Sunday, September 20, 2009

Apple's Snow Leopard: What's new in OSX 10.6

Image of snow leopard animal (Apple's Snow Leopard)
Apple's new version of Mac OSX, version 10.6 Snow Leopard was recently released. What's changed from the previous 10.5 Leopard release, and why should you upgrade?

The major changes

- 64-bit support has had major efforts put into it. The system kernel along with Standard OS applications such as iTunes have been recompiled for 64bit when processor support is available.

- Streamlined to take up less hard drive space. A normal upgrade from Leopard to Snow Leopard should free up about 7GB. We experienced 10GB being freed up. The extra hard drive space is always welcome.

- Grand Central Dispatch: Apple's new multi-threaded management system aims to maximize performance for programs on multi-core CPUs by giving programmers an efficient thread API. Leaving optimization of core usage to Grand Central Dispatch allows the programmer to concentrate less on optimizing this area themselves.

- OpenCL: The Khronos Group's GPGPU (General Purpose Computing on Graphics Processing Units) specification has been implemented, allowing certain types of applications to benefit from massive speed improvements by offloading tasks to the GPU. Programmable nVidia GeForce or ATI Radeon GPU required.

- QuickTime X is a new version of Apple's video player software taking advantage of the new backend technologies in Snow Leopard.


The minor tweaks

- Exposé can now show all windows from a single app (left click hold the icon in the dock).
- Stacks in the dock (only grid view) will allow descending into subfolders and now include scroll bars.
Tweaked dock stacks with the scroll highlighted and exposé showing its single app focus mode
Tweaked dock stacks with the scroll highlighted and exposé showing its single app focus mode (Apple's Snow Leopard)
[image source apple.com]
- Windows can be minimized into their dock icon.
- CUPS (the open source printing system backend) has been updated.
- Boot/shutdown speed improvements.
- Microsoft Exchange connection support for Mail, Address, Book, iCal. A boon for OSX in the workplace.
- A token anti-malware feature has been implemented.
- Improved Japanese Kanji/Chinese character input system. Allowing you to write the character on a notebook trackpad rather than typing in the romanised representation.


Drawbacks

- Processor support has dwindled, supporting just Intel CPUs and dropping PowerPC (G4, G5).
- Some apps have compatibility issues.

We hope this gives you a quick overview of what to expect should you upgrade. Apple has focused on improving fundamental backend parts of the operating system rather than the GUI in this release, something reflected in the name change of Leopard to Snow Leopard.

With the upgrade version a bargaintastic $29, Leopard users would be well advised to upgrade if their system is still supported by this release. Futhermore, with the upgrade disc reported to work on Tiger (OSX 10.4) also, we expect many users to take advantage of it.


Further reading 
- Apple: Max OS X v10.6: About incompatible software - list of apps with compatibility issues.

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