Say hello to Mac OS X Leopard

  Wayne Linder       October 25, 2007      Tutorials Mac

Today, Apple will once again show that they’re good to the core as they let the latest cat, Leopard, out of the bag. Mac OS X 10.5 will show the world that even though they removed the word Computer from their name, Apple hasn’t fallen far from that tree.

There, now that we’ve gotten the obligatory clichés out of the way, we can continue with the article. At 6:00 pm today, Apple will have their newest operating system for sale. Leopard, the latest in OS code names based on big cats, promises to make your computer easier to use with some innovative new technologies. We’ll look at some of the major ones today.

From Sherlock in earlier versions of OS X to Spotlight and Automator in 10.4, with every successive release of OS X, Apple has added various features and applications to increase productivity and make the upgrade compelling for users of earlier operating systems. Mac OS X 10.5 is no different, and actually has a few ‘gotta have’ features – the new Finder and Time Machine. As you can see from the screenshot below, Apple has given the Desktop quite a facelift.

The Mac OS X Leopard operating system

From the top, you can see that the menu bar is now translucent, which allows your Desktop backgrounds to blend into the menu bar and make a more seamless transition. The Dock has a new look as well, with the icons looking more 3-dimensional and appearing to float above the Dock itself. Now added to the Dock are Stacks, which are great ways of organizing files. Simply drop a folder onto the Dock to the right of the crosswalk (the dotted line on the right) and all of the documents in it are displayed in either a tower of files or a grid, depending on how many files you have. Here are examples of both Fan and Grid views:

The Mac OS X Leopard operating system

The Mac OS X Leopard operating system

Another nice thing about Stacks, and icons in general in the Finder, is that rather than a generic-looking document icon, you actually get an icon that looks like the first page of your document. All Apple iLife and iWork applications are supported in the initial release of Leopard as well as Microsoft Office applications, with support for other applications coming as developers refresh their applications for Leopard. By default, Apple includes a Stack for your downloads, so instead of cluttering up your Desktop with a bunch of downloaded files, you have it all in a nice neat stack.

Speaking of cluttering up your Desktop, if you’re like my wife and can’t even see your Desktop, you’ll appreciate the finer control you have over your Desktop in Leopard. In the past, you could only get more icons on your Desktop by shrinking both the icon and font size. In the new View Options dialog, as seen below, you can now pack ‘em in tighter then ever before.

The Mac OS X Leopard operating system

If you’ve used iTunes 7 or one of the new video iPods, you’ve gotten to know Cover Flow – Apple’s way of displaying album art in an innovative horizontal-scrolling format. In the new Finder, Cover Flow displays so much more. You can, of course, browse your Finder windows via list, icon and column views. Leopard adds Cover Flow. At first, it seems kind of strange to view your files in this manner. Once you start using it, however, it really grows on you. For instance, flipping through my Documents folder in Icon view in 10.4 shows me many generic Word, Excel, Keynote and text icons. Kind of hard to know which is which unless they’re named descriptively enough. Looking through the same folder using Cover Flow in Leopard allows me to look inside the document so I can see what it looks like. The document name almost becomes secondary. You not only see what the document’s first page or first frame (if it’s a movie) looks like, you can preview the whole thing as well. If it’s a movie, clicking on the icon plays the movie file. If it’s a multiple-page document, like a Keynote presentation, clicking on it allows you to move forward and backwards through the pages, so you can make sure that it’s the right one. Trust me, once you start using it, it becomes the natural way for browsing through your files. Here’s what Cover Flow looks like when browsing through a folder of movies. Click the video and a play button appears. Click Play and your movie displays in the Cover Flow view.

The Mac OS X Leopard operating system

Rounding out the major Finder features is Spaces – Apple’s way of extending your Desktop. With Spaces, you can have groups of applications assigned to different virtual Desktops. Virtual Desktops are a great way to have many windows open, but not cluttering up the place. For instance, here is how mine is configured:

The Mac OS X Leopard operating system

As you can see, I have four separate Spaces (you can have up to 16). My business applications for mail and meetings (Mail and iCal) are both in Space 3. iTunes is in Space 2, iChat is in Space 4 and Word is in Space 1. You can either use Spaces’ switching method to switch between virtual Desktops (hold down the Control key and type which number you want) or you can switch to a running application (using either Command –Tab or the Dock) and your entire environment changes as well. For instance, when I switch to Space 1, the only window I have open is Word, so I can concentrate on my writing. When I switch to iTunes, all other windows close and iTunes comes up. This is great because I don’t have a lot of windows cluttering up my Desktop and I don’t have to use Exposé to find the window I’m looking for – which is perfect for small screens and laptops.

There are many more Finder features, like Quick Look, Screen Sharing and more. We’ll look at those another time. Right now, we’ll take a look at what I feel is the “killer app” in Leopard – Time Machine.

First, how about a quick show of virtual hands – who here backs up their computer? Yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought. Computer industry studies have shown that a depressingly small percentage of computer users actually back up the precious files stored on their computers these days. Excuses range from the perceived difficulty of backup software to just forgetting. Unlike those people, I am a True Backup Believer. How did I get to this lofty state? Simple. I got here the way that most of us do – by getting burned and losing my data in a crash or other computer glitch. Remember what’s at stake here – your music, your documents, your digital photos and more. One mistake or power spike can destroy all of that in an instant. How fun would it be to explain to your significant other that all of your digital photos are gone? How do you fix this? Do you climb into your trusty Delorean, fire up the flux capacitor and undo the damage in your time machine? The first two are obviously out of the question, but Apple has you covered with the Time Machine part. Time Machine is Apple’s newest application that makes backup both very robust and extremely simple. When you plug in an external hard drive (or internal for the Mac Pros), you are asked if you would like to use it as your Time Machine backup drive. Simply click Yes and your backup will begin. From then on, Time Machine will automatically back up any file that has changed. As you can see, there aren’t very many confusing options. Time Machine backs up your data hourly, daily and weekly.

The Mac OS X Leopard operating system

Backup doesn’t really get much simpler than that. Restoring a file is also very simple. Open a window where the file used to be and launch Time Machine. You will see your folder and documents in a window that recedes into the background. You can either use the date selector on the right side of the window, or use the forward/backward arrows to go to the last/previous change. To restore, go back to the date you last had the file, click Restore and it’s back. Simple backup and simple restore, what’s not to love?

The Mac OS X Leopard operating system

You can even use Time Machine as a way to store different versions of your document. If you need a version of the document as it was last week, launch Time Machine and go to last week. Click Restore and you will get a warning dialog:

The Mac OS X Leopard operating system

Click the Keep Both button and you will have you latest revision and last weeks as well.

Some will ask whether an external hard drive is necessary. Couldn’t Time Machine back up to the main hard drive? Although it’s true that you could back up to a partition of your hard drive, what happens when that hard drive dies (notice I said when, not if)? Then your data and your backups would be gone. External drives are safer, bootable and cheap these days (gee, you’d never guess I worked for a storage company, would you?).

Time Machine will, I feel, make computing safer for everyone. With our music, photos, movies and more of our digital lives being stored on our computers, it is more important than ever to back up. Time machine not only makes backups painless, but with its cool interface it actually makes it fun.

As I said earlier in this article, there is much much more to Leopard – from new features in iChat to Parental Controls to improvements under the hood – Apple advertises more than 300 new features. Today, we just looked at some of the main features to help you decide whether or not to make the leap to Leopard. Keep checking back here at Macinstruct for more articles on getting the most from Apple’s newest OS.

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