Mac users were certainly in a hurry this time. Two million copies of the new Mac OS X Leopard operating system flew off store shelves in the first weekend it was sold.
Drawn in by over 300 new functions, long-time Apple users showed up in particularly large numbers to snap up the sixth version of the Mac OS X system.
Leopard is also intended to show some claws to the PC operating system Windows. Harry McCracken from the online magazine Slate even called the product "Apple's Microsoft-Devouring Jungle Cat."
What's interesting is that both Microsoft's and Apple's developers followed remarkably similar approaches in creating Windows Vista and Mac OS X Leopard: "3D effects, security, parental protections, and search functions are the big issues at the moment," said German computing magazine c't.
To make the software easier to use, Apple took some tricks from the interface on its music software iTunes: files can be flipped through like CD albums in CoverFlow mode. While searching, QuickLook provides a preview of the data without opening the actual program.
One of the central innovations is related to data security: more and more of our personal lives are landing on the hard drive, yet few users seem to consider the implications of securing that data against hard drive failure.
With its Time Machine function, Apple expanded its Mac OS to include a complete yet extremely easy-to-use backup function: if an external hard drive is connected, Leopard asks automatically if the drive should be used for backing up data. And that's it.
To roll back through the history of a file or even to recreate the entire system, the user browses into the past and can examine how the folder content has changed.
"Not everyone falls under the spell of that gorgeous animated starfield," writes David Pogue, technology reporter for the New York Times. "Yet the more people who can be persuaded to turn it on, the more will be spared the misery of losing their photos, music and e-mail," says Pogue.
When it comes to parental controls, Windows Vista has had the slight edge to this point. Leopard retakes the lead. Parents can set time limits for the computer usage of their offspring, or take a different tactic and force the Mac to power down at night. A log file can also be set to log all online activity.
Leopard does have a bit of catch-up to do when it comes to security. True, it does have all the tools that make Macs so effective against attacks. And while Windows is under constant attack from viruses and Trojans, there have been as good as no legitimate pests for Mac OS X to date.
But Apple also made the decision to tear down the firewall and allow all incoming connections. This gap can be closed by Leopard users with the click of a mouse.
Apple did improve Boot Camp. That software allows users with Intel-chip based Macs to install a Windows system parallel to Mac OS. No Windows driver CD is required anymore. The Leopard installation DVD is enough.
The expert opinions have generally been positive: "Leopard is powerful, polished and carefully conceived," Pogue writes in the end. Even veteran Mac reviewer John Siracusa, known as a purist when it comes to software, finds little joy in the new 3D effects but otherwise praises the results: "Leopard is absolutely packed with improvements," he says.