Apple – OS X Leopard review

latest version of OS X
Photo of Apple – OS X Leopard

Leopard is Apple’s much talked-about new version of OS X. It takes over from Tiger and includes some novel twists in the way the operating system works. You’ll need a reasonably up-to-date Mac to run Leopard, one with an Intel processor or something above an 867MHz G4 on the PowerPC side. At least 512MB memory is recommended.

First thing you notice on the desktop is the icon shelf at the bottom, which now has a high-tech, mirrored finish and two new icons on the right, labelled Documents and Downloads. These are document stacks, a new way of collecting together information for quick access. Click on one and it reveals thumbnails of its contents, which can be opened directly or dragged to another place.

When you’re viewing files, you’ll come across CoverFlow, a new way of viewing files in a folder. Rather than showing a matrix of thumbnails, you can use an animated, larger scale preview of each file, flipping through them from side to side. It’ll be interesting to see how much this is used.

There are new applications and updated applications included with Leopard. Fresh out of the build are Time Machine for system back-ups, Spaces for organising multiple desktops and Boot Camp, released in beta 18 months ago but now an integrated way to dual-boot Windows on an Intel-based Mac.

Apple’s gone to town with the interface on Time Machine. Run it and your desktop slides away to reveal all the system backups you’ve created, reaching back into the centre of a spiral galaxy – we kid you not. Flip back through them as you would through a Roladex and you can take your system back to any previous Leopard incarnation.

There’s an overhead to running Time Machine, though, and that’s the space taken for the main backup. This can be as big as your whole system, though after the first one the program backs up incrementally, taking up much less space for each one. You’re still going to need a second hard drive to use it properly, though.

Spaces enables you to create a number of desktops where you can pre-arrange the furniture, so you can have, for example, one set up for word processing, another for manipulating photos and a third for video editing. You can then flick between them, rather than setting up from scratch when you switch tasks. You can use a pair of monitors with Spaces, too.

Updated applications include Photo Booth and iChat – both of which now offer video backdrops and the ability to display movie clips – plus tabbed browsing in Safari and Parental Controls. This last feature can be used to limit access to the Mac as well as to the Internet. Only so many hours a day, or not after bedtime, are both possibilities.

Company: Apple

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This is a middle-weight upgrade to OS X. There are plenty of new tweaks to the operating system, and Time Machine is an effective system back-up utility, though it's a bit sluggish. Quite a lot of what's new is cosmetic, but there are some genuine productivity improvements in there, too. £80 may seem a lot for a new OS, but think what you'd be paying for an equivalent copy of Vista.