Snow Leopard Miscellany



When first tinkering in a new OS you don’t always know what is actually new and what is just something you’ve been oblivious to for the past who-knows-how-many years. But one way or another, here are some miscellaneous thoughts, observations, and the like, regarding Snow Leopard — most of which I am pretty sure are related to new features.

Listed in order of noteworthiness to the author:

  • Quicksilver: Version B56a7 was posted Friday, and though it’s labeled as Snow Leopard compatible, I couldn’t even get it to launch at first. I was only updating the Quicksilver app in my Applications folder, but that wasn’t enough. I also had to delete Quicksilver’s application support folder (~/Library/Application Support/Quicksilver) before replacing the app itself.

    The horror of having to delete the app support folder was the loss of all Quicksilver’s “learned behaviors” — years of Quicksilver learning and memorizing my workflow just thrown in the trash. So I decided it was time to mix things up and give LaunchBar a shot.

    LaunchBar runs faultlessly on Snow Leopard. What I like most about it is how well it blends in with the OS — it very much feels like a native app (though I wish it didn’t appear up top by the Menu Bar), and in only a few days of use LaunchBar has mostly acclimated itself to my most-used apps and files.

    After using LaunchBar, I realize that what I liked most about Quicksilver wasn’t so much its power, but rather its mystery. As if every time I used it I wasn’t just launching an app, I was doing a magic trick. To truly dive deep into a relationship with Quicksilver isn’t to become a power user, but rather, a magician.

    Which is to say, what I like least about LaunchBar isn’t its smaller feature set compared to Quicksilver, but rather its lack of mystique and awe.

    Truly, the difference in feature scope is not a big deal. Because what LaunchBar lacks in its support of custom keyboard shortcuts for triggering AppleScripts, applications, and more, can easily be amended with Daniel Jalkut’s notorious FastScripts.1

    The shortcut triggers I used in Quicksilver were to launch apps, AppleScripts, and Javascript bookmarklets that I frequently use. For instance: instead of hitting cmd+space, followed by the letter ‘m’ and then return, I could just hit cmd+shift+m to launch (or switch to) Mail.

    But now, a simple three-line AppleScript takes care of the exact same workflow. I just tell FastScripts to run this script whenever I press cmd+shift+m and I’m as good as gold.

    Tell application "Mail"  
        Activate
    End Tell  
    

    And although it’s hard to tell for sure – it may be due to Snow Leopard or something else – but I think FastScripts has a better trigger-to-launch response time than Quicksilver did.

  • Automation and Services: Compared to how big of a breakthrough this is for OS X, I really haven’t toyed with it enough. Services and automation are such fantastic and powerful features of OS X, but up till now they’ve mostly been ignored or treated as annoying second-class citizens. Just the fact that this got so much T.L.C. from Apple makes a lot of us very happy. And there are so many ways to use these new features, and they are so easy to use and implement, Snow Leopard is sure to make partial nerds such as myself feel like full-fledged, bona fide nerds.

  • EPS Files and Quick Look: The actual EPS image is now visible in Quick Look instead of the pixelated EPS icon we’ve been spacebaring into for the past two years. Designers, et al. rejoice.

  • Seriously Snappy: In Snow Leopard launching apps, moving files, compressing folders, booting up, shutting down, waking from sleep, and more, are all noticeably faster.

  • Exposé: The subtle layout and GUI tweaks, along with better integration with the Dock, have made it feel much more sturdy and easy to use. I very much appreciate how Snow Leopard differentiates a minimized window with one that is not, by displaying them smaller and at the bottom. It used to be that minimized windows didn’t show up in Exposé at all.

  • The Dock: Speaking of minimized windows, they can now shrink into their application’s icon in the Dock, rather than becoming a new addition by the trash. This is an option that can be selected under Dock in the System Preferences.

    And two of my favorite new GUI designs (not that there are many to choose from anyway) are the new contextual menu you get when you click and hold an icon in the Dock, and how the whole screen gets dim except for the clicked-on icon.

    dock-gui.png

    Though it’s not all roses. As Pat Dryburgh pointed out, clicking and holding on the Trash icon in a left- or right-aligned Dock that’s pinned to the bottom will display its contextual menu about two icons above the Trash.

  • The Installation Process: I always prefer to install a major new OS release onto the blank canvas of an erased hard drive. It’s an ideal time to shake my feet from the dust of unused apps and preferences.

    In previous releases it has been easy to choose to erase and install. This time, not so much. There was no clear option to “Erase and Install”. Once I had inserted the install disc I had read a PDF that listed the info on how to erase down towards the bottom — as if an afterthought. Basically, there is no standard option to Erase and install anymore. You have to to do it the old-fashioned way by re-starting your computer, launching Disc Utility, choosing to erase your hard drive, and then begin the installation process. No doubt too many people were innocently wiping their hard drives clean. Apple wants to make sure you are really aware of what you’re doing. So much so, that it even made me second guess the whole process.

    In the past, once I have my fresh OS installed, I have only ever imported my user preferences during the initial startup process. Then, I setup .Mac (now MobileMe) and sync from the cloud to my computer. Next I would re-download and install any applications – from memory so as to only install the ones I knew I used – and import their app support and library files from my backup.

    But this time was different. Before the install as I was sifting through my applications folder, I only found ten apps I don’t regularly use. So instead of re-installing everything from scratch this time, I simply deleted the ten and after installing Snow Leopard imported everything from my old user account. (This is more or less the exact same thing as doing an archive and install, except that it takes twice as long.)

  • Dictionary: This oft-used app now remembers – and keeps open – any previously looked-up words until you actually close their window. Meaning, if I look up synonyms of creative in the thesaurus, quit, and then later highlight ignominious from Safari and choose “Look Up in Dictionary” from the contextual menu, there will be two windows open when Dictionary launches: the previous one with the synonyms of creative, and the new one, with the definition of ignominious. Currently I find this is simultaneously helpful and annoying.

    Also new to the Dictionary app is a Chose the Right Word tailpiece. It’s a semi-brief snippet of text meant to “show fine distinctions in meaning between closely related synonyms to help you find the best word.” It isn’t there for every word, just some. Like creative:

    Choose The Right Word

    creative, inventive, original, resourceful, imaginative, ingenious

    Everyone likes to think that he or she is creative, which is used to describe the active, exploratory minds possessed by artists, writers, and inventors (a creative approach to problem-solving). Today, however, creative has become an advertising buzzword (creative cooking, creative hair-styling) that simply means new or different.
    Original is more specific and limited in scope. Someone who is original comes up with things that no one else has thought of (an original approach to constructing a doghouse), or thinks in an independent and creative way (a highly original filmmaker).
    Imaginative implies having an active and creative imagination, which often means that the person visualizes things quite differently than the way they appear in the real world (imaginative illustrations for a children’s book).
    The practical side of imaginative is inventive; the inventive person figures out how to make things work (an inventive solution to the problem of getting a wheelchair into a van).
    But where an inventive mind tends to come up with solutions to problems it has posed for itself, a resourceful mind deals successfully with externally imposed problems or limitations (A resourceful child can amuse herself with simple wooden blocks).
    Someone who is ingenious is both inventive and resourceful, with a dose of cleverness thrown in (the ingenious idea of using recycled plastic to create a warm, fleecelike fabric).

  • The Addition of Four-Finger Gestures for All Multi-Touch Trackpads: I’m on a previous model MacBook Pro and keep forgetting I can use these now.

  • Menlo: The cool new monospace font that ships with Snow Leopard. I would compare it to Panic Sans in that it seems great for writing code, but not to Inconsolata in that Menlo stinks for writing lengthy amounts of text (in MarsEdit). Moreover, since Menlo comes with four weights it’s great for writing and editing AppleScript.

  • TimeMachine: The first backup after installing took over 24 hours (6:00pm Friday until 7:00pm Saturday). First it calculated changes, then erased my entire TimeMachine backup, did an entirely new backup, and once done told me my backup disk was almost full.

  • Gamma 2.2: This is now the default instead of 1.8. This is the same default as Windows, and means the graphics have more contrast. It’s most noticeable with dark images / backgrounds.


  1. Noteworthy is that when Daniel rolled out the 2.4 version of FastScripts this past June, he merged the full and light versions into one. Now you can use the full-powered version for free, but if you want more than ten custom keyboard shortcuts, it’s only $15.