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A week with Leopard

November 4, 2007, 8:33 pm

Since I was sort of taking the week off from posting new material last week, I didn’t write much about my experiences with Mac OS X Leopard, which I put on the Macbook last Monday. The only thing was this report about troubles with Maple 10 on Leopard. As an update to that, I still haven’t gotten Maple 10 to fire up, and Maplesoft seems unwilling or unable to offer any substantive information on what’s happening. I only got one email that said they don’t support Leopard, and that I should reinstall the software. So, not really very helpful, and for all practical purposes the software is MIA.

Apart from that, Leopard has been an overall positive experience. The installation went fine, although stories about getting the Blue Screen of Death had me worried. I haven’t plumbed all 300+ new features of the OS yet, and perhaps I never will. But there are several standout features, which stand out both for their goodness and their not-so-goodness.

From an overall look-and-feel standpoint, Leopard is somewhat uneven but overall the plusses outweigh the minuses. A lot of people are apparently complaining about the semi-transparent task bar, but mine is perfectly legible:

leopard-1.jpg

I’m using the wallpaper that looks like a bunch of rocks; maybe if you use a lighter background it’s harder to see the stuff on your bar. But I don’t have any problems here. Another feature people haven’t liked is the 3D dock. Here’s mine (click to enlarge):

leopard-2.jpg

I don’t see why we needed a 3D dock, but I don’t have much to complain about. I’m not terribly keen on the little glowing blue orbs underneath the active applications; what was wrong with the simple black triangles from Tiger?

The one seriously questionable aspect of the 3D dock, and really one of the biggest flaws in the overall human factors side of Leopard, is the way stacks are represented in the dock. I like the concept of stacks and the visual way they “fan” out files:

leopard-5.jpg

But what I don’t like is how each stack is visually represented by a thumbnail of the most recently-opened file from the stack. Here, for example, are the three stacks I have on my dock. One is for Downloads, another for Research Reading, and another that just goes to my Documents folder. And that’s not in order from left to right.

leopard-3.jpg

The problem with these icons is that there’s no real information conveyed by them. When I look at those three icons, unless I already knew which stack was which or unless I wanted to take the time to hover my cursor over each one, the little picture does not tell me what the stacks are. Is the one on the middle for Downloads, Documents, or Research Reading? Note that the fairly-clear “RTF” label doesn’t help in identifying the stack; all of the three stacks I have are equally likely to be so represented. It would have been much better if there were a way to assign icons, or custom-make icons, for these stacks for quick visual identification. As it is, with my memory being what it is, I am going to have to have very few of these stacks and memorize what order they come in.

Back on the positive side, I’m becoming a big fan of Cover Flow in the revamped Finder:

leopard-4.jpg

It’s a little slow to use Cover Flow because all those images have to be loaded. But the time is made up, for me at least, because I can visually identify the document I want by seeing a thumbnail of it much faster than I can by identifying the file name.

Cover Flow also allows me to use Quick Look which has been a great time-saver for me. I run so many different applications on my Macbook that I frequently end up with two or even three dozen applications open at any given time, which drains the battery and slows the system down. Being able to Quick Look a document lets me peek in and see, literally, if that’s the right one, without actually starting the application that runs it.

Just one question about Quick Look for those who might know: Why doesn’t my Finder window have the little “eye” icon at the top for Quick Look? (See the clickable screenshot above.) All the Finder windows in the tutorials and on the Apple site have this icon. I don’t really need it (just hit space bar for Quick Look) but it makes me paranoid.

This article’s gone on long enough but I am not quite done yet. So later I’ll have a second article and possibly more; the next one will deal with Time Machine and my adventures in setting up and using it.

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