Friday, October 26, 2007

A Mac with new spots: installing Leopard

A day off sick with a head cold and painful sinuses had one consolation. I had a little time this afternoon to install Leopard - the new version of Mac OS X (which interestingly arrived this morning before it had been officially launched at 6.00pm this evening).

How did the installation go? Well I'm happy to report that it was remarkable for being unremarkable. Just two minor comments: firstly, there was a very long pause (5 minutes perhaps) at the start of the install process proper, when the time remaining said 'calculating' and there was no apparent hard disk or DVD activity - I was beginning to have doubts about whether all was ok before the process sprang into life again (note to Apple: any kind of long and worrying pause like this really should still have some sort of progress indicator no matter how simple). Secondly, the time remaining calculation appeared to have difficulty making its mind up. Initially it said something over three and a half hours and then revised its estimate downwards over the next 30 minutes or so. In the end it took about an hour and a half from start to finish, and that included a long time for install disk verification.

First impression? Well it's fine. It's an operating system which means - in my view - should not be the main event but just get on and do its thing in the background while letting me get on with my work. It looks very nice of course, but so did Tiger. Cosmetically not such a big difference, especially for me since I place the dock on the left rather than at the bottom. (Ergonomically it makes more sense there because a left mouse movement to reach the dock is far easier than a down hand movement.)

The main new feature that I am immediately and gratefully using is called 'spaces'. It is basically the same thing that Linux window managers have had for years - which I have missed since switching (back) to Mac - that means I can open applications across four virtual screens and then quickly switch between them. This is great for me because when writing I like to have Firefox open for web searches, OpenOffice for drawing diagrams, Preview to read pdf papers, BibDesk and TeXShop for the actual writing. A single screen gets pretty crowded. (Of course what I'd really like is a bank of LCD displays so I can see everything at once but - for now - spaces will have to do.)

What else? Well the ability to instantly search and then - again with almost no delay - view the search results with 'cover flow' and the use 'quick look' to review what you find in more detail is terrific. The way that quick look opens everything from powerpoint presentations to movies and allows you to skip through the files with the left and right arrow keys but also scroll up and down individual files is just great. For the first time in 33 years of using computers I really think I don't need to remember filenames anymore. Given that this is still a good old fashioned traditional Unix file system underneath, Leopard is probably as close as you can get to feeling like an associative 'contents addressable' file system.

*Footnote: I returned to Mac earlier this year after a 20 year separation. The first computers at APD (that we didn't design and build ourselves) were 128K Macs in 1985. Lovely machines with a proper windows OS (while the PC was still running DOS) that were used from everything from word processing and accounts to technical drawing.

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