BitDepth 698 - September 22

The good and the bad about Apple's new software update, Snow Leopard.
What's so great about Snow?

From bottom left; Snow Leopard's large icon view will consume 512 pixels of screen real estate, control of sound outputs from the new sound menu, signal strength and status from the new Airport menu and iTunes, showing off the new dock bezel.

If you've been careful to update your third-party software or are one of the many Mac users who are content with the software that came installed on it, chances are you were able to upgrade to Apple's new operating system, Snow Leopard with no issues. 
If you did, then you'll find very little that's new when your restart into 10.6 for the first time. That's entirely in line with Apple's stated intent to deliver most of the changes in the newest revision of its OS "under the hood."

There are some immediate clues to the changes that have been made though. 
Click on an application or folder icon in the dock for a completely revamped popup style, an semi-transparent HUD display that seems better organised than usual.
Movies playback full screen without the QuickTime Pro tax and you can upload clips directly from YouTube from the new player.

Some changes are annoying. Clicking on an application icon on the dock would bring up a few useful controls and a list of windows associated with that  programme in previous versions of Mac OS X. Now that click puts the windows in a new Expose mode, displaying all windows open in the software in a grid on a translucent black background. To get the old functionality of that single click (on a Macbook's trackpad, for instance), you must option or right click. If you find that annoying, then take some solace by checking the status of your startup disk. Apple's newest OS tends to take up less space than any of its predecessors. My installation freed up an extra 10GB of disk space, wotta development!

What lies just beneath
When you begin to put your Mac through its paces, though, you'll begin to find lots of pleasant surprises. The basic calendaring and address book software that ships with every Mac now can synchronise with Google and Yahoo accounts, previously only possible with third-party solutions.
Apple's been busy adding subtle improvements to basic functions that will eliminate a number of free and cheap products that filled these niches of need.
I was able to dump SoundSource, which allows menubar control of your audio inputs and outputs because Apple's solution added these functions, now accessible with an option click.

The Airport menu, which controls WiFi access, gets long overdue indicators of signal strength and password requirements. This won't replace a dedicated WiFi tool like AirRadar or iStumbler, but it's useful to know what's accessible with a glance.
Open a folder in icon view and push the new slider to the far right and view your icons in their full 512 pixel glory.  I spent a good fifteen minutes admiring the art in application icons that I normally keep quite small. Useless, you say? Well yes, but if you do this with a PDF, movie file, presentation (PowerPoint and Keynote) and Pages document, you can view the content in the folder. Rather unhelpfully, this doesn't work with Word, RTF or text files yet.

And deeper down...
Snow Leopard is the first mainstream OS to ship with built in support for Microsoft Exchange. If your corporation has been laggardly in updating their server software, you're out of luck, only Exchange 2007 is supported.
If you need to copy text out of heavily formatted PDFs, text selection now follows columns more sensibly. Apple's lightweight word processor, TextEdit now supports auto correction and text substitution as well as useful editing tools such as the ability to "smarten" quotes.
Some of the best stuff in 10.6 will sneak up on you. 

Sleep mode is much more responsive, and startup is lightning quick. I'm seeing better memory management generally and faster release of memory into the usable pool when applications are shut down.
Most of the best stuff in 10.6 is like that and much of it is lying idle, waiting for clever programmers. Grand Dispatch Central and OpenCL code await enterprising coders who want to make better use of today's multiprocessor Macs and the powerful graphics processors that spend most of their time dawdling in the average Macintosh.
Software upgrades that fix the most annoying problems have been coming fast over the last two weeks, and the next wave of software that taps into the new engine of Snow Leopard will be very interesting indeed.

BitDepth 697
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