Mac OS X Snow Leopard: Perfection, refined

Numerous usability enhancements and important reengineering under the hood make Snow Leopard a worthy update to the king of operating systems

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Snow Leopard still supports Boot Camp, a configuration wizard and driver package that sets up any Mac to boot into native Windows. I have tested Windows 7, including the final retail release, for Boot Camp compatibility across Apple's notebook, desktop, and workstation line. Windows 7 installs without difficulty when you choose Windows Vista as the OS type. VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop, and Sun's VirtualBox all run Windows as a virtual guest of Mac OS X, with hardware acceleration of 3-D graphics. VMware and Parallels will let you use a Boot Camp partition as a virtual drive so that one Windows install will let you run Windows either native or virtually.

Speed with a purpose
As I said, everything about Snow Leopard is noticeably faster. Booting, waking from sleep, shutting down, scrolling in Finder, logging in and out, Quick Look document previews, app launching, PDF rendering, searching with Spotlight, and browsing with Safari rank highly among everyday tasks that run significantly faster in Snow Leopard.

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Finder scales icons and preview thumbnails up to 512 by 512 pixels using the slider at the bottom right of the window. You can page through a PDF or Office doc in its preview thumbnail with the arrow buttons.

In two cases, Finder and QuickTime X, Apple refined by rewriting. Both were redone from scratch using Objective-C 2.0, Grand Central Dispatch, and Apple's latest tools and frameworks. In Leopard and prior releases, Finder was written in C using Carbon libraries and remnants of the Metrowerks PowerPlant runtime, while QuickTime did video and audio "by hand," without leveraging Apple's Core frameworks.

The rewrites are stunning. Finder app and folder icons and file previews are now scalable up to 512 by 512 pixels within Finder's scrollable view using a simple slider. Finder renders previews of images, videos, and PDF, Office, and iWork documents so quickly that there's no need to resort to an external app to manage large collections of files. It's possible to page through a PDF in its preview, without tapping the spacebar to open the larger Quick Look, and leave the PDF preview thumbnail parked on a particular page to compare two documents. Preview and icon scaling happens smoothly and in real time, and it doesn't cheat by resorting to fat pixels. Just drag the slider.

QuickTime X
QuickTime X modernizes and optimizes Mac OS X's media services layer. The new QuickTime Player pops up almost instantly and has a completely new interface. Transport controls overlay the video, fading in when you move the cursor and out again when you point away from the controls. An iPhone 3.0-style filmstrip interface lets you trim clips within Player. Dragging the playback marker across the trim window scrubs the video in real time.

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Snow Leopard's QuickTime X media services are fronted by a new QuickTime Player. Overlaid controls, iPhone-style editing, and a screen recording feature are among the changes.
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