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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Let Apple do it

The upgrade to Snow Leopard couldn't be easier: Pop in the DVD, open the Install Mac OS X app, and let it rip. You can also boot from the installation DVD to perform either a clean or upgrade install. If the install is interrupted or encounters an error, your Mac isn't left in an unusable limbo. If something goes wrong, just repeat the install from the beginning.

Installation is much quicker than before, and disk requirements have dropped substantially. Snow Leopard's installed footprint is about 7GB smaller than Leopard's. Internationalization data is compressed on disk to save space, and Snow Leopard installs a more limited set of default printer drivers based on detected and popular devices. Apple will automatically download basic printer drivers through Software Update the first time you try to access a new printer.

Dock icon context menus have a clearer, more modern, heads-up display.

After you get Snow Leopard installed, it pretty much takes care of itself. Apple's Software Update service keeps up with the latest fixes and enhancements, and it maintains the internal catalog of malware signatures against which Snow Leopard checks new applications before their first execution. This extends the protections built into Leopard and Safari against suspicious Web sites and software downloads.

Windows, take it or leave it

The timing of Apple's release of Snow Leopard nearly coincides with Microsoft's delivery of Windows 7, so comparison is unavoidable. Personally, I like Windows 7, despite the hassle of having to do multiple clean installs. It thoroughly obsoletes Windows XP and shows Vista to be a poorly planned and bloated mistake. If you own a PC of any type, Windows 7 is the OS to run on it.

That said, will Snow Leopard cause more habitual commercial and professional PC buyers to divert their investments to Macs? Yes. I'd like to say it's because more organizations are enlightened to the markedly increased worker productivity and creativity the Mac brings to the table, but the uptick in commercial Mac uptake will have more to do with Microsoft Exchange.

Apple tantalizes PC shops with Snow Leopard's integrated Mail, Address Book, and iCal client support for Exchange Server. These are already gorgeous apps, tightly integrated with one another, but now they're enterprise-ready. The Mac exposes collaboration as system services, so applications and scripts that look up contacts, send or search e-mail, or deal with appointments gain access to Exchange without having to be written for it. Snow Leopard uses Outlook Web Access to hook into Exchange Server 2007. Setup is fully automated; all the user needs to know is the server's URL and their login credentials.

No more mysteriously clingy external and network storage. If you want it to disconnect, you've got it.
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