly noticeable. Of course, that may be a bit different for someone who works in a graphic-heavy environment.

Apple doesn’t yet offer a wireless solution for implementing Time Machine, but I imagine there may be some serious challenges with that. While I toy with the idea of having the ability to float around without really having to concern myself at all about backups, the paranoid techy side of me wants me to have to pay some sort of attention to the backup processes. It’s definitely better to be safe than sorry when it comes to backups.

Is Spaces Any Good?
Spaces is, so far, one of my absolute favorite features of Leopard. I never before imagined the ability to use different desktops would mean so much to me, but it does. I love having my e-mail client, browser, and iTunes all on different desktops. I’ve programmed the top left corner of my window as a hot corner that triggers Spaces, so when I need to switch desktops I simply drag my cursor to the top left corner which takes me from this:to this:That saves more time and clicks than I ever would’ve thought, not to mention it’s pretty fun to watch.

Would You Recommend Leopard?
Hands down, I would. If you’re someone who’s been waiting for Leopard to come on the scene to decide whether or not you want to switch from Windows to Mac, I couldn’t recommend a better time. You would’ve been blown away by Tiger, but Leopard is definitely [bad pun warning!] the cat’s meow. Folks are screaming about it for a reason. I can pretty much assure you, after you’ve been using it for a week, you’ll wonder what on earth you’ve been waiting for. And if you’re switching, that means you’ll be buying a Mac with Leopard already installed, so you avoid all the install headaches.

Before I close this entry which took way longer than I expected, despite my not having actually scratched the surface of Leopard, I want to address a security issue that popped up lately. It has to do with Leopard’s firewall not being on by default, and having a few holes in them when it’s turned on. Addressing this properly is outside the scope of both my current knowledge (read: I haven’t had time to adequately keep up with the topic) and this already too long entry. I’ll end by saying that if you upgrade to Leopard, make sure the firewall is turned on. It’s just silly not to. I’ve configured mine to block “all incoming connections” and it seems to be doing just fine. Mind you, I’m behind a router with the firewall activated and the whole nine yards. But I did read one comment that sort of put of things into perspective for me for the moment. It said that security in Leopard is no better than it was in Tiger. Uh… okay. If that’s true, minus the blunder of the firewall not being turned on by default, I’ll live with that. At least until I get my geeky hands on some more material regarding this issue.

In the mean time, I gots to go. Laterz.

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