Although positioned as an under-the-hood upgrade to Leopard, Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard offers a lot of changes on the surfaces as well. UPDATED: 27 August 2009.

Under the hood, Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard offers a 64-bit OS for faster processing and greater memory access, support for multicore processing via Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL, and faster Java and QuickTime performance. These features, combined with the low upgrade price of £25, make Snow Leopard the biggest no-brainer of an upgrade since Mac OS X 10.1.

Do note that Snow Leopard does away with two old Apple technologies. It no longer supports the long-waning AppleTalk network protocol, and it won't run on PowerPC-based Macs. If you have PowerPC apps (such as the Microsoft Office Update utility), note they will run if you have Apple's Rosetta technology installed. Snow Leopard does not install Rosetta automatically, but you can install it using the Optional Packages installer on the Snow Leopard installation DVD.

If you're not sure whether your computer can run Snow Leopard, click on the Apple menu and check "About This Mac." If your processor is a PowerPC G4 or G5, your Mac cannot be updated with the new OS. Snow Leopard still runs older PowerPC-based applications, but it will not boot a PowerPC-based Mac.

For everyone else with Intel-based hardware, Apple requires 5GB of available disk space, 1GB RAM, and an optical disk drive capable of reading DVDs (or, in the case of the MacBook Air, a DVD drive accessible via Remote Disk).

Installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

Unlike previous editions of Mac OS X, which could be freely installed on any old Mac so long as it met the system requirements, Snow Leopard's licence specifically limits it to users who are already using Leopard, which has been shipping since October 2007.

If you are a Leopard user, you can upgrade a single Mac for £25, or up to five Macs in one household with the Snow Leopard Family Pack for £39.

Users of Tiger - essentially people who bought Intel Macs before Leopard was released and never upgraded - are supposed to purchase the Mac Box Set, which includes Snow Leopard, iLife '09, and iWork '09, for £129.

To compare: Microsoft's Windows 7 Ultimate upgrade costs £199, and the full version is £229 (there's no Family Pack for the Ultimate edition). Why compare Apple's latest with Ultimate? Because on the Windows side, Ultimate is the full-featured version. Snow Leopard comes in just one full-featured version.

Windows 7 review

Apple continues to rely on the honour system for Mac OS X. Not only does Snow Leopard not require the entry of any serial numbers, but the standard version of Snow Leopard is a bootable "full install" disc that doesn't actually check for the presence of Leopard in order to install.

Install Snow Leopard

This also means that if, at a later time, you want to wipe your hard drive and reinstall Snow Leopard, you won't have to first install Leopard and then run a separate Snow Leopard upgrade on top of it.

(It also means that Tiger users could install Snow Leopard directly onto their Macs without first installing Leopard via OS X 10.5 discs or the Mac Box Set. However, this would go against the terms of Apple's Snow Leopard software licence.)

The Snow Leopard installation process is different from previous OS X installers. Rather than requiring an immediate restart, a lot of it takes place as soon as you double-click the installer.

After choosing where to install the new OS, Snow Leopard will copy a large chunk of the data needed for installation from the DVD to your hard drive.

That helps speed up the whole process - Apple says it's 45 percent faster than the old installation routine because the installer reads the data copied to your hard drive rather directly from the DVD.

About halfway through the installation, the Mac reboots and finishes up the task at hand. You may notice that the screen goes dark during the installation. That's because the whole process is automated and you don't have to monitor what's happening. If you move the mouse or touch the trackpad, the screen wakes up and you can see where things stand.

In previous versions of OS X, you had the option of installing drivers for the printers of particular vendors. But Snow Leopard doesn't work that way. Instead, it automatically installs drivers for printers your computer has used in the past. If you're on a network, it installs drivers for the connected printers it finds out there, too. And it installs drivers for printers Apple considers popular.

Because it removes all of the old operating system files - in previous OS X upgrades they used to go into a "Previous System" folder - hundreds of megabytes, if not gigabytes, of space are freed up.

The OS also takes up less room because the Universal code that was built into Tiger and Leopard to run PowerPC Macs is no longer needed, since Snow Leopard is Intel-only. According to Apple, most users will gain back 6GB of space.

If you choose to customize your installation, you'll notice that the installation of printer drivers is entirely different in Snow Leopard. Turns out most of us are wasting gigabytes of hard-drive space on printer drivers that we don't need.

Custom Install Snow Leopard

What happens if you encounter a strange, new printer? If you've got an Internet connection at that moment, you shouldn't have much trouble: Snow Leopard will automatically download and install the drivers it needs.

If you really need bullet-proof, instantaneous compatibility with a vast array of printers, you can opt to install all the drivers - you just won't realize the disk-space savings you might have otherwise.

There are some other notable options in the customized installation window.

Snow Leopard Rosetta

Rosetta, the technology that enables code compiled for PowerPC chips to run on Intel chips, is available - but is not installed by default. Rosetta only takes up a few megabytes of drive space, and without it older programs simply won't run, so if you have such programs, that option is worth checking. To find out if an App is PowerPC only, select an old app and choose Get Info; if its Kind is listed as Application (PowerPC), it needs Rosetta.

Does Adobe CS3 work with Snow Leopard?

Which apps don't work with Snow Leopard?

If you don't, and if you later try to launch a PowerPC app, Snow Leopard will pop up a window to explain that you need Rosetta and offer to install it for you (via Apple's Software Update utility).

Another technology making a surprise appearance in the installation-options list is QuickTime. No, QuickTime hasn't suddenly become optional in Snow Leopard. But Snow Leopard's new QuickTime Player is as radical a departure from the old model as iMovie '08 was from iMovie HD: it's a complete reimagining of the app, one that strips away many features that many of us find useful.

If the Mac you're upgrading to Snow Leopard includes a QuickTime Pro key, you'll find that QuickTime Player 7 is still on your Mac, but has been moved to the /Applications/Utilities folder. If you don't have a QuickTime Pro key but still want access to the classic QuickTime 7 player, you'll need to do a custom install in order to get it.

Snow Leopard Wallpaper

NEXT: Snow Leopard: Look and feel >>

Quick Links:

2. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Look and feel

3. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Speed and stability

4. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Application tweaks

5. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: QuickTime Player X

6. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Security

7. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Nice touches

8. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: More tweaks

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Look and feel

Unlike previous OS X updates, which offered major new additions or modifications to the Mac interface, Snow Leopard looks largely the same as Leopard.

There's been no radical rethink of the colour scheme or toolbars and menu items. However, Apple has done some functional tweaking, most particularly with the Dock and Exposé.

Snow Leopard Finder

If Snow Leopard is all about keeping outward appearances the same while making big changes under the hood, the Finder is the epitome of the new OS.

The original Finder was built back in the early days of system development using the Carbon development frameworks; the main goal then was to ease the transition from the classic Mac OS to Mac OS X.

Almost every app in Snow Leopard is now 64-bit-capable; that means old apps that relied on Carbon frameworks had to be rewritten using Cocoa.

Snow Leopard Desktop

And that's what Apple has done to the Finder - though you wouldn't know from looking at it.

It still looks the same and behaves the same, but it is not the same. The new Finder supports all of the core technologies in Snow Leopard, including full 64-bit support, better live preview of files, and Grand Central Dispatch.

The result is a Finder that is much more fluid with animations and much more responsive, and doesn't become hung up if, for example, network shares inadvertently become disconnected.

The Finder has learned a few other tricks. It has the ability to restore files to their original folders, which is useful if you moved a document to the Trash and want to quickly return it from whence it came.

Larger icon sizes up to 512 x 512 pixels are now supported, which is good for aging eyes and the ever-increasing resolution of modern monitors.

You can change search locations in Finder preferences and permanently sort results the way you want.

And when you click the oval button in the upper right-hand corner of a Finder window - you need to be viewing files as icons - you get a slick animation that minimizes the window size and prominently displays a slider used to increase the size of the icons. (Icons can also be resized using the pinch gesture on Apple's laptop trackpads.)

The Finder also now displays a hard drive's calculated size differently than before, to better correspond to marketing labels on hard drives. In other words, a 500GB drive now indicates there's 500GB of space, not 465GB. You don't really have new space, just a more consistent way of calculating it.

Apple says the Finder should feel more responsive now that it's running in 64-bit mode and takes better advantage of multiple processor cores due to its use of Grand Central Dispatch.

The Finder still has its occasional hiccups, but Apple has done a good job of making it more efficient.

And Apple has finally got the behaviour of the oblong button at the top right corner of the window bar right - it makes the toolbar and sidebar vanish with a neat animated effect, but otherwise leaves the window looking just like it did before.

Snow Leopard Dock

Snow Leopard Dock

Snow Leopard's Dock, which underwent a face-lift in Leopard, appears unchanged at first glance.

The Dock's preference pane now sports an option called "Minimize windows into application icon," which does exactly that. Normally, minimized windows are stored on the same side of the Dock divider - with this option selected, minimized windows slide into their Dock icon instead, reducing Dock clutter.

Dock Windows

Clicking an application's Dock icon brings up the first window minimized, but clicking and holding on the Dock icon reveals another new trick: built-in Exposé.

Exposé is a window-management feature (available since 2003) that allows a user to quickly locate an open window. With a button press or a gesture, all open windows shrink to fit the screen so you can select the one you want.

Dock Expose

Click and hold an app's icon in the Dock to see any windows belonging to that app, even if they're minimized. You can also press the Command and Tab keys to move to the next application, whose open windows spring into view.

With Snow Leopard, the Dock has picked up the ability to display windows belonging to a single application; just click and hold the corresponding Dock icon for that app. Doing so darkens the screen and gathers any windows belonging to the application, à la Exposé - even if there are minimized windows.

The Dock now sports a sleeker-looking contextual menu with white text on a semi-transparent black background. The Keep in Dock, Open at Login, and Show in Finder menu options have been consolidated into an Options submenu, but Quit and Hide are still easily clickable, and multiple windows that are in use by the app still display. (It looks good, and Apple should have extended the new Dock menu look to contextual menus.)

Drilling through folders in the Dock is easier, too. You can scroll through items using Grid view.

Snow Leopard Dock

The Dock has a new look, with slicker menus. Common options are now in the Options submenu, making initial menus less cluttered.

Snow Leopard Stacks

The Dock's Stacks feature is now a lot more useful. You can now scroll through Stacks when in Grid view. That enables you to see much more of what's in a particular folder - which helps a lot if your Stacks folders contain lots of items.

Snow Leopard Stacks

You can also click on a folder to drill down into its contents, displayed right within Stacks. It's been enough to make me actually use Stacks' Grid view regularly for the first time, with my Downloads folder.

Snow Leopard Minimize Windows

Snow Leopard still minimizes windows the same stupid way Mac OS X has for the past ten years. Happily, there's a new alternative: A Minimize Windows Into Application Icon checkbox in System Preferences' Dock pane.

With that box checked, when you click on that yellow button, your window will still fly away into the Dock. But instead of disappearing into the mess on the right, it will minimize into the icon of the application it belongs to.

That makes it easy to bring the window back. (Minimized windows are indicated in most programs by a diamond in an app's Window menu; you can see that same list by Control-clicking on the app's icon in the Dock.)

Even better, this feature works with Exposé: When you invoke Exposé, all minimized windows line up together at the very bottom of the screen.

When you click and hold on an app's icon in the Dock, Exposé displays all its open windows. (Minimized windows appear below the faint line separating the top and bottom of the screen.)

Snow Leopard Exposé

Exposé's been improved, too. My favourite addition is that, when you click and hold on an app's icon in the Dock (see above), Exposé displays all the windows belonging to a given app.

For people who use the mouse more than the keyboard, it's much more natural than fumbling for a function key.

Snow Leopard Expose

It even works via drag and drop: Drag an item onto an app's Dock item and hover there for a split second, and Exposé kicks in. You can drag your item over a particular window, which will bring it to the foreground. Then you can drag and drop that item wherever you want it within that window. It's a smart addition that makes Exposé much more of a productivity boost.

Quick Links:

1. Installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

3. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Speed and stability

4. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Application tweaks

5. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: QuickTime Player X

6. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Security

7. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Nice touches

8. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: More tweaks

NEXT: Snow Leopard: Speed and stability >>

Although positioned as an under-the-hood upgrade to Leopard, Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard offers a lot of changes on the surfaces as well.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Speed and stability

Most of the time, software upgrades add new features at the expense of speed. But since Snow Leopard was announced, Apple has repeatedly said that this update is about not just fixing bugs and making tweaks, but improving performance.

When it comes to speed, there are actually two Snow Leopard stories. One is about the speed boosts the system provides today. The other is about the potential speed boosts that users may see in the future, as both software and hardware continue to evolve.

Let's start with the present. Macworld Lab compared Leopard to Snow Leopard in 16 different speed tests on three different systems. On half of our tests, Snow Leopard showed definite speed improvements when compared to Leopard.

Among the tests that Snow Leopard outperformed Leopard on were a Time Machine backup (Snow Leopard was 32 percent faster on average at that task than Leopard), shutdown time, encoding a video file in H.264 format, scrolling a PDF in Preview, running the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark test, zipping a 2GB folder, importing photos into iPhoto, and scrolling a document in Pages.

In two other tests, Leopard was slightly faster than Snow Leopard; in the rest, the results were either a mixed bag or identical between operating systems.

My subjective experience using Snow Leopard for several weeks is essentially consistent with those lab results. Some tasks simply feel faster in Snow Leopard than in Leopard, while others seem no different at all. In general, I think most users will find that Snow Leopard feels faster and runs smoother than its predecessor.

Snow Leopard 64-bit computing

The use of 64-bit computing will greatly improve the capabilities of computers. For example, 32-bit software can access only 4 GB of RAM at a time; 64-bit computing expands that ceiling to 16 exabytes. That's 16 billion gigabytes.

Plus, 64-bit applications run faster on computers with Intel Core 2 Duo or Xeon processors. They can crunch 64-bit code twice as fast per clock cycle as computers running in 32-bit.

Apple touts Snow Leopard as being first Mac OS to finally support 64-bit from top to bottom, although the default kernel status for all consumer Macs is the 32-bit kernel. Snow Leopard supports 64-bit applications even while running 32-bit drivers. Basically, whether the machine is booted into the 32-bit kernel or the 64-bit kernel, any application that can run at 64-bit will run in that mode automatically.

By having Snow Leopard boot into the 32-bit kernel, Apple improves software compatibility. That's because kernel extensions must match the kernel's mode, or they don't work. While Apple did a fine job porting over its native applications for 64-bit compatibility, there are still some third-party vendors that haven't released updates for their software (such as the aforementioned Cisco VPN software) yet.

Snow Leopard: new technologies

In the future, however, the software than runs on Snow Leopard has the potential to become dramatically faster. That's because Apple has provided two technologies for software developers that should enable them to give their apps a speed boost, provided they put in the work to take advantage of the new technologies.

Snow Leopard OpenCL

One technology new to Snow Leopard is the OpenCL standard, which promises to speed things up without any changes to your hardware needed.

While CPU manufacturers have shifted from increasing processor clock speeds to adding more cores to processors, graphics chip makers have continued pushing the boundaries to boost the processing power behind their graphics cards.

Years ago, Apple began offloading animation effects from the CPU to the graphics processing unit (GPU), freeing up the main processors for actual data-crunching.

Every version of Mac OS X in recent years has increasingly utilized the GPU for computationally expensive tasks. In 2006, Apple unveiled Core Image and Core Animation with Mac OS X 10.4, technologies that allow real-time image and video effects to be handled by the graphics cards.

With Snow Leopard, Apple takes GPU acceleration to another level by developing and publishing an open standard to offload even more work to GPUs.

Enter OpenCL, a language and runtime framework that allows developers to crunch any data-parallel algorithms on any free processing core, automatically, without needing to code for specific circumstances.

The best part for Mac owners is that OpenCL works with all GPUs and CPUs available in Apple's current line-up. The best part for developers is that only the most performance-intensive aspects of their software need be rewritten to take advantage of the new technology.

While OpenCL bridges the gap between software and the available processing cores on a computer, the new problem is how to account for all these cores and software instruction threads.

Snow Leopard Grand Central Dispatch

That's where Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) comes in. Grand Central Dispatch is the foundation for keeping everything running smoothly; it acts like a built-in air traffic control centre, dynamically adjusting computer workload based on available hardware and resources.

If the resources are available, GCD speeds things up. If the computer is busy, GCD backs off. In concert with OpenCL and 64-bit, Grand Central Dispatch should lead to a big jump in performance and optimization as applications are updated.

In truth, neither of these features is a reason to buy Snow Leopard today. But they will help make the next Mac you buy be much faster than it would have been otherwise.

Snow Leopard stability

Generally every major operating-system upgrade steps forward in terms of features and backward in terms of stability. Apple's engineers have had nearly two years to wring the bugs out of Leopard; the new features introduced in Snow Leopard will have no doubt introduced some new ones.

But I'm happy to report that, in general, Snow Leopard seems as stable as it seems fast. Yes, I did see a few crashes from Safari, and I also experienced more crashes in Mail than I had experienced when using Leopard. Presumably Apple will address these sorts of bugs with forthcoming updates to Snow Leopard, but stability issues have never made me feel regret about switching from Leopard to Snow Leopard.

Quick Links:

1. Installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

2. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Look and feel

4. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Application tweaks

5. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: QuickTime Player X

6. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Security

7. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Nice touches

8. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: More tweaks

NEXT: Snow Leopard: Application tweaks >>

Although positioned as an under-the-hood upgrade to Leopard, Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard offers a lot of changes on the surfaces as well.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Application tweaks

Mac OS X ships with about four dozen applications and utilities, large and small, that form the foundation of the Mac user experience. Most of them have been tweaked, at least a little bit, in Snow Leopard.

Snow Leopard Preview

The biggest changes are probably in Preview, Apple's catch-all utility for viewing images and PDFs.

Snow Leopard's updates to Preview include improved selection of text within PDFs, especially those with multiple columns of text. There's also a new Annotations toolbar for users who need to mark up PDFs with comments.

Snow Leopard Preview

The Preview application can now open multiple PDF files, as well as display a PDF's contents in a contact sheet view. Other Preview changes include thumbnail views, "soft proofing" views, and auto-sizing of the PDF contents to fit the Preview window.

Snow Leopard Text Substitutions

Several programs - including TextEdit, Mail, and iChat - can take advantage of a new systemwide Substitutions service that can autocorrect common mistakes (think teh to the), convert straight quotes to curly and vice versa, and turn double-minuses and triple-periods into em dashes and ellipses, respectively.

Snow Leopard Substitutions

Even better, a tab in the Keyboard pane of the System Preferences app lets you add shortcuts of your own.

Snow Leopard Safari 4

Snow Leopard ships with Safari 4, the latest version of its Web browser.

That version has been available for Leopard for some time now, but in Snow Leopard it runs in 64-bit mode, which accelerates some JavaScript math routines.

More importantly, Apple says that browser plug-ins such as Flash run as separate processes within Safari on Snow Leopard, meaning that plug-in errors won't kill your whole browser.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Safari 4

Apple Safari 4 - which was released earlier this summer and is installed with Snow Leopard - has a new Top Sites view that shows previews of the web pages you frequent.

Safari now runs in 64-bit mode, even if the kernel is in 32-bit mode. And it's fast.

I saw recent reports that Google's Chrome browser is the fastest browser on a Mac, so I did a quick test using the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark.

In my results, Opera 10 was the slowest, Firefox 3.5 was faster, and Chrome was faster still, but it runs in 32-bit mode. Safari was tops in terms of speed.

And Safari now runs plug-ins like Flash in a sandbox - that is, its own memory space - so if a site playing a Flash movie crashes, the browser doesn't crash with it. Anything that adds stability like this to a browser is good.

Easier event editing in iCal

In addition to its support for Exchange 2007, iCal gets a welcome interface tweak.

When Apple introduced the version that shipped with Leopard, many Mac users were upset that editing an event appeared to be a two-step process: Double-click on the event to view an Info window and then click an Edit button within that window to actually move to a window that displays editable text. (In truth, you could cut to the chase by selecting the event and pressing Command-E.)

Snow Leopard iCal

Still, it was a big-enough complaint that Apple's done something about it. You can now open an event-editing window by double-clicking on an event. To turn this feature on, choose iCal: Preferences, select the Advanced preference, and enable the Open Events in Separate Windows option.

If you'd prefer to not have little windows popping up every time you double-click on an event, you have another option as well: a new Inspector pane that gives you instant access to any selected event. To use it, choose Edit: Show Inspector. A floating window will appear. Now when you click on an event, its details appear in the inspector and are fully editable.

Additionally, Snow Leopard's iCal includes a new way to set up an iCal server account. Open iCal's preferences, select the Accounts tab, and click the plus-sign (+) at the bottom of the window. An Add An Account sheet appears and walks you through the process of setting up a CalDAV, Exchange 2007, Google, or Yahoo account.

Web-savvy Address Book

Snow Leopard Address Book

Yes you can copy and paste URLs into Address Book, but in Snow Leopard you have another option. As long as you already have the Web page open in Safari, you can open the contact's card in Address Book and choose Card: Add URL From Safari. Address Book will paste the address of the frontmost Safari page into a new URL field.

More informative backups with Time Machine

Under Leopard, if you were curious as to what Time Machine was up to, you could click on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and learn what Time Machine was doing prior to it backing up your data-Calculating Changes, for example.

Snow Leopard Time Machine

Under Snow Leopard, you see this same information, but also a percentage calculation-Calculating Changes (12%), for example. This could be useful if a process is taking a long time and you're wondering whether to stop it so that you can shut down your Mac or put it to sleep.

Spotlight tweaks

Snow Leopard Spotlight

Apple's Spotlight search utility, the key feature in Mac OS X 10.4, receives only minor improvements this time around. In the Finder's Preferences window, you can change the default scope of a search from systemwide to the current folder you're in.

At last, you can set the viewing options for the Spotlight window in the Finder, so you can display the date and time a document was created or modified, not just the last time it was opened. You can also sort on those fields.

Quick Links:

1. Installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

2. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Look and feel

3. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Speed and stability

5. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: QuickTime Player X

6. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Security

7. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Nice touches

8. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: More tweaks

NEXT: Snow Leopard: QuickTime Player X >>

Although positioned as an under-the-hood upgrade to Leopard, Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard offers a lot of changes on the surfaces as well.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: QuickTime Player X

Apple's QuickTime Player, long a stalwart tool for playing back audio and video, has been completely revamped for Snow Leopard.

This new QuickTime Player X app lacks so many of the features of the previous version that Apple has made QuickTime Player 7 optionally available as a separate installation.

Apple says the new QuickTime Player is focused on media playback, and it boasts about the new interface.

That interface is actually almost nonexistent: Open a movie and you'll see it appear all by itself, with only a small black window bar at the top to indicate its name.

When you play the video, the interface fades completely away, leaving you with a movie playing all by itself on your screen. All the playback controls - volume, forward, play, reverse, full screen, and a scrubbing bar - are located in a floating palette within the movie itself.

QuickTime Player X

It's a nice interface if you're running in full-screen mode, but it's an utter disaster otherwise. Any alteration to your settings, including a slight increase or decrease in volume, makes that floating palette and the window bar appear, obscuring some of your video. (And on small movies, it obscures a lot of your video.)

Every time I wanted to make my video louder or quieter, even via a keyboard shortcut, that floater appeared - and then remained for a second or two until finally fading away. Contrast this to the old QuickTime player, which (when not in full-screen mode) placed all of your controls right below the video, where you could get at them without actually obscuring what you were watching.

I'm all for getting the controls out of a user's way when you're viewing something in full-screen mode. But when I'm watching something that's mixed in with all of my other Mac's windows, I'd rather the movie look like a window, not some anonymous video escapee with no window bar to call its own.

Despite its focus on playback, QuickTime Player X does offer some editing tools. There's trimming, but it's extremely basic, no more complicated than what you'll find on the iPhone, where you can set start and end points.

QuickTime X's Sharing feature is also far more limited than what you used to get with QuickTime Pro: you can choose from three video-export presets, or share files with MobileMe or YouTube. In general, if you've ever used QuickTime Pro to cut up, export, or massage media, you'll be disappointed by QuickTime X.

QuickTime X also includes new recording features, letting you grab the contents of your computer screen and save it to a QuickTime movie.

QuickTime X failed completely when I tried to capture my MacBook Air screen, despite the fact that I've successfully captured video on this same system using both Ambrosia Software's Snapz Pro X and Telestream's ScreenFlow.

H.264 media plays without slowing down the Mac, using full hardware acceleration for playback and real-time video manipulation.

For instance, holding down Shift and minimizing a currently playing movie shows the active video being squeezed and transformed in slow motion without stuttering or loss of quality; processor usage doesn't even blink under those normally stressful conditions.

The QuickTime X application can now record audio and video from connected microphones and cameras (and the hardware built into Apple's portables and display hardware), and screen captures can be done within the program.

Like Safari 4, QuickTime X also supports the media streaming capabilities of HTML 5, dynamically adjusting playback quality on the fly for optimal viewing under static or changing conditions. It's also possible to share movies and audio to iTunes, YouTube, and MobileMe directly from the Share menu.

Quick Links:

1. Installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

2. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Look and feel

3. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Speed and stability

4. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Application tweaks

6. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Security

7. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Nice touches

8. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: More tweaks

NEXT: Snow Leopard security >>

Although positioned as an under-the-hood upgrade to Leopard, Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard offers a lot of changes on the surfaces as well.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Security

A stealth feature of Snow Leopard is its limited ability to check downloaded files for known malware, the catch-all name for evil software such as viruses and trojan-horse programs.

While malicious software has long been a near-daily annoyance for Windows PCs, Mac users have become accustomed to not worrying about malware. Threats arise from time to time, but most Mac users these days are probably running computers without antivirus software.

Apple has encouraged that habit, too, by frequently touting the Mac's resistance to malware in its advertising materials, especially when compared to Windows.

Snow Leopard Security

But with the release of Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), Apple has finally decided to subtly step up its fight against malware, much as it has done in the past with antiphishing features in Safari. For the first time, the Mac OS contains a built-in system that detects malicious software and attempts to protect users from inadvertently damaging their computers.

Beginning with Mac OS X 10.4, Apple built a download validation system called File Quarantine into its operating system. In OS X 10.5 (Leopard), this manifested most frequently as a dialog box that popped up when a user first opened a file that was downloaded from the Internet via Mail, Safari, or iChat.

The warning revealed which application downloaded the file, from what site, and at what time. It gave the user the option to continue opening the file, to cancel, or to view the Web page from which it had been downloaded.

In Snow Leopard, Apple has enhanced File Quarantine to also check files against known malware, pulling from a list of malware definitions at System/Library/Core Services/CoreTypes.bundle/Contents/Resources/XProtect.plist.

As of this writing, the file contains only two definitions: the OSX.RSPlug.A Trojan Horse, first discovered in 2007, and the OSX.iService malware embedded in the pirated iWork installer mentioned earlier. However, Apple told Macworld that the list of definitions can be updated via Software Update.

If you try to open an infected file, Snow Leopard will present you with a stronger warning, saying that the file may damage your computer and suggesting that you move it to the Trash.

As with the download validation dialog box, you have the option to continue or cancel, but if the file is on a disk image, there's a button to eject the image; if, on the other hand, the file is already on your hard drive, that button instead invites you to move the file to the Trash.

If you've enabled Safari's Open "Safe" Files After Downloading preference, you will automatically be prompted with the dialog box when the download completes and the file opens. Unlike the more general warning, the malware warning doesn't disappear after the first instance; it will reappear each time you open the file.

File Quarantine seems to serve mainly as a gatekeeper for files downloaded from untrusted sources: think of it as a layer between the user and the untamed wilds of the Internet. Snow Leopard defines an expanded list of applications for which it "quarantines" downloaded files (marking that they've been downloaded from the Internet).

So if you download a file via your Web browser (including Safari, Internet Explorer, Firefox, OmniWeb, Opera, Mozilla, Camino, and more) or an email client (Mail, Entourage, or Thunderbird) or you receive a file via iChat, then it will be checked for malware when you open it.

However, if you grab an infected file from another source, such as an FTP site, a file-sharing service like BitTorrent, or a program that's not covered by Apple's system, then you're out of luck - the system won't detect it.

Most important, Apple's system appears to contain no way to clean malicious software off your Mac after it's been infected. For that, it seems you'll still need to turn to third-party antivirus products.

Does Snow Leopard security work?

In our tests, the malware system successfully detected the OSX.RSPlug Trojan horse upon trying to open a file infected with it. The dialog box appeared regardless of whether the file was located on a disk image or the computer's hard disk, as long as the file had been downloaded onto that computer via one of the applications that Apple's system checks.

Because Apple uses the extended attribute (which stores metadata about the file) to record the information about malware, that information can actually travel from Mac to Mac.

However, whether the metadata remains with the file depends on exactly how the file is transmitted. If it's copied via OS X's file system - to a flash drive, for example, or via the Finder's built-in file sharing - then the malware mark will stay emblazoned on the file like Hester Prynne's big red A.

However, if you transfer the file through another method - say, via FTP - that metadata will be lost. (There is one exception: zipping the file using OS X's built-in compression tools will keep the quarantine attribute present even if you transfer the file via FTP.)

Of course, malware protection is only as good as its definitions. It's unknown how often Apple plans to update the virus definitions in Snow Leopard: such updates could be bundled into Security Updates and point releases the way that security patches currently are, either on an ad hoc basis as new threats arise or as a more regular set of updates delivered through Software Update.

Apple has been criticized in the past for its sluggish response to security threats, so how it will handle this new system remains to be seen.

Is Snow Leopard ultra safe?

Now that OS X has built-in malware support, what does that mean for Mac users? Well, here are a few things it doesn't mean.

It doesn't mean that a flood of malware will suddenly overwhelm Mac OS X.

Yes, Apple's integration of an anti-malware system is a tacit admission that Mac OS X is far from immune to malicious software, but the company's response is more a prudent precaution than a reaction to an impending tide of evil software.

It also doesn't mean that Mac users can go about downloading files willy-nilly, with no regard for safety. As always, every computer user, regardless of their computing platform, should take certain precautions: download files from trusted sources; don't open email attachments from unknown senders; make sure you assign strong passwords to your accounts.

Malware prevention software can keep you from being caught unaware, but it doesn't give you carte blanche to be irresponsible, any more than having a car alarm means you should go out of your way to park your car in a dangerous neighbourhood.

And it doesn't mean that third-party antivirus software makers like Symantec and Intego are going out of business. That's often a concern when Apple jumps into an established software field, but as the company told Macworld: "The feature isn't intended to replace or supplant antivirus software, but affords a measure of protection against the handful of known Trojan horse applications that exist for the Mac today."

Snow Leopard's protection is more of a preventive measure than a cure for malware.

In sum, this added security is a good thing for most Mac users, especially those who have long eschewed antivirus software: we now have an additional level of protection that we didn't have before. It's not bulletproof, but the next time you look a gift horse in the mouth, at least you'll know whether it's full of Greek warriors.

Fine-tuned security settings

Snow Leopard Security password

You've long been able to have your Mac require a password after waking from sleep or the screen saver, but it's always been an all-or-nothing setting - you needed to type in your password even if your screensaver kicked in just seconds before.

Snow Leopard finally provides some flexibility: you can specify how long after putting your Mac to sleep, or activating the screen saver, the password requirement kicks in: immediately or after a period of time you choose. There are also new firewall options, including the ability to automatically allow connections to signed software (those signed by a valid certificate authority).

Quick Links:

1. Installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

2. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Look and feel

3. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Speed and stability

4. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Application tweaks

5. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: QuickTime Player X

7. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Nice touches

8. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: More tweaks

NEXT: More Snow Leopard tweaks >>

Although positioned as an under-the-hood upgrade to Leopard, Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard offers a lot of changes on the surfaces as well.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Nice touches

Snow Leopard Eject

Snow Leopard makes it a lot easier to eject mounted volumes, and when it fails, it lets you know which app is the culprit.

Ejecting disks is much easier now, and given that I connect to an external drive every day at work, I know the pain of trying to dismount that volume only to be told that something, somewhere on my Mac, believes that my external drive is vitally important and is clinging to it like a child does a security blanket.

Snow Leopard Eject

Now when you try to eject a disk, its Finder icon dims and the system sends a message telling all running apps that they should let go unless they've got a really good reason not to.

Most of the time, the result is a clean ejection moments later. But if, for example, iTunes is playing music from that drive, the system instead will display a helpful window telling me that it can't eject the disk and naming iTunes as the culprit, allowing me to decide if it's more important to eject the disk or keep the music playing.

Snow Leopard Sleep

As a full-time MacBook user, I'm endlessly putting my Mac to sleep and waking it back up. In Leopard (and previous OS X versions), mounted servers generally didn't withstand the wake-up process. Leopard was nicer about it than previous versions; the old OSs tended to hang my Mac for half a minute before declaring that my server had vanished (which it hadn't), while Leopard just displayed an alert announcing that some servers had gone away.

Snow Leopard handles this situation a lot better. That alert window still appears - but as it sits there, Snow Leopard is attempting to reconnect to those servers, to bring me back to where I was before I so cruelly closed the lid of my laptop. And generally it works like a charm, reuniting me with my servers without forcing me to reconnect to them.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Sleep

Snow Leopard is also much smarter when it comes to sharing files with sleeping Macs. If you're on a network with an AirPort base station or a Time Capsule, Snow Leopard will work with those devices to wake up when another Mac wants to share files, and then put itself back to sleep when the file-sharing session is done.

This means that if you can get the network settings to work right, you can put your Mac to sleep and still access its files when you need them.

Snow Leopard Wi-Fi status

Snow Leopard Wi-Fi

The AirPort status icon that appears in the menu bar is more communicative than it once was. Now, when AirPort is scanning for wireless hotspots, it indicates that it's doing so by progressively lighting up each of the bands within that AirPort icon.

When it stops blinking, it's finished scanning. To see this icon, the Show AirPort Status In Menu Bar option must be enabled in the Network system preference.

The AirPort status in the menu bar now shows the signal strength and security status of all available Wi-Fi networks. The Network system preference also shows these when you are choosing a Wi-Fi network.

Snow Leopard: Exchange without Entourage

Snow Leopard Exchange

When Apple first decided to embrace Microsoft's popular Exchange server software, it did so with a major software update - for the iPhone. The iPhone 2.0 software update brought support for Exchange calendars, contacts, and mail directly onto Apple's mobile platform.

Now, with Snow Leopard, the Mac gets the ability to directly connect to Exchange servers, too. In practical terms, that means that Mail, iCal, and Address Book can all be configured easily to connect to corporate Exchange servers.

Snow Leopard Location

Snow Leopard Location

Snow Leopard uses a Wi-Fi location database to determine where your Mac is, and it can set the date and time automatically based on the detected location. Likewise, iCal can be set to use the time zone where you happen to be, or it can stick with your "home" time zone.

Your Mac has long been able to automatically set its time from a network time server, but for frequent travellers who change time zones as often as they change their socks, that's only half the battle.

In Snow Leopard, your Mac can automatically figure out what time zone it's in, too. It does this by using the new Core Location framework. Open the Time Zone tab of the Date & Time preference pane and select the Set Time Zone Automatically Using Current Location checkbox.

The map will grey out and a red Google Maps-style pin will descend on your location, which will be displayed below, along with the appropriate time zone.

Screen capture, now with video

Snow Leopard Screen Recording

Snow Leopard continues to offer the same options as Leopard for static screenshots, but in OS X 10.6 you can capture video of your screen without having to shell out for third-party software.

However, it isn't obvious where to find this functionality. You must launch QuickTime Player and then choose New Screen Recording from the File menu. In the resulting window, click on the tiny disclosure triangle to choose the audio source, the video quality, and the location to save the movie; click on the red record button to start recording.

When you're done, click on the Stop button in the menu bar. Unlike third-party screen-recording software, you can't record just part of the screen, and you don't get additional visual options, but for quick, full-screen clips for demonstrations and tech support, this built-in feature may be all you need.

Easier access to keyboard shortcuts

Snow Leopard Keyboard shortcuts

Previous versions of OS X let you create your own keyboard shortcuts, but managing them all was a bit of a mess. In Snow Leopard, the Keyboard pane in System Preferences offers an easier-to-navigate Keyoard Shortcuts screen.

Categories of keyboard shortcuts-Dashboard & Dock, Screen Shots, Universal Access, and so on-are displayed on the left; select a category and related shortcuts are displayed on the right. This new design is much easier to navigate than Leopard's "everything in one long list with lots of disclosure trianges" approach. Another improvement is the ability to customize keyboard shortcuts for individual services, as well as to temporarily disable individual shortcuts and services.

New desktop pictures and screen savers

Snow Leopard Desktops

New desktop patterns and screen savers probably weren't at the top of many Mac users' wish lists, but Snow Leopard delivers them anyway. The Desktop preference pane offers a handful of new desktop images-including not one, but two, photos of snow leopards.

Under the Screen Saver tab, you'll find a new Shuffle option, which lets you select as many of the available screensavers as you like-including iPhoto albums and events-and randomly shuffle through them, giving you more variety.

Add the date to the menu bar

Snow Leopard Date & Time

Filed under "What Took Them So Long?", the time and date are now viewable in the menu bar. To enable this feature, open the Date & Time preference pane, click on the Clock tab, and select the Show Date option in the Date Options area.

Snow Leopard OS X Services

Scripting and automation has received a nice update with Snow Leopard, thanks to a long-overdue overhaul of Mac OS X Services.

Anyone who dared to visit the OS X Services menu (located in the Application menu) in past versions saw a hodgepodge of different and often mysterious commands - let's be honest, very few of us ever ventured in there.

The new system of Services seems more likely to reach a broader (albeit still somewhat geeky) audience. Users can create new services via the Automator utility, and then run them either via the Services menu or a contextual-menu item within any relevant application.

There's just one catch: Although the Services menu appeared reliably, the contextual-menu items appeared on some of my test systems, sometimes, and on others, not at all. Once Apple fixes this bug, Services could become the Mac power user's efficiency tool of choice.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Services

The Services menu - where you call up applets available systemwide - for each application is now contextual, showing only the applets that apply to whatever is selected in your current application. There's also a new option to change service preferences.

Snow Leopard Data Detectors

Snow Leopard

Mac OS X uses a technology called Data Detectors to identify information in text and e-mails such as dates and addresses. The detectors then provide contextual menus to, for example, add an address to the Address Book. Snow Leopard expands the Data Detector capabilities to find flight codes, letting you then open the Flight Tracker widget to see the flight status.

1. Installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

2. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Look and feel

3. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Speed and stability

4. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Application tweaks

5. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: QuickTime Player X

6. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Security

8. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: More tweaks

NEXT: Recover your trash... again >>

Although positioned as an under-the-hood upgrade to Leopard, Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard offers a lot of changes on the surfaces as well.

Snow Leopard: Recover your Trash... again

Snow Leopard

When you open the Trash and right-click or Control-click an item, you will now see a Put Back option in the contextual menu, which enables you to return the item to its original location - a feature previously available in Mac OS 9 and earlier.

Snow Leopard: System Preferences

Snow Leopard System Prefs

Several system preferences have been renamed, split apart, or deleted. The QuickTime system preference is no more (the new QuickTime X engine means the Mac OS no longer needs options to reduce quality to maintain streaming performance), while International is now called Language & Text and adds new capabilities. The Keyboard & Mouse system preference has been separated into two items (Keyboard and Mouse, of course); the Keyboard system preference adds new substitution and service customisation capabilities as well. Oh, and the Energy Saver system preference's icon is now a "green" compact fluorescent bulb.

There are a number of changes in System Preferences that generally build on the features already present in Leopard:

  • In the Security preference pane, you can now set a delay time for sleep or screen saver password entries. "Use secure virtual memory" is now enabled by default, and you can disable Location Services.
  • The Keyboard preference pane features a new Shortcut interface, making it easier to assign shortcut keys and activate specific options, such as which abilities are displayed in Services.
  • The Date and Time pane allows you to set your location automatically using Snow Leopard's built-in Location Services. Safari also taps into this feature, showing the closest results for certain search queries. These should be handy for people who travel a lot.
  • The MobileMe preference pane gets an update: Syncing iDisk now gives you the option to always keep the most recent version of a file, which will automatically resolve syncing conflicts based on that criteria.
  • The Accounts pane now features more account avatars.
  • The Trackpad pane doesn't offer new features in terms of gestures, but these gestures are now supported on laptops with first-generation multi-touch capabilities, including the original MacBook Air and 2008 MacBook Pros (see below).
  • And while the Time Machine preference hasn't gained any new features, it has gotten faster, according to Apple. (I haven't had time to confirm this.)

Some third-party preference panes haven't yet been rewritten to take advantage of Snow Leopard's native 64-bit operation. If you try to open one that's not been updated, you're prompted to relaunch System Preferences so it can run in 32-bit mode.

Snow Leopard: Trackpad gestures

Snow Leopard gestures

Apple introduced two-finger and three-finger multitouch gestures back when the first MacBook Air was released, but Snow Leopard adds four-finger gestures, previously available only on recent models, to a bunch of older laptops.

Swipe four fingers down the trackpad to enter and exit Exposé's Application mode; swipe four fingers up the trackpad to access Exposé's Desktop mode. By swiping all four fingers left or right, you bring up OS X's application switcher (normally accessed by pressing Command-Tab); click on a program's icon to switch to it.

Snow Leopard: Bluetooth Setup

Snow Leopard Bluetooth setup

Bluetooth keyboard and mice are now set up through the Keyboard and Mouse system preferences, where you designate other attributes for input devices. Gone is the Bluetooth pane from the now-split-apart Keyboard & Mouse system preference.

Snow Leopard: Scanner Sharing

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard adds the Scanner Sharing control to the Sharing system preference. With it, you can share any scanner attached to your Mac over the network to other authorised Mac users - similar to how printer sharing works.

Snow Leopard: Sidebar Customisation

Snow Leopard

It's a bit easier to add folders to the Finder's Sidebar in Snow Leopard, as you can now use a menu option or keyboard shortcut, as well as drag items into the Sidebar. By holding Shift at the same time, the iten is added to the Dock. Snow Leopard's Sidebar also lets you change the order of its categories. And if you removed unwanted categories and later add an item that belongs in that category, Snow Leopard adds the category back.

1. Installing Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard

2. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Look and feel

3. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Speed and stability

4. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Application tweaks

5. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: QuickTime Player X

6. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Security

7. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Nice touches

NEXT: our expert verdict >>

Snow Leopard review content from, Computerworld and

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard: Specs

  • Mac computer with an Intel processor
  • 1GB of memory
  • 5GB of available disk space
  • DVD drive for installation
  • Some features require a compatible internet service provider
  • fees may apply
  • Some features require MobileMe service
  • fees and terms apply
  • Mac computer with an Intel processor
  • 1GB of memory
  • 5GB of available disk space
  • DVD drive for installation
  • Some features require a compatible internet service provider
  • fees may apply
  • Some features require MobileMe service
  • fees and terms apply


We're glad Apple put the brakes on marketing-driven feature bloat. Going in and overhauling the foundations and frameworks is a great idea - and something Microsoft is partly doing with Windows 7 in an attempt to woo disgruntled Vista and satisfied XP users. We're also glad that Apple is charging a relatively nominal price. Buyers might feel stung if they had to pay £100 or so for what a lot of users would see as nothing more than a lot of plumbing fixes. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, of course. If Apple's goal with Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is to lay a foundation for future growth, a lot will depend on adoption, both by users and developers. The more of each, it seems, the more benefits to all. But the early signs are good.
The price of upgrading is so low that we’ve really got to recommend it for all but the most casual, low-impact Mac users. If you’ve got a 32-bit Intel Mac (that is, one powered by a Core Solo or Core Duo processor), the benefit of this upgrade will be a little less. But for most Mac users the assorted benefits of Snow Leopard outweigh the price tag. Snow Leopard is a great value, and any serious Mac user should upgrade now.