A Kinder, Gentler Snow Leopard

A few days after Snow Leopard came out I was a participant in a group podcast hosted by our good friend Chuck Joiner. Chuck is editor-in-chief of The Mug Center, he hosts MacVoices, and is creator of MacLevelTen.

The topic of the podcast was first impressions of Snow Leopard. At that point I had been using it about four days. As always with Chuck's programs, he wanted a well rounded panel discussion. Three of the participants were Mac technical experts and authors who spoke at length about the operational aspects of Snow Leopard and all the behind the scenes changes, aspects of installations, and other technical issues. Each of them was experienced in different areas. The other member of the group represented software developers and I represented users.

I was feeling like the kid in class for whom English was a second language. When Chuck asked me what I liked most about Snow Leopard my brilliant response was that I really liked the fact that I could now have the day, date, and time all show in the tool bar. Whereupon one of the technical experts informed me that you could do that in Leopard too, if you knew how to do it.

Well, that put me in my place.

However, the more I thought about it the more I decided that was the whole point. There are lot of seemingly simple things in Snow Leopard that allows the beginner or untrained user to do more for themselves. The language is more generic, the directions are easier to follow and anyone can figure out how to do more for themselves.

Here are just a few examples of Snow Leopard's easy to use features.

Displaying the Day, Date, and Time in the Toolbar
First example, of course is the whole day, date, time, display. I still don't have a clue how one would do it in Leopard which means it is not easy. In Snow Leopard you do it like this:

Select Apple Menu > System Preferences > Date & Time.

When the window opens put a check mark in the box next to "Show date and time in menu bar." Indicate your preferences with check marks.

Then, next to "Date options," put check marks next to "Show the day of the week," and "Show date."

Date & Time Snow Leopard Pane

Generic Terminology
Here is another example. Does my computer burn CDs and/or DVDs?

For either Leopard or Snow Leopard you start out by going to the Apple menu and clicking on "About This Mac" and clicking the "More Information" button which opens the System Profiler. In the left frame of the System Profiler window is a list of options.

Leopard users must: Open Hardware and find IDE (ATA). Once that is open, look in the right frame and look for "Drive Type" in the list. Click on it and look for "CD-RW" or "DVD-RW." If they are not there, the computer will not burn a CD or DVD.

Snow Leopard users must: Open Hardware and look in the right frame for "Disk Burning" in the list. Click on it and look for CD-Write and DVD-Write. If they are not there, the computer will not burn a CD or DVD.

I promise you that IDE (ATA) doesn't mean a whole lot to a beginner, but if one is wondering about burning a disk, then "Disk Burning" will be a real clue that you are in the right place.

Character Viewer vs. Character Pallet
Here is another small, but significant change. The Character Pallet is now called the Character Viewer in Snow Leopard. It is simple and descriptive. If you have been using your Mac forever it won't matter to you. If you are learning everything at once, it is one more thing to make the task easier. Especially for someone like us older folks who have to learn what the heck a font is, and never mind figuring out what an icon is, and don't even start with me about .JPG and .GIF.

I'm telling you, these kids just don't appreciate how much we accomplish when we jump into this whole new computer world. I keep telling them, "Manual typewriters don't have fonts." They just look at me and ask "What's a manual typewriter?"

Language & Text System Preference Options
One final example for this discussion is the addition of a new System Preference. Actually, the new preference, Language & Text System, is a replacement for the old International Preference which was never clearly defined for beginners. This new set of options is very clean and easy to understand. There are four tabs: Language, Text, Formats, and Input Sources.

Under the Language tab you choose your language preference with a simple click. Under the Text tab you can elect automatic substitutions such as ½ for 1/2 or ™ for TM. You can also add as many other substitutions as you wish. Another option under this tab are settings for selecting your choices for smart quotes. The Formats tab allows you to set your preferences for date, time, number, and currency formats, as well as measurement units. The Input Sources tab lets you turn on the Keyboard and Character Viewer.

All in one place, all easy to understand, all easy to implement. And, if you didn't know what smart quotes were because manual typewriters didn't have those either, now you can figure it out without asking anyone.

These are only four small things that I have found so far in Snow Leopard, but I say hats off to the Apple folks. I know a lot of effort has gone into making Snow Leopard faster, better, and even more technically sound, but at the same time, someone has been paying attention to the little things and that is noticed and appreciated.