I came home from work today to find my family pack upgrade version of Snow Leopard. It’s been a few hours, so here are impressions so far.
Packaging & installation
The packaging was very small and lightweight and eco-friendly compared to the big-plastic-box-monsters that come out of Redmond.
Installation went mostly smoothly apart from an abort-and-restart that seems to have been caused by my DVD drive flaking out on me. It’s been trouble since it came back from the Apple Store.
I had to run the separate Xcode installer to update that – it wasn’t automatically detected – which left me wondering if I need to manually install anything from the optional installs or not. Running Xcode before updating it not only failed to launch but left a background process I had to force quit with Actitity Monitor to let the installer upgrade it.
The less-is-more-approach followed through to disk space which freed up another 10.5 GB – impressive given that I had purged all the non-English language resources already using Monolingual and I elected to re-install the Rossetta PowerPC binary support.
Despite being an optimization release Apple squeezed a few features in to sweeten the deal the majority of which are documented at their site and in proper reviews. The ones I’ve encountered so far are:
Location services, detect time-zone
Great for travelling users like myself, it found my nearest city instantly.
AirPort status in menu bar
Pop-up menu now shows signal strength of all other networks. (Hold down alt when popping up this menu to see detailed connection stats)
Gone are the Automatic, light, medium and strong options replaced with a single “Use LCD font smoothing when available” option that isn’t too good at detecting third-party displays but you can activate the old hidden options.
The rendering just looks plain wrong when booting. It has that awful colour-fringe that you see from time to time, the cause of which seems to be related to the default gamma (the curve on which digital colours become analogue levels) on Mac OS X changing from 1.8 to the PC compatible 2.2.
It seems however that the sub-pixel rendering algorithms haven’t been updated to correct this. There is absolutely no point in posting a screenshot as either your browser, screen or OS would make it appear different to how it did here.
Help is at hand though, you can head into the ColorSync Utility in your Applications folder and calibrate your display – just follow the instructions and set the gamma back to 1.8. It’s worth turning on “Expert” mode and spending a few minutes setting it up properly though.
Unable to open NIBs
I used to love opening up other people’s NIB files. You could in theory create your own customised versions of an applications interface. Localise it for yourself. Maybe even create a UK English version where Colour is spelt correctly.
Whether this was to save space or to prevent such hacking is anyone’s guess.
So far I’ve had a couple of things break:
- Cyberduck quits on launch – beta replacement is out
- Xbox 360 controller extension (I don’t use it anymore anyway)
- iStat Menus fails to launch – I need this to replace menu time with timezones and a drop-down calendar
Features I was expecting
Given the lean-and-mean plus sensible small refinements I was expecting…
- Login Window keyboard shortcut – come on, seriously, with the secrecy at Apple surely you need this too?
- Uninstaller – AWOL since the transition from OpenStep to NextStep and sorely needed
- Language purging – I still don’t want French etc. on my laptop, odd omission given the reduction goals
- System update framework – Other apps could use this too you know guys – and put clever delta’ing support in
- Grab – STILL only saves in TIFF format. So I save it there, load into preview then into PNG. WTF??
- Safari – should have an option to force new windows to open in a new tab
I’d also love to see being able to pin documents to their dock icon and being able to push a window to an edge to tile like as these were two features I found useful in Windows 7. Talking of which when you hold the mouse button down on a dock icon it greys everything else out for a truly UAC-like moment every time you want to quit an app from the dock…
The Menlo font
Apple needed to replace the ageing Monaco as it has poor international unicode support, has just a single style and poor hinting (it uses embedded bitmaps to look good without anti-aliasing in Terminal).
In 2003 Bitstream released the family Bitstream Vera under a free licence which included a great Sans Mono with bolt, italic and bold-italic variants. It even has some capable hinting so looks pretty good without anti-aliasing although could do with a few delta’s to clean that up. While it was short on the unicode support several forks filled in the gaps such as Deja Vu and Apple took Vera Sans Mono, grabbed some of these additions (adding 2900 glyphs) and tweaked some of the existing ones. Specifically they moved the vertical bar up on EBH, widened MN, shifted il, changed 0 from dotted to crossed and move/resized punctation then packed it up in a True Type Collection file that stores multiple TTF’s in a single file.
While these changes themselves look quite good – it seems they were optimizing for 14 point – in the process they destroyed the hinting for these glyphs despite the tiny amount of change made.
Spot which ones Apple modified on these screenshots (curiously Windows refuses to use the TTC file as it believes it is corrupt).
Apple is obviously aware it’s not a good job as the option to turn off anti-aliasing in Terminal when using Menlo is curiously disabled – this seems to be something hard-coded into Terminal.app as it doesn’t affect TextMate.
Installation here was a little tricky as initially the installer told me that Boot Camp 64-bit was not supported on my computer model.
Whether they don’t support 64-bit Windows on a late 2007 MacBook Pro 17″ (MacBookPro3,1) or whether it was complaining about Windows 7 isn’t clear as there are no Windows 7 specific drivers on the disk.
All is not lost however as if you navigate into Boot Camp\Drivers\Apple folder you can run the BootCamp.msi or BootCamp64.msi from there and it does not seem to perform the check. All the drivers installed without complaint and the trackpad, mouse, audio etc. is working just fine.