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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Apple released its second major update to Mac OS X Leopard

Apple Updates Leopard--Again
Apple released its second major update to Mac OS X Leopard, the operating system it shipped in October. Mac OS X 10.5.2 Update, as Apple calls it, is one of the largest operating-system patches I've ever seen. The "combined update" download, which applies every fix issued so far to an unpatched copy of Leopard, weighs in at 343 megabytes, but even on a Mac with the 10.5.1 update applied, 10.5.2 was a 341-meg download.

(A conspiracy theorist could note that the mammoth size of these files forces dial-up users to drive to the nearest Apple Store to use the shop's broadband connection to grab their own copy--and maybe they'll wind up buying a new iPod while they're around.)

A note at Apple's tech-support site inventories the fixes 10.5.2 brings. Most are the usual security, stability and performance improvements, but Apple also fixed two of the bigger sources of complaints about Leopard's interface--the partially-transparent menu bar and the Dock "Stacks" that offer quick access to the contents of your Applications, Documents and Downloads folders.

You can now return the menu bar to a solid shade of light gray, and you can tweak the Stacks icons (via a right-click menu) to change their appearance, vary their order in which they display their contents, or make them act like standard folders. Those may not sound like major changes, but Mac interface-design connoisseurs had objected vociferously ("Transparent Menu Bar, Die Die Die!") to Leopard's earlier implementations of these ideas.

10.5.2 was not as easy to load as earlier OS X patches. On the MacBook Air that I reviewed recently, a download through OS X's Software Update mechanism didn't work. After a restart, the computer stalled at the first step in the install process. I shut the laptop off, discovered to my relief that the aborted update hadn't destroyed the system, and--after a second failure by Software Update--downloaded the massive combo updater file and installed that instead, which worked as advertised.

After putting 10.5.2 on my own Mac, I discovered a second issue: iCal seemed to have lost all of my calendar and to-do entries. A survey of some Mac-troubleshooting forums suggested that I could recover those entries by deleting some cache files in my home account's Library/Calendars folder. That worked; you can read a more detailed account of this in Sunday's Help File.

With those glitches out of the way, I'm pleased overall with this update. I liked Leopard when it shipped--the lack of an equivalent to 10.5's Quick Look document viewer in Windows now annoys me on a daily basis--but I certainly like it better with this update.

But for all of the compliments I've given Leopard, I've heard from some readers who are annoyed or even angry about this operating system. About a month ago, for instance, one reader vented at length that "Leopard is buggy and you should tell people about it since Apple has ignored these problems for months." (I told him that I hadn't seen any issues with it on the five or six Macs I've installed it on, and suggested an "Archive and Install" reinstall to put a clean copy of Leopard on his Mac, but he hasn't written back to say if that worked or not.) So I'll throw these questions out there: How has Leopard worked for you? What kind of a difference has 10.5.2 made?


A pleasant surprise for many Mac users

Incremental updates to Mac OS X traditionally have consisted primarily of bug fixes. Significant changes to existing features are saved for the major updates (Panther, Tiger, Leopard).

So when Apple let loose the much-anticipated 10.5.2 update to Mac OS X Leopard on Monday, changes to two features introduced with the release of Leopard in October pleasantly surprised many veteran Mac users.

One change is the addition of an option in the Desktop Control Panel to turn off the translucent menu bar at the top of the screen. Some Mac users detested this new feature because the patterns of desktop images could make menu items hard to read. It didn't bother me all that much, but it's nice to have the option to make the menu bar opaque again.

Apple also tweaked the Stacks feature, which allows users to click on special folders in the Dock and see the icons of its contents fan out across the desktop. Some users didn't like how the folder looked like a pile of icons with only the topmost icon identifiable. Not only that, but they disliked how the icons fanned out from the Dock. The more items, the harder the feature was to use.

Apple has addressed these complaints by offering choices. Control clicking on a Stack reveals several new options, such as making the Dock icon appear as a folder and setting the folder's contents to appear as a list. This works much better for folders with numerous items.

It's very un-Apple-like to alter fresh features in a version of OS X not six months old. Could it be that Apple has decided to listen to its users?

Other observations:

Mac Pro's Reboot on Wake From Sleep: Incremental updates sometimes fix other issues not noted in Apple's documentation. As have most other owners of the new Mac Pro, I had hoped the 10.5.2 update would fix the dreadful "reboot on wake from Sleep" problem.

After a day and a half and more than a half-dozen wake from Sleeps, I have not had an unexpected reboot.

However, reports on Mac forums indicate that other Mac Pro owners still are experiencing the issue even after upgrading to 10.5.2. Others owners also report unresolved problems with their graphics (which I thankfully have not had.) Apple needs to fix this soon. Its Mac Pro customers - those who have bought Apple's priciest hardware - deserve better.

Improved performance: One point of speculation that dates back to before the Mac Pros were announced was that the 10.5.2 update would contain optimizations designed to extract better performance from the new models.

I have run both the Geekbench and XBench benchmarking software on my Mac Pro since upgrading to 10.5.2. Given the variable scores I tend to get from these programs, it doesn't look as if this update has boosted performance. But the Leopard Graphics Update, which users can install only after installing 10.5.2, did improve my graphics scores noticeably in XBench's Quartz Graphics Test, which leapt from averaging in the low 200s to averaging in the mid-250s, a 25 percent increase.

To upgrade to 10.5.2: If you're running Leopard and haven't updated to 10.5.2, click on the Apple Menu and select "Software Update." After the Mac reboots, go back to the Apple Menu and repeat the process to obtain the Leopard Graphics Update. A word of warning: The 10.5.2 update weighs in at a bulky 343 megabytes, so a fast broadband connection will come in handy.

Apple Now Comes With Time Capsule
Apple introduced Time Capsule -- a backup device for automatic and wire-free back-ups for one or more Macintosh.

Time Capsule supports all the Macs running on Leopard -- Apple's latest Mac OS, which includes Time Machine -- automatic backup software.

In terms of functionality, Time Capsule is a plug in device, which unites an 802.11n base station with a server grade hard disk to form a single unit, followed by the installation that automatically backups Macs wirelessly.

Time Capsule offers a full-featured 802.11n Wi-Fi base station and has two models, 500 gigabyte and 1 terabyte. It performs 5 times more and double the range of 802.11g. Apple's iMac desktops and all Mac notebooks including MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air are built-in with 802.11n. Also it has a built-in power supply and connection to print wirelessly to a USB printer.

Some additional feature includes, dual band antennas for 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequencies, 3 gigabyte LAN ports, 1 gigabyte Ethernet WAN port, 1 USB 2.0 port, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA/WPA-2), 128 bit WEP encryption, and a built in NAT firewall supporting NAT-PMP for features like 'Back to My Mac'.

"Bring Time Capsule home, plug it in, click a few buttons on your Macs and voila - all the Macs in your house are being backed up automatically, every hour of every day. With Time Capsule and Time Machine, all your irreplaceable photos, movies and files are automatically protected and incredibly easy to retrieve if they are ever lost," said Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple.

Along with wire free backup of all data with Time Machine, the user can find lost files and even restore all of the software. In case of file loss, it can be track back to find the deleted files, programs, photos and other digital media. And then restore back the file. The Leopard OS can easily restore an entire system from Time Capsule's backup via Time Machine.

With Time Capsule, a wire-free and secured network for about 50 users can be created and can imply security checks such as Internet access for children's computers. It can also serve as a backup solution for multiple computers as well as the backbone for a high-speed - 802.11n wireless network that can be used as an easy and cheap options at home, school or work for file security.

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