No spots on this Leopard

Leopard is the product name for the fifth release of Apple’s OS X operating system. I was pretty happy with the previous release, so apart from the automatic backup feature known as “Time Machine”, I was unsure as to how much benefit I would derive from the upgrade but it turns out that the little things really do make a difference:

  • The visual appearance has been subtly modernised, keeping OS X at the forefront of sexy computing.
  • The Front Row app, combined with the remote control supplied with new Macs, provides a simple and easy interface to view movies or show off photos. You can do the same with iPhoto and iTunes separately, but Front Row just seems less fiddly… (especially if you install the awesome Perian package so that FR can play additional codecs such as Windows .avi files).
  • Mail now has this awesome feature called data detectors which makes turning emails into calendar events or phone numbers to address book cards a one-click process: click on the phrase “let’s meet Thursday 12th at 1pm” and the little drop down menu can either create a new iCal event pre-filled with the contents of the email, or just show you your calendar for that time.
  • In a similar vein, QuickLook (the ability to rapidly preview files just by hitting the space bar) is the sort of time saving feature that you really miss when using lesser operating systems.
  • There is an ssh-agent included—no more third-party apps required to manage my ssh keys!
  • From reading Mac websites there is this perception that “.0” releases are not for the faint hearted and non-techies should always wait for “.1” before upgrading. I had always regarded this attitude as a little paranoid, but it has to be said that in the three weeks I was running 10.5.0, the Mail application crashed on me twice and once the window manager became completely wedged. Happily 10.5.1 has been a return to form and I have had no problems since.

Of the headline features, Time Machine and screen sharing within iChat are probably the most impressive and a key driver for those of us who are called upon to do Mac tech support. When it works, the implementation of the screen sharing is impressive, but iChat struggles when both computers are behind NAT devices. Similarly, Time Machine mostly “just works” but the default configuration has the caveat of trying to backup everything not included in OS, thus requiring a hard disk at least as big as the one you are backing up. If I trim the configuration to only backup my home directory then I seem to be able to get a couple of months of snapshots onto a partition that is just double the size of my data. Disappointingly, backing up over a network is requires an unsupported hack so hopefully a future update will enable this; it’s probably also worth noting that while backup and restore over the air worked, it was incredibly slow so doing the initial transfer via wired ethernet is a good idea.

Macbook not putting itself to sleep

Buried in the changelog of the latest NetNewsWire release:

Fixed a bug that prevented automatic sleep for some people.

Which is interesting because for some time now my macbook has not been putting itself to sleep after the correct period of idleness (although a manual command to “sleep” worked fine). After shutting down NetNewsWire and leaving my machine idle for 5 minutes, it promptly went to sleep of it own accord. It would be interesting to know the technical details of this one.