Nov 16, 2007

Leap on Leopard?

Even if you have already bought Leopard, or are considering running out this week, please read the following! I promise it will save you time, effort, and headache.

I'm not going to give a review of the system. You can read a really good, thorough one by Ars Technica here. (Ars’ review of 10.4 Tiger was invaluable back in 2005.) What I do want to do here is give you a few quick pointers for upgrading.

This has been a few weeks in coming, but it has been nice finally to get my hands properly dirty in OS X 10.5 “Leopard”. I've been needing to see whether I should recommend the upgrade now, or wait until Apple released a major revision with some bug fixes. Now that update 10.5.1 for PowerPC and Intel has been released, I'm ready to say that anyone who is interested — AND whose Mac is NOT in a heavy-workload production environment — should go ahead and grab the next big cat, according to the following:
  1. Have a newer computer. Regardless of Apple's minimum system requirements, as of this writing I probably won't recommend installing Leopard on a G4 Mac unless I had a super-good reason, or the machine was a spare toy and I wanted a sandbox.
    G5 and Intel Macs are totally Leopard-happy.

  2. Have at least 2GB memory (RAM). Again, ignore Apple's specs. G5s and Intel Macs are RAM hungry, and Leopard is too, moreso than Tiger. Note that Apple now sells consumer-level machines with 1GB RAM, and MacBook Pros start at 2GB. That tells us that 1GB is barely adequate for a new system, and 2GB is OK for surfing, emailing, and a little photo work. Anything heavier requires 4GB. (All new Macs like their RAM in even numbers, so avoid 3Gb if your Mac can hold more.) See my previous blog posts here and here for more on this, including where to buy RAM.

  3. Have a good, complete backup. If you don’t have a complete clone of your hard drive before the Leopard install, you’re inviting a world of pain. If something goes wrong during the upgrade — say, the power goes out, or you trip on the cord — your Mac good wind up a paperweight until you finish the installation or restore from the backup.

  4. ARCHIVE AND INSTALL! If you’ve followed the above guidelines, then this is the last step. Insert the Leopard disk (which you bought cheaper from Amazon or someplace, right?), and reboot your Mac holding down the “C” key to make it boot from the DVD. Go through the intro screens until you get to pane where you choose the volume to install on. There, look at the bottom of the window, and click on the Options button. Choose the “Archive and Install” option, leaving on “Preserve Users and Network Settings”.
    Better instructions and Apple’s thoughts on this subject can be found here and here.

That’s it. Click through the subsequent windows to finish the installation, reboot, and you’re soaking in OS X 10.5! Do make sure to run Software Update to grab 10.5.1.

Now, the finer points: As is always the case with the latest Mac OS, Leopard is certainly the best, most secure, and most advanced operating system on the planet. But like any operating system, it ain’t perfect by a long shot. Many programs are yet to be 10.5-compatible — including, just for one example, Acrobat 8 — and if you rely on the Classic environment for OS 9 apps, Leopard will leave you in the cold.

As I mentioned above, if your Mac is expected to be reliable in a production environment, I won’t recommend Leopard until at least version 10.5.2 or 10.5.3. Read up on the applications you use, and keep checking with the developers to see if they have released a compatibility update.

Finally, for what it’s worth, I myself am not putting 10.5 on my 12" G4 PowerBook. It only has 1.25GB RAM (I can’t give it more), and it has been slowing down of late. A purchase of a new Mac with 4GB RAM and Leopard pre-installed is coming up for me in the next couple of weeks. I am, however, upgrading my Mac mini home media server to OS X Server 10.5 probably this weekend.

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