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

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

Elsa Wenzel
9 min read


Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

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.

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.

However, we wish we could access RSS feeds from Mail without signing into our e-mail account. We encountered delays with several different Gmail accounts. In one case, the most current Gmail message that loaded in Mail--15 minutes after we had logged in--was from December 2006. We kept leaning on the Get Mail button for an unsatisfactory, slow and incomplete refresh.

Finally, the Safari browser default is tabbed without making you turn on the feature. Safari's cool new Web Clips tool lets you turn any snippet from a Web page into a widget for your Dashboard. Potential plug-ins from third parties that would be nice to have already include the Web Clips feature for the popular Mozilla Firefox browser.

Leopard offers many tie-ins to Web-based content (see the Webware video). Among them is Wikipedia as a new companion to the Dictionary. Although you can access the open-source encyclopedia from the Desktop, no entries are saved locally.

Geotagging is a cool addition to Leopard, enabling you to tie photos to latitude and longitude through built-in GPS on digital cameras so you can put picture galleries on a map.

Leopard offers 17 new features. There's support for Braille output devices as well as contracted and non-contracted Braille. It's the first operating system that can use a Braille display during installation. VoiceOver makes it easier to jump to sections on a Web page, and its preferences can be transported to other Macs. However, for people with repetitive stress injuries, Leopard supports voice-activated commands only--not dictation.

There are updates to less glamorous elements such as Automator and Dashcode, and Network Preferences has been streamlined. Developers can enjoy full 64-bit support, and get to tinker with fun extras, which we wish were integrated already within iChat Theater. ColorSync reads EXIF sRGB data from cameras, and there's support for connecting more cameras via cable or Wi-Fi, and for other gadgets via Bluetooth.

More firewall controls are among several security enhancements to Leopard. Yet the firewall isn't turned on by default, and we consider it vulnerable to outside threats. To fend off Trojans and spoofing attempts, you'll be grilled more when downloading materials. A mechanism called Sandboxing is supposed to prevent potential external threats from hijacking your applications. Parental controls are now featured more prominently in the System and offer content filters, time limits, and Internet activity loggers to keep tabs on young Web surfers.


We saw only a 1 percent to 3 percent improvement with Leopard over Tiger on our performance tests. As this falls within our typical margin of error (5 percent), we saw no significant difference with application performance when moving from Tiger to Leopard.

We were unable to complete our Photoshop CS3 test because our automation routine tests, which typically run fine under Tiger, had problems with Leopard. Adobe's Web site indicates that Photoshop CS3 should be compatible with Leopard--other than the automation snafu, Photoshop CS3 appears to operate normally.

This underlies the point that some applications might not be 100 percent compatible yet with Leopard. For instance, Adobe is rolling out updates to various CS3 image, video and audio editing applications within the next four months. FileMaker is warning users of FileMaker Pro 9 that there are some compatibility problems with Leopard. However, FileMaker expects to have an update available by November 19.

Service and support
Support options remain the same as in the Tiger version. You get 90 days of help free by telephone, as with other products from Apple. Phone support thereafter costs $49 per incident. AppleCare support lasts a year after you buy Leopard. For extra peace of mind, you should consider extended warranties.

Apple also tweaked the Help menus within OS X 10.5. These are arranged well, although they didn't always provide an instant answer. Many items are better explained on Apple's Web site via message boards, user forums, and a well-organized knowledge base.

Boot time (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Note: Note: Apple QuickTime 7.2.1 and Apple iTunes 7.4.2(4)

Quake 4 performance (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,024 x 768 (4x AA, 8x AF)  

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configuration:

Apple Mac Pro
2x2.66GHz Xeon X5355 (note that this is not a production configuration); 2GB 667MHz DDR2 FB-DIMM; 5126MB ATI X1900 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive


Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 8Performance 7Support 7