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Some thoughts on Leopard
Mon Oct 29 11:36:00 UTC 2007

In case you missed the memo, Apple unleashed Leopard on Friday. I headed down to the Regent Street Apple Store to see if I could snag a copy; unfortunately, by 6pm the queue had reached epic proportions (at least a 45 minute wait) and I promptly left and instead chose to pick up a copy from Brent Cross on Saturday (I feel sorry for anybody who did bother queueing all evening – the Brent Cross store was no more busy than usual come Saturday afternoon).

Rather than spending time discussing Leopard’s much discussed new major features, I thought it would be interesting to point out some of the smaller, minor but useful updates that I have picked up on so far. I will update this list over the next week or two as I discover new things, good and bad:

  • Installation didn’t go too smoothly for me; there appears to be a bug in the install process affecting some machines that means that my hard drive wasn’t showing up in the “Select a destination” panel. Fortunately I was able to find out from the Apple discussion forums that after waiting 10 to 15 minutes your available drives will appear. One cup of tea later, and the install routine was back on track. I opted to perform an “Erase and Install” on my MacBook Pro to get rid of the sheer amount of crap that I had accumulated over the last 18 months which went as smoothly as I’d expected. I am yet to try the upgrade option on my Mac Mini so YMMV here.
  • My first impressions were that Leopard seemed faster and given that it was probably hard at work indexing my hard drive for Spotlight this was pretty impressive. My Airport problems in Tiger (the connection would frequently just stop responding or lose packets making it incredibly frustrating to do anything useful) appear to be resolved, at least, when running on mains power. When running on battery I still seem to be suffering from random disconnections although Leopard at least shows that it has lost its connection and reconnects pretty fast. This may be a problem with my router and still requires further investigation on my part.
  • The new dock is not as bad as everybody has made out and I have left it at the bottom for now even though I’m traditionally a dock-on-the-side person. The new Stacks functionality is useful and looks great although the cool “fan” effect only works when the dock is on the bottom. I imagine the novelty will wear off quite quickly and I will be back to having my dock on the side soon enough.
  • I’m sure that most Rails developers have been aware for a while now that Leopard will ship with Rails. The new Ruby/Rails stack in Leopard is well thought out and organised and comes with Ruby 1.8.6, Rails 1.2.3 and and a host of other useful gems. Rails itself is simply bundled as a gem and is easily updated. A good overview of the changes to Ruby in Leopard is available.
  • One utility that anybody who frequently uses SSH and public/private keys would not be without is SSHKeychain which integrates with Apple Keychain and acts as an SSH agent. In my experience SSHKeychain could be flaky and would sometimes silently crash for no apparent reason; good news then because as of Leopard, OSX maintains its own Keychain-integrated ssh-agent making passphrase-protected keys painless to use out of the box.
  • Speaking of which, the new Leopard Terminal finally supports tabs and is much easier to customize thanks to built-in themes. Despite some niggles (like not being able to jump to a specific tab using Cmd+number) I think that it is finally time to say goodbye to iTerm.
  • Connecting to your mail server over SSL using a self-signed certificate in is no longer a pain in the arse. Before, Mail would prompt you that the server certificate was not from a trusted source every time you tried to connect unless you manually dragged the certificate to the desktop and added it to your keychain. In Leopard, Mail finally has an option to “always trust this certificate” as well as a number of other fine-grained trust options.
  • The new version of Front Row, based on the Apple TV software, seems like a regression to me. The new interface doesn’t seem as slick and suffers from some annoying bugs like not being able to view album artwork on a shared library and most annoying of all: there doesn’t seem to be any way to get Front Row to open on a second monitor. In Tiger, Front Row would always open on the primary display – this was documented behavior and in Leopard this behavior seems to have disappeared. I like to hook my MBP up to my plasma TV but now Front Row will only open on my MBP screen, even if its not the primary display, severely limiting its usefulness.
  • On the plus-side, Quicktime now has some useful full-screen options including options to stretch or fill a widescreen display when viewing videos in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Quicktime does work on a second display and allows you to select which screen it will display on in full-screen mode independently of your primary display settings.

Update 1: Airport Woes

When running in battery mode, Airport performance is horrendous, even after installing the latest keychain fix. The signal will go up and down and the transmit rate will jump up and down wildly between 0 and 54 before eventually just disconnecting – it seems to disconnect every couple of minutes.

The question is, is this a) a continuation of the connection stability problems I was having in Tiger but manifesting itself with different symptoms (or simply that Leopard is more responsive to Airport connection status changes than Tiger), b) an entirely new problem created by the latest Airport drivers, c) a hardware issue (dodgy Airport cards?) or d) a problem with my router.

Until I can test out Airport performance on my Mac Mini in Leopard, I can’t rule out D although the fact that many other people are having the same problem seems to suggests this is not the case. Airport performance seems reliable when connected to the mains, so maybe its an issue of power consumption by the Airport card?

Something else that I just noticed: there appears to be a rather nasty looking, if ultimately harmless, rendering bug when scrolling in Finder when in column mode:

More Airport updates

I’m beginning to become more and more convinced that the problem with Airport is a power issue. My Airport connection seems to be very stable with no disconnections when running on mains power but in battery mode the disconnections come very frequently. I’ve also managed to perform the following test with reliable results: plug in the power adapter and wait a few minutes to confirm a stable Airport connection. Now remove the power adapter – in my observations, about 80% of the time the Airport connection will drop within 10 seconds. This would indicate to me that the problem lies in the Airport card not being able to draw enough power to operate in a stable manner whilst running in battery mode.

Yet another update

I mentioned earlier that I was having trouble getting Front Row to display on my TV even though it was set as the primary monitor. Last night I gave it another try and et voila; Front Row was displaying on my TV. Further investigation led me to this post on the Apple discussion forums:

“Not sure if this is related to the bugs you are having, but one I’ve noticed and reported to apple is this: When you first start front row it appears on your primary display, it also remembers which display it first started on. So, if you exit but don’t kill the front row process (in activity manager), front row will always display on that initial primary monitor, even if you swap your primary/secondary in sys pref. I haven’t tried mirroring the displays. " cmendill, Apple Discussion Board

I haven’t had the change to verify this (yet) but it makes sense – if exiting Front Row doesn’t actually kill the process, then Front Row will not pick up changes to your primary display settings until you do. I still consider this to be a bug but at least it’s an explanation!

Leopard reviews: