Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard review: Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

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MSRP: $129.00

The Good Elegant backup via Time Machine; Finder offers powerful navigation tweaks; novel workspace customization through Spaces' virtual desktops; integration with Web data and applications; Cover Flow visualizes file browsing; iChat Theater offers green-screen backgrounds and lets users access each others' desktops; Bootcamp included.

The Bad Leopard was afflicted in some cases by installation woes and application failures; some new features, such as geotagging, aren't obvious to find; users with older Macs can't run Leopard.

The Bottom Line The grace of Leopard's interface enhancements makes productivity more pleasurable with a Mac, as more than 300 functional and fun features top off this update.

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8.0 Overall
  • Setup 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Support 7

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard is Apple's first major operating system upgrade since Tiger more than two years ago. The changes include more than 300 new features, which, while not earth-shattering, further streamline the experience of using a Mac.

Should you pay for Leopard? If you're happy with the way Tiger works, then maybe not. If you need Bootcamp, however, then you must have Leopard. And if you're considering the purchase of a new computer, Leopard makes Macs more enticing than Tiger did. Plus, Leopard makes it far easier to find documents and applications than Windows Vista. Leopard's interface niceties made the daily mechanics of using the computer more pleasurable. Mundane chores, such as finding files and backing up data, become a visual treat (See our photo gallery of screenshots.)

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard costs $129 out of the box, or $199 for up to five users. Those who bought Macs after October 1 must pay $9.95 to have Leopard shipped to them.

Setup and installation
It took us about 40 minutes to install Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on an Intel-based MacBook. That's a bit longer than it took to install than Windows Vista, but not by much. However, installation didn't run so smoothly on some systems. Leopard took a painfully long hour or so to install on an iBook G4, the 933 Mhz processor just grazing the minimum requirements.

You should proceed carefully when migrating the files and applications you'll need. Apple steps you through the process, but take your time to avoid overwriting valuable data. Leopard changed the personal desktop image during one migration from Tiger, while leaving the desktop photo alone in other cases. After installing Leopard on MacBook Pro 2.33 Core 2 Duo with 2GB of RAM, there were problems with various applications, including Parallels and GroupCal.

Leopard ran bug-free on a 2Ghz Core 2 Duo Macbook. Some users, however, reported the fabled "blue screen of death" historically associated with Microsoft Windows; Apple addressed the issue.

To run Leopard, you'll need an Intel or PowerPC G5 Mac. A PowerPC-based G4 Mac with an 867MHz or better processor will work, as well. Apple suggests having 512MB of RAM. Additionally, you'll need a USB or FireWire external backup drive (or a file-sharing volume on a network) to use Time Machine. Features on iChat require a Webcam.

The new look and feel of Leopard is different without demanding that you relearn the layout. The Dock organizing applications and files becomes a bit more transparent. Bump it over to one side, and the Dock looks a bit flatter. A drop shadow now highlights the active window, and all windows share a unified visual design.

Click on an icon on the Dock and related items fan out in the order you last accessed them. New Stacks help to unclutter your desktop by showing icons of items in the order they were last accessed. This is especially helpful for keeping downloads in one place, although you can't resize the icons. If the Stack is packed with items, you can display them as a grid.

The souped-up Finder introduces a sidebar that allows you to rearrange items in the Places section, while Search For submenus can locate files based on type and when you last worked on them. Click on Today, for instance, and you'll see everything you've touched lately in chronological order. If you work on a network, checking out another person's desktop starts with the simple Share Screen option.

Spotlight scours through files in shared folders on a network, as well as within Safari's Web History (which you should regularly dump to fend off snoops). It gets smarter, reading "Not" and "Or," dates and phrases, and even serving as a calculator for trig equations.

Many new design elements reflect what you've already seen in iTunes and iPhone. Cover Flow, for instance, shuffles through folders as you hold down an arrow key. This makes perfect sense for browsing files. Plus, you can peek at most documents instantly. Quick Look provides previews that can pop up files from iWork, iLife, Microsoft Office, PDFs, as well as popular image and video formats. In each instance appear relevant options, such as Full Screen view or Add to iPhoto. Select several files, double-click them, and you've got a custom slide show.

In addition to making it easier to find your work, interface additions are intended to make multitasking less stressful. Virtual desktops, called Spaces, cluster open windows into categories or boxes. This can cut the number of windows you may otherwise stack around your desktop, especially helpful for tiny monitors. For example, you could move everything you need to edit a vacation video into one space, and in another Space place the files and apps needed to write a dissertation. Spaces were a cinch to set up (such as drawing a chart in a word processor), but a tad awkward for us to master until we learned the keyboard shortcuts. You can also use the mouse to drag items between Spaces, and to drag the Spaces themselves around.


If you rarely back up your work because the process is too boring or confusing, Time Machine is likely to change that. The spaced-out interface is about as sexy as backup can get, displaying a dynamic timeline alongside snapshots of selected folders and files throughout their history. To restore a file you lost, just go to an earlier time, click the Restore button, and you'll zoom back to your present Desktop. For a current period of 24 hours, Time Machine backs up automatically every hour. It backs up each day for the past month and each week for content updated earlier than that.

Time Machine immediately detected our external hard drive via two USB ports and we started backing up within a few minutes. You cannot back up to your Mac's hard drive. You can check out the drives of fellow Leopard users with Time Machine, too. However, Apple doesn't offer password-protection and encryption options upfront showing you how to lock that drive from curious outsiders. Only longtime Mac users are likely to know to explore such options within Leopard's Security settings.

iChat lets you and Leopard-using buddies share files and control each others' desktops, expanding the tool's potential professional use. And you can record iChat sessions as AAC audio or MPEG video files ready for an iPod, which is a great feature for podcasters.

iChat Theater's silly effects can distort your face like you're looking in a fun-house mirror. Green-screen backgrounds within iChat Theater let your talking head appear in a video conference in front of, say, included images of the moon or your own pictures. (We still wish the "Star Wars R2D2" theme were included.) Other chat buddies can see these, whether they're using an older iteration of OS X or they're using AIM on a Windows PC. iChat enables you to share files as you gab via video, so you and a friend can watch the same movie clip or flip through the same PowerPoint presentation. Photo Booth integrates with iChat, letting you record videos and show off full-screen slide shows.

Mac's new Mail application integrates rich note-taking into e-mail. These notes can serve as scrapbooks containing images. Some 32 e-mail templates enable you to drop in pictures and resize them with a built-in photo browser. Mail's RSS feeds tie into those in Safari. The e-mail application also detects addresses for mapping via Google, as well as contacts for a quick save. Natural language capabilities, similar to those within Gmail, recognize phrases such as "next Saturday" for scheduling. Changes are synchronized between Mail and iCal. Setting up Mail is less complicated than Outlook, and it works with accounts from 27 services, including Yahoo, AOL, and Gmail.

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