One of Snow Leopard’s most-touted features is out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange. While Microsoft aficionados won’t mistake Snow Leopard’s capabilities for a full version of Outlook, its core applications including Mail, Address Book, and iCal now sync up with Exchange with almost frightening simplicity: Just enter your Exchange username and password, and Snow Leopard can use Exchange’s auto-discovery feature (your IT people do have that enabled, right?) to set up your other applications. If you’re a little more of a hands-on person, you can also do manual setup and connect via VPNs.
Assuming your IT department has Exchange autodiscovery enabled, getting Snow Leopard to work with Exchange is as easy as entering your email address and password. Everything else sets up automatically.
Snow Leopard can tap into Active Directory and Print Services, create and acting on meeting invitations, and display colleagues’ real-time availability. In our relatively limited testing, Apple’s support for Exchange features worked well: Mail from Exchange accounts lived happily beside regular POP and IMAP accounts, names and email addresses autocompleted from Exchange’s global address list, and iCal easily managed multiple Exchange-based calendars.
One of Snow Leopard’s more-visible changes is QuickTime X, the latest edition of Apple’s media playback engine. QuickTime X features a vastly streamlined player—movies just appear in an unadorned window with controls that fade in and out when they’re needed. Apple says QuickTime X offers significantly improved performance by directly tapping into available graphics hardware and performing GPU-assisted H.264 decoding. It also supports HTTP live streaming, which works more reliably through firewalls and routers, since it uses the same protocol as Web browsers.
QuickTime X’s streamlined player: Controls are only visible when needed, and users can easily capture video, trim it, and save it for sharing.
The QuickTime X Player also has some features formerly reserved for QuickTime Pro. Users can trim videos, save as iPod or iPhone-ready movies, publish to MobileMe or YouTube, and instantly capture video and audio using a Mac’s built-in camera and mic. Users who previous paid for QuickTime Pro’s features will find the QuickTime 7 Player neatly tucked away in the Utilities folder, with all its features intact.
Under the Hood
Snow Leopard continues Apple’s transition towards a fully 64-bit platform. Major Apple programs like the Finder, iChat, Mail, Safari, iCal, and QuickTime are now fully 64-bit, supporting far more memory and improving performance. Snow Leopard also includes Grand Central Dispatch, a new task allocator designed to leverage multiple CPU cores available in most Intel-based Macs. Although developers will have to retool their programs to take advantage of Grand Central Dispatch, early reports from programmers are very positive. Apple has also introduced support for OpenCL, which lets programmers tap high-speed graphics processors – like those found in Nvidia and ATI GPUs – for general computing.
Yes, that’s all pretty esoteric, but Apple has also made more obvious tune ups. Snow Leopard significantly improves sleep and wake times, which is handy for notebook users, and here’s something you almost never see in an operating system update: Snow Leopard uses only about half the disk space of Mac OS X 10.5.
Is Snow Leopard an upgrade that will make your jaw drop as soon as it appears on screen? No. Is it a worthwhile upgrade that significantly improves the Mac? Absolutely. For some users, the integrated Microsoft Exchange support alone is enough to justify the upgrade. (After all, it’s going to be more than a year before Microsoft ships its promised Mac version of Outlook.) For others, improved performance will give older Intel-based Macs a new lease on life, and numerous interface and functionality improvements will make living with Snow Leopard more pleasant than its predecessors. Snow Leopard also cuts most ties to legacy Apple hardware: the Rosetta emulator (not even installed by default!) is Apple’s only link to its pre-Intel days. From Snow Leopard forward, expect Apple to focus on leveraging the power and capabilities of that hardware, rather than bending over backwards to support abandoned technology.
- Numerous interface improvements
- More 64-bit applications
- Effortless Exchange support
- Quicktime X more refined
- Requires less disk space
- Rosetta not installed by default
- Not an essential upgrade
- Moving away from legacy support
- Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL require developers to catch up