Hands-on: Snow Leopard all about speed

The newest version Apple's Mac OS X operating system doesn't offer the number of features that previous releases did, but it does offer a faster feel.

commentary From the time it first announced Mac OS X Snow Leopard, Apple made it clear that this wouldn't be like other Mac OS X releases. Work on the newest operating-system version would not focus on adding hundreds of new features but rather on improving on its previous releases.

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While the speed of an operating system may not be considered by some to be a feature like Spotlight or Expose, the snappiness I have felt in using Snow Leopard has impressed me most. Everything I do feels noticeably quicker, from booting the machine to opening applications.

I didn't consider the start-up times in Leopard to be slow until I installed Snow Leopard. Likewise for applications--opening and working with applications just seems a bit quicker.

Brian Croll, Apple's senior director of Mac OS X marketing, explained to CNET that Mac OS X is made up of more than 1,000 individual projects. According to Apple, 90 percent of those projects have been touched in one way or another. For some projects, that meant a total rewrite; for others, it could be a few minor tweaks.

"We've refined everything from beginning to end," Croll said. "Everyone benefits from a faster system."

Technology integration also accounted for a large part of Snow Leopard. For instance, a new technology called Grand Central Dispatch makes Mac OS X aware of the multiple cores found on today's more advanced computer systems. That means that applications can distribute processes across multiple cores automatically.

Of course, Snow Leopard supports only the new multicore Intel-based architecture, not the older PowerPC machines. The move makes sense, considering that more than 80 percent of its customers have already moved over to one of its Intel-based desktops or notebooks.

While Snow Leopard includes features like built-in Exchange support for business users, there are a few surprises in the operating system for consumers too. For instance, Dock Expose allows the user to focus on an app and its open windows by simply clicking and holding the icon in the dock.

Croll said the No. 1 cause of crashes in Mac OS X are Safari plug-ins. In Snow Leopard, if a plug-in crashes while browsing the Web, it won't crash the entire application--just that plug-in. Reloading the page will reactivate the plug-in.

Of course, Snow Leopard is coming out just before the release of Microsoft's Windows 7. While Croll indicated that Microsoft's new operating system isn't quite as easy to use--"we strive to make it as easy as possible on the Mac, and it's just not like that with Windows"--consumers and businesses will soon be able to judge for themselves.

You can read more about Mac OS X Snow Leopard in CNET's full review .

About the author

Jim Dalrymple has followed Apple and the Mac industry for the last 15 years, first as part of MacCentral and then in various positions at Macworld. Jim also writes about the professional audio market, examining the best ways to record music using a Macintosh. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. He currently runs The Loop.

 

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