Snow Kitty

Well, it’s finally out. Snow Leopard, Apple’s latest and greatest OS. Officially released on August 28th, they did a hell of a job getting it delivered on time. It arrived, on time, at my house yesterday afternoon. I had it installed on my Macbook Pro that evening.

OS X 10.6 brings full 64-bit application support to the OS. According to Apple, almost every single core app has been re-built to be 64-bit. This means that these applications can access more memory, if necessary, run faster, and actually take up less space on the hard drive. After installing the latest OS, I gained an extra 10 Gig of space on the hard drive.. Finally, an upgrade that really delivers on savings!

In addition to 64-bit, Apple has also included some new technology. First up is Grand Central Dispatch [pdf], a multi-core threading technology. Grand Central is responsible for handling threads, removing the burden from the developer. As long as an application is programmed to use GCD, the OS will take care of optimizing thread usage. Apple claims GCD is extremely efficient at what it does and will dynamically scale with the number of processors in the computer. As a result, programs will run faster, taking full advantage of the system.

Another new technology is OpenCL. OpenCL, or Open Computing Language, is a way for developers to take advantage of extra processing power by utilizing the GPU of the graphics card. I’m a bit on the fence about this particular technology. On the one hand, using the extra power can help programs run faster. On the other hand, it seems that an irresponsible programmer, or perhaps even a well-intentioned one, could use up GPU cycles, impacting overall graphics performance. Though my fear may be misplaced as I’m sure Apple has put some sort of check in place to ensure this doesn’t happen. Regardless, it’s a pretty cool technology, and I’d like to see it in action.

In addition to all of the “under the hood” stuff, OS X 10.6 includes a few new features. One of the more touted features is support for Microsoft Exchange. Mail, iCal, and the Address Book now have built-in support for Microsoft Exchange, allowing business users to easily access their data on a Mac. I don’t have much use for this, and no way to test any of it, so I don’t have much to say about it.

Other features include some additional UI improvements. Snow Leopard allows you to drill down into folders when you’re looking at a stack on the dock. I find this to be a really cool feature, letting me zip around my documents folder without popping up additional windows I don’t really need. Expose has also been updated and integrated into the dock. If you click and hold on an icon in the dock, Expose activates and shows you all of the open windows for that application. From there you can switch to a window, close the application, show it in the finder, and even set it up to launch at login.

There’s a whole bunch of other enhancements as well. You can read about them here.

Since the install, I’ve run into a few problems, but nothing I didn’t really expect. The install itself went smoothly, taking the better part of an hour to complete. I experienced no data loss at all, and it appears that none of my applications were marked as incompatible. I do have a few apps that are not Snow Leopard ready, though.

After launching Mail, I was notified that both the GPGMail and GrowlMail plugins had been disabled due to incompatibilities. GrowlMail is more of a flashy app, nothing I rely heavily on. GPGMail was a blow, however, as I use it daily. And to make matters worse, it looks like GPGMail won’t be updated anytime soon. The short story is that the internals of Mail changed significantly with the new release. To make matters worse, Apple apparently doesn’t publish any sort of Mail API, so it becomes even more difficult to create a Mail plugin. This is a real killer for me, as I really relied on this plugin. Hopefully someone will be able to step in and get this fixed soon.

I also noticed that Cisco’s Clean Access Agent is no longer functioning. It seems to run, but won’t identify the OS properly, so the system is rejected by the network. Supposedly the 4.6 release of CCA fixes this, but I haven’t been able to locate a copy to test yet.

Another broken app was Blogo, my blogging application. As usual, though, Brainjuice was on top of things and I’m currently running a new beta version that seems to work properly. The real test is when I’m done writing this and try to post it…

Beyond these few apps, everything appears to be working properly. Hopefully the apps I have will be updated to 64-bit over the next few weeks and months and I’ll see even more performance out of this system. As it is, the system seems to be running much quicker now. Unfortunately, I don’t have any definitive benchmarks to prove this, though.

So overall, I’m happy with the Snow Leopard upgrade. The speed and performance improvements thus far are great, and the extra new features are quite useful. The extra 10 Gig of disk space doesn’t hurt much either. I definitely recommend the update, but make sure your apps are compatible beforehand.

 

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