Snow Leopard. Even the name seems to underpromise — it’s the first “big cat” OS X codename to reference the previous version of the OS, and the list of big-ticket new features is seemingly pretty short for a version-number jump. Maybe that’s why Apple’s priced the 10.6 upgrade disc at just $29— appearances and expectations matter, and there’s simply not enough glitz on this kitty to warrant the usual $129.
But underneath the customary OS X fit and finish there’s a lot of new plumbing at work here. The entire OS is now 64-bit, meaning apps can address massive amounts of RAM and other tasks go much faster. The Finder has been entirely re-written in Cocoa, which Mac fans have been clamoring for since 10.0. There’s a new version of QuickTime, which affects media playback on almost every level of the system. And on top of all that, there’s now Exchange support in Mail, iCal, and Address Book, making OS X finally play nice with corporate networks out of the box.
So you won’t notice much new when you first restart into 10.6 — apart from some minor visual tweaks here and there there’s just not that much that stands out. But in a way that means the pressure’s on even more: Apple took the unusual and somewhat daring step of slowing feature creep in a major OS to focus on speed, reliability, and stability, and if Snow Leopard doesn’t deliver on those fronts, it’s not worth $30… it’s not worth anything. So did Apple pull it off? Read on to find out!