Apple Mac OS X 10.6.3 Snow Leopard review: Apple Mac OS X 10.6.3 Snow Leopard

Safari 4
Safari 4 has been widely available for some time, but it offers a couple of new features when running in Snow Leopard. Safari 4 already includes Top Sites for viewing all your favorite sites as thumbnails for easy access and full history search, which lets you view your history in a Cover Flow-like interface. But in Snow Leopard, Safari is now crash resistant. This means that if a plug-in crashes, it won't crash the whole browser. Simply refresh the page to try to load the plug-in again. Also, Safari checks to see if a site you are visiting is known to be fraudulent, is distributing malware, or is known to be a phishing site, and then warns you if it is.


Top Sites, which was already available in Safari 4, lets you navigate to your most viewed Web sites quickly.

QuickTime X
QuickTime X, Apple's media player, got some major tweaks in Snow Leopard. Now, when you play a movie and move your mouse outside the window, the interface fades away quickly to give you a more immersive video-viewing experience. When watching a movie, you can click the new Share button to convert your movie for iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV, and QuickTime converts the video to work best on your chosen device. You also can now record video from your Webcam, audio, or just the action on your screen with a few clicks. Those with the iPhone 3GS will recognize the new trimming feature in QuickTime X, letting you grab just the video content you want.

QuickTime X probably received the most interface tweaks in the Snow Leopard update. The cleaned-up interface and autofade features look great (like most things Apple), but it's more of an aesthetic improvement than anything else. The recording features for video, audio, and screencast capturing are the big wins here and used to be offered only in QuickTime Pro. It's good to see these features will be able to be used by a wider audience in Snow Leopard.


Trim your videos easily by clicking and dragging start and end points of the clip.

Exchange support
One of the main roadblocks for Mac users in a primarily Windows workplace was the inability to connect with Microsoft Exchange servers. Most Mac users used Microsoft Entourage or available open-source options as a work-around, but it was never as smooth as connecting from a Windows machine with Microsoft Office. Snow Leopard now supports Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 out of the box so you can easily connect using Apple's Mail app, grab global address lists in the Address Book, and create meetings with contacts using iCal.

Apple did more than simply give you the ability to connect, however. Common tasks like creating meetings, for example, are incredibly easy with intuitive controls. iCal lets you view work events and personal activities all in the same window (with easy controls to include or not include the information you want). The Apple Address Book works seamlessly across Mail and iCal so you can quickly bring up global address lists, add people to a meeting (including predesigned groups), and invitations will automatically be sent to each attendee. As an added bonus, if some attendees have scheduling conflicts with your proposed meeting time, iCal will automatically figure out the earliest available time that everyone is free. These are features already available in Microsoft's Outlook for Windows, but in Snow Leopard the process feels much more intuitive.

File Quarantine
According to Apple, File Quarantine has also been refined in Snow Leopard. First introduced in Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, File Quarantine checks for known malware signatures, and in Snow Leopard, will now display an alert dialog if it finds a known offender. The dialog will tell users to move the offending file to the Trash. For example, a bogus version of iWork circulated on the Web a few months ago that contained malware. That particular malware is now automatically detected by File Quarantine in Snow Leopard.

Apple says that File Quarantine will be automatically updated via Mac OS X's software update as new malware signatures are found in the wild. We had no way to test these features, but we are happy to see that Apple is taking strides to defend against malware as more people switch to Macs and the danger of new malware becomes more prevalent.

Universal access
Beginning with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, Apple included VoiceOver to help people who are blind or with impaired vision to better understand and interact with what is happening onscreen. Apple continues to help visually impaired users in Snow Leopard by adding gesture support on multitouch trackpads with easy-to-learn gestures to perform specific functions. We had mixed results with these features depending on the Web page we visited, but mostly we found the features to be useful. The trackpad acts as the viewable area on the current window so you can tap to have Window elements explained to you or swipe to move on to the next item in the window, for example. New features in Snow Leopard are particularly helpful when Web browsing, with options like Web page summaries to explain the various elements on a Web page you haven't visited before, making it easier to get the information you want.

More than 40 different Braille displays (including wireless Bluetooth displays) are supported in Snow Leopard right out of the box, allowing visually impaired users to plug in and start computing immediately.

Other refinements
Some of the smaller refinements in Snow Leopard are worthy of note, affecting many of Apple's core apps. iChat is now compatible with more routers, making video chat accessible to a wider range of users, and iChat Theater now offers 640x480 resolution, using only one-third the bandwidth it used before. New Chinese character input via the trackpad predicts which characters you're creating and offers likely subsequent characters to speed up the process. A new text substitution feature in applications like iChat, Mail, and TextEdit lets you create shortcuts for phrases you use frequently. The Services menu in Snow Leopard has been rewritten to include only the services relevant to the application or content you're viewing. Core Location technology locates nearby Wi-Fi hot spots to find your location and automatically resets your time zone so wherever you are in the world, your Mac will be set to the correct time. While all of these are small refinements, each make your Mac easier to use with smart features not found in other operating systems.

Conclusions
Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is not a complete system overhaul and is instead a refinement of the current Leopard OS--some have gone so far as to call it a "service pack." We think the interface tweaks to Expose, Stacks, the Finder, Mail, and iCal make Snow Leopard more than just a service pack and worthy of the $29 upgrade price. We don't like that PowerPC users are unable to use Snow Leopard, but we understand that after three years with Intel, Apple is making a decision to continue moving forward with this technology.

The largest of the feature enhancements are probably reason enough for Intel Mac users to spend the money on Snow Leopard. Added enhancements such as video, audio, and screen recording in QuickTime X were once only available to those who purchased QuickTime Pro (which was about $30--the same as this system upgrade). But the killer feature addition for Snow Leopard might be Exchange support out of the box--not even Windows 7 comes with Microsoft Exchange support without buying Microsoft Office.

Overall, we think that Snow Leopard did almost everything Apple says it set out to do: it refined and enhanced Leopard to make it easier to use. Though the system performs well in everyday use, many of our tests indicate it is slightly slower than the older version of Leopard in more intensive application processes. Still, we highly recommend upgrading for all the new features and Microsoft Exchange support.

QuickTime multimedia multitasking test (QT7 on 10.5.8 and QTX on 10.6) (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

iTunes multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

System configurations:

Unibody Apple Macbook Pro / Core 2 Duo 15.4-inch
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.53GHz; 4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Apple MacBook Pro / Core Duo 15.4-inch
Intel Core Duo 2.0GHz; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 256MB ATI Radion 1600, 100GB Toshiba 5,400rpm

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Apple Mac OS X 10.6.3 Snow Leopard

Part Number: MC223Z/A Released: Aug. 28, 2009
MSRP: $29.00 Low Price: $29.38 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Aug. 28, 2009
  • Category Operating systems
  • Compatibility Mac
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