"Where’s the beef?" That’s the idiom that jumps to mind as I work my way through Galen Gruman’s "The 7 best features in Mac OS X Snow Leopard." I knew the features list would be lean — Apple has deliberately undersold Snow Leopard by pitching it as a relatively minor release — but please! Gruman’s article reads like a laundry list of borrowed features and derivative works. It’s as if someone at Apple grabbed a copy of the Windows 7 beta and simply Xeroxed the release notes.
64-bitness: Yippee,! Apple finally goes 64-bit — BFD! As a Windows user, I’ve been livin’ la vida 64-bit for more than three years. Vista was the first mainstream desktop OS to deliver a viable 64-bit experience, and Windows 7 has taken this migration further by making it the preferred flavor for business users.
Meanwhile, Apple can’t even deliver a fully 64-bit implementation. Snow Leopard boots into a 32-bit kernel by default — something about a lack of 64-bit device drivers, which is ironic when you consider how small a hardware ecosystem Apple must govern when compared to Microsoft and its burden of having to run on just about anything with an Intel-compatible CPU.
Exposé Dock Integration: This one’s a joke, right? Am I to understand that Apple is just getting around to adding this? Microsoft has been offering this type of functionality (aka thumbnail preview) for years, and Windows 7 has taken the concept further with Aero Peek, Shake, and Snap. It sounds like Apple’s Xerox machine suffered a paper jam with this one — or perhaps it’s just stuck in one of those famous Mac OS X infinite loops.
Expanded PDF Preview: If this constitutes a "feature," then Apple must really be grasping! I mean, Windows has supported PDF file preview — via an installable ifilter module — ever since Desktop Search debuted pre-Vista. In fact, the ability to seamlessly preview third-party content has been a staple of the Windows experience for years. So while I’m glad to see Apple finally getting on the ball with its PDF handling (I hear the updated viewer lets you basically do away with the piggish Adobe Reader for most common tasks), I’m still utterly stunned by the fact that this is even an issue. Provide a free (i.e. not trialware) XPS document viewer with Mac OS X and then maybe I’ll get excited.
3. Automatic location detection
When you travel, it’s easy to get mixed up as to when your appointments are, since your computer is still in your "home" time zone, and you have to mentally calculate the current time when looking at the calendar or clock. Sure, you can change the time zone in the Date & Time system preference, but it’s easy to forget. So Snow Leopard changes the time zone for you automatically (if you set that as the default behavior), using Wi-Fi mapping to figure out where you are — you will need to be connected to a Wi-Fi access point or router. iCal can also be set to adjust the times to the current time zone automatically, so your calendar always reflects the current times.
4. The new Preview is more like Adobe Reader
I have nothing against Adobe Reader, but I love that Preview now can open multiple PDF documents, display their contents as contact sheets, and show thumbnails of pages in a sidebar for easy navigation. In other words, it works a lot like Adobe Reader. That’s one fewer app to launch — and since Preview loads much faster than Reader, I can get to my PDFs’ contents much faster now.
5. Movie and screencast recording
Snow Leopard takes the formerly $35 QuickTime Pro and makes it a standard, free app in Mac OS X. That means you can record movies and — great for many marketing, education, and Web professionals — screencasts from your Mac with no additional software.
6. Systemwide automatic text replacement
Automatic text substitution as you type is nothing new; Microsoft Word has had it for more than a decade. But Snow Leopard lets you specify such substitutions via the Keyboard system preference, so you have a common set of substitutions available to all applications. Right now, only TextEdit, Mail, and various Apple apps use this common auto-text service, but if other software developers adopt it, you may finally get all your text-oriented apps to autocorrect the same way.
7. No more gesture segregation
I have a late-2006 model MacBook Pro at home, and it’s frustrating that its gesture-capable trackpad supports only the first generation of touch gestures (one- and two-finger moves), not the second-generation three- and four-finger options. Snow Leopard fixes that, so gesture-capable trackpads now support all gestures, no matter what Mac model you have. (Of course, your Mac has to have a gesture-capable trackpad, so models before 2006 aren’t helped out by this update.)