Apple's Macintosh OS X version 10.6, more commonly known as "Snow Leopard," is
perhaps the smoothest computer operating system upgrade in recorded history. At
least it is the smoothest in this reviewer's "recorded history," which goes
back to 1983. I could almost say it's worth the $29 price tag just for the install
Here's how it worked, on two different Intel-based Mac computers: pop in the disc,
click on an icon, make a selection, click some more and wait less than an hour.
Restart the computer, which happens automatically when the install is finished, and
away we go.
As stated, that's pretty much how it's been with all sorts of computer operating
system upgrades, Mac OS and Microsoft's Windows. But things in computing are often
more than what's stated, and in the case of Snow Leopard, the "more" is that
there wasn't much more in the way of hassles, adjustments and the like.
And that, as Sherlock Holmes would have said, is "the dog that didn't bark," the
unusual thing. Often, after an operating system upgrade, users find all sorts of
hassles, complications and glitches. This time, there were just about none: one
program, Zinio's "Reader" software for digital magazines and books, caused a hiccup
but it was easily resolved by reinstalling that program.
Snow Leopard isn't a major upgrade of the Mac OS, but rather refinements and
enhancements that should make life easier for all. The biggest of these, for those
in businesses and large organizations (e.g., the federal government), is integrated
support for Microsoft Exchange, a corporate e-mail and calendaring standard. This
should give Mac-toting users a better gateway into corporate information systems,
and lowers one more barrier to Mac adoption in "enterprise" (read: corporate or
The other big boost is that with Snow Leopard, everything seems to run much more
quickly and, as mentioned, smoothly, than under plain ol' Leopard. Whether it's
switching between applications, running a bunch of different programs at the same
time, or even the "virtualization" of running both the Mac OS and Microsoft
Windows 7 at the same time - everything works better here, in my experience.
This is no trivial matter: it's not that I've had any great problems with the
previous version, but under any operating system, having all sorts of programs open,
plus adding yet another OS in a "virtual machine" kind of setup can tax things
heavily. That's why I take comfort in the initial stability of Snow Leopard: if it
can work well under pressure, it'll probably do find under "average" use.
Apple's announcement implies that much of the speedup is due to the 64-bit
instruction set used by processors such as the Intel Core2 Duo in my
2007-vintage MacBook Pro and in even higher-capacity Intel CPUs in models such as
the 2009-issue iMac the firm has supplied for testing. A 64-bit operating system for
a 64-bit CPU chip can process more data more quickly than 32-bit architectures, so
that's where much of the boost comes from. I would also imagine that in rewriting
the OS for these chips, a lot of refining took place.
This is, however, the "rub" for owners of non-Intel-based Mac computers, some of
which may have been sold as new models as recently as 2006 or thereabouts. Snow
Leopard is the first Mac OS that won't run on non-Intel chips; i.e., the PowerPC
processors many users already have in their machines. A good number of such
computers are still running quite happily; my father has a PowerPC-based Mac mini
For these users, a switch to Snow Leopard will come when they switch computers, and
many of these units will probably be ready for replacement in the next year or so.
Otherwise, I'd expect a few continuing updates to "regular" Leopard, at least
But just as the Mac OS has long been a compelling argument for users to switch from
Windows to the Apple platform, so Snow Leopard makes a highly compelling case for
switching to an Intel-based Mac. It's an easy switch, with results exceeding