After one or two delays, Apple has finally released the OS X 10.5 Leopard update to its operating system, and with it a slew of improvements and extra features. At the same time, archrival Microsoft has now had 10 months or so to polish its Windows Vista, so now is a good time to compare the two products.
One smooth cat
Apple has made plenty of noise about the system's 300 new features, but it's fair to say that most of the changes in Leopard are small, subtle and thoughtful, rather than flashy and attention-grabbing. This is in no way a complaint, since the previous version, Tiger, was already a finely honed product.
However, there are a number of elements that are clearly designed for shelf appeal in the store, when lined up against rows of Windows PCs. Some of these, such as the reflective dock at the base of the screen, or the semitransparent menu bar are uncharacteristically irritating and frivolous, but many are genuinely useful.
First off, Time Machine attempts to make the previously dull routine of backing up your data, well, sexy. The effort has paid off, and as soon as you attach an empty external hard drive the program asks whether it can be used as the backup volume. Set Time Machine to work, and it creates an hourly snapshot of the machine. If disaster strikes and you need to revive a file you can enter the Time Machine mode, at which point a beautifully rendered star field emerges and you can literally fly back through the folders and reinstate the missing file. The very fact that the operation is so seamless and easy (and fun) will mean that the majority of people are now protected against their internal drives failing. However, if you are unlucky enough for, say, your house to explode, it does not help a jot, so keeping a backup off-site is still essential for your most valuable memories.
Other favorite new features include Quick Look, which, with a quick tap of the space bar, allows you to check what is in a document and even flick through the pages. Combine this with the Cover Flow mode lifted from iTunes, and it is clear that Apple is attempting to make navigation through documents more fluid and visual.
For those who are learning Chinese, the computer is an invaluable tool when it comes to applying your learning. There are a number of small improvements to the Chinese input system on 10.5 for those using Pinyin or Zhuyin Fuhao (注音符號, commonly known as Bopomofo) methods, making them essentially the same as the Simplified Chinese input system. There is also more comprehensive support of the Windows Chinese fonts, which contain the myriad rare characters still missing in OS X. However, the best input method for those with less than perfect tones is the Quickcore Input Method, or QIM, which is far quicker and forgiving of mistakes.
As an industrial designer, I find learning Chinese is as much an aesthetic endeavor as an academic one. To put it simply, the manner in which Mac OS X renders Chinese fonts makes them a pleasure to use and interact with, in contrast to the scratchy screen fonts offered by Windows.
Microsoft Windows Vista, which was released with great fanfare in January, is the latest version of the company's operating system. It has taken a beating in the press, but on the whole it is unfair to criticize it too much - it is a worthy upgrade to the venerable Windows XP. For those who have been sleeping under a technological rock for the last year, security is the issue du jour. It's difficult to evaluate the improvements, but Vista does seem to be well-respected, and hopefully will put a cap on the incredible spread of viruses in the past.