Don’t let Apple’s marketing enchant you – upgrading to Snow Leopard isn’t exactly the hassle-free affair that the Mac maker wants you to believe. You must pick the right cat for you, identify incompatible apps, plan your upgrade path, and customize the installer. Enter Geek’s guide to installing Snow Leopard, the definite resource for Mac fans eager to tame Apple’s big cat.
First of all, you’ll be delighted to know that the $29 Snow Leopard upgrade installs on Tiger Macs after all, despite Apple’s insistence that it’s strictly for Leopard people. Although Apple said Tiger users should either upgrade to Leopard before moving to Snow Leopard or migrate directly, using the $169 Mac Box Set (containing Snow Leopard, iLife ‘09, and iWork ‘09), WSJ and Wired have discovered that a Tiger system can be upgraded directly to Snow Leopard via a standalone installer provided on the $29 upgrade disc, resulting in a $140 saving over the Mac Box Set.
If you’re planning to upgrade household Macs, go with Family Pack versions of Snow Leopard and Mac Box Set, $49 and $229, respectively. Lucky customers who bought a qualifying Mac or Xserve from Apple or an Apple Authorized Reseller between June 8, 2009 and the end of the program on December 26 can get Snow Leopard through the Up-to-Date program for only $9.95 (free shipping) plus applicable sales tax.
The $499 server version comes with unlimited client licenses, making up for the hardware price difference compared with Windows-based servers sold on a per seat basis.
Some apps don’t play nice with Snow Leopard
The compatibility of your third-party Tiger or Leopard apps is the first thing that needs to be assessed prior to upgrading. Apple re-wrote 90 percent of the 1,000 projects in OS X, a major brain transplant guaranteed to cause problems with a portion of apps and drivers (just ask early Vista adopters).
Some of the popular apps that either don’t run at all or cause issues in Snow Leopard include Elgato EyeTV 3.0.0 to 3.1.0, Parallels Desktop 3.0, McAfee VirusScan 8.6, Norton NAV 11.0, some versions of AT&T Laptop Connect Card, Adobe Director MX 2004, Adobe Photoshop Elements, CuteFTP, DiskWarrior 4.1, FruitMenu, TiVo Desktop 1.94, Tinker Tool 3.94, WindowShadeX 4.3, and Google Gears browser extension, to name a few. In addition, Apple’s AirPort Admin Utility for Graphite and Snow Base Stations 4.2.5, Aperture 2.1.1, and Keynote 2.0.2 all exhibit issues in Snow Leopard.
In case you’re wondering, Microsoft Messenger, QuarkXPress, and Microsoft Office 2008 run without glitches. Apple may have also killed the support for legacy Palm devices via Palm OS HotSync conduit in Snow Leopard’s iSync 3.1.0, but there are ways around it in AppleInsider’s handy guide.
When it comes to Adobe’s productivity software, the company confirmed in its Creative Suite FAQ that CS4 is compatible with Snow Leopard and that the Photoshop team “found no significant problems” with Photoshop CS3.
However, you’ll need Acrobat 9.1 or later to produce PDF files in Snow Leopard outside the built-in system-wide PDF exporter. Older Macromedia and Adobe apps may experience a variety of installation, stability, and reliability issues and they won’t be updated for Snow Leopard, Adobe said. Users of a 2.5-year-old CS3 should know that the suite isn’t supported when running on Snow Leopard because Adobe hasn’t done the level of testing that true certification demands, a move that some dubbed a forced $699.99 CS4 upgrade.
Due to aforementioned incompatibilities, you’ll need to identify which apps have issues by consulting a collaborative project at snowleopard.wikidot.com, basically a collection of independent compatibility tests posted by ordinary users checking Mac apps against the gold master build of Snow Leopard (version 10A432). The three-category list names tested apps that run with no issues, those that have some issues, and programs that don’t run at all.
If too many of your apps are incompatible, postpone upgrading until vendors post Snow Leopard-specific updates. In fact, everyone but early adopters should postpone upgrading until the first major Snow Leopard update (10.6.1) arrives, ironing out bugs and smoothing out rough edges. If you’re anything like us, though, you’ll upgrade in an instant.
Here’s a sum up of key steps needed to ensure as painless installation as humanly possible:
- Identify incompatible apps and drivers on your system by checking the wiki page and Apple’s support documents (here, here, and here)
- Install the latest app updates via vendors’ sites or in-app update mechanisms (i.e. for Adobe software).
- Decide between performing a clean install or upgrading an existing Tiger or Leopard OS, think about custom installation options, start the installer.
You can perform a clean Snow Leopard install (with or without Tiger/Leopard in place) using the $29 upgrade disc, but make sure you back up your documents, apps, and settings first. Since your boot drive will be completely wiped out, you’ll need to re-install all your apps later. If you’re upgrading a pre-existing Tiger or Leopard OS, the installer will scan existing apps for issues, moving known incompatible items into an “Incompatible Software” folder.
Scanner and printer drivers
A revamped Snow Leopard installer is a smooth sail: You basically mark a couple of check boxes and treat yourself with a coffee while the installer copies the files to your hard drive first, resulting in up to 45 percent faster installation than in Leopard. The installer doesn’t require an annoying immediate reboot and it’ll even start over if a power outage interrupts, without losing any data.
Snow Leopard reclaims about 6GB of space on your drive (less than half the space needed for Leopard) by installing only a subset of the most popular drivers, including those for printers and scanners that you had connected to your Mac in the past, as well as drivers for connected devices found on your network and hooked up to your Mac at install time.
Bear in mind there’s no point in manually selecting driver packs as this will increase Snow Leopard’s space footprint unnecessarily: A new Snow Leopard feature automatically retrieves the latest drivers off the Internet, via the Software Update tool, anytime a new printer or scanner is discovered locally or on a network. In fact, some device models have software available through Software Update only. Even if your Mac is offline, you should still uncheck driver packs because you can always install them from the install disc later, whenever needed.
If you don’t run PowerPC-only apps, you won’t need Rosetta, a software emulator that enabled PowerPC apps to run on Intel Macs. The installer deselects Rosetta by default but you may check it if you run legacy PowerPC apps on your Intel Mac. You can check whether an app is PowerPC-only in the Kind field of the Get Info window invoked by hitting the Command + I combo on an app. Even if you don’t install Rosetta, the Software Update will offer to download and install Rosetta the moment you try running a PowerPC app.
QuickTime X and QuickTime 7 Pro
The installer will automatically keep QuickTime 7 if you install Snow Leopard on a Mac with a registration key for Quicktime 7 Pro, moving it to the /Applications/Utilities folder.
You can also add the classic QuickTime 7 player yourself later, by downloading it from Apple’s QuickTime site. In either case, the installer copies the new QuickTime X player by default. Representing a radical departure from the steel-themed QuickTime 7 player, Snow Leopard’s QuickTime X features a borderless playback by fading out movie controls and the window’s title bar during video playback.
It also packs in a YouTube publishing feature, in addition to video trimming, screen recording, iTunes exporting, etc. Those who have a QuickTime 7 Pro registration key will find out that the player boasts a greater number of export options than QuickTime X – good thing both can co-exist on your system.
Handy Snow Leopard resources
- Snow Leopard page – Everything you need to know about Apple’s new cat, right from the source, including a detailed list of changes.
- Server Snow Leopard page – Details and full system requirements for Snow Leopard Server.
- Snow Leopard press release – Official information about the terms, pricing, and key features.
- Snow Leopard specs – Snow Leopard requires an Intel Mac and at least 1GB of RAM. Check the link for full system requirements.
- OS X Up-To-Date program – Check to see if you’re eligible for a $9.95 Snow Leopard upgrade.
- Snow Leopard compatibility wiki – A collaborative project collecting results of independent tests pitting Mac apps against Snow Leopard. The page may be slow or inaccessible due to high traffic.
- Incompatible software – Apple’s list of incompatible apps is divided in two sections: The first contains apps that might cause issues but you’re free to run them, while the other lists programs restricted from opening after upgrading to Snow Leopard.
- Printer and scanner compatibility list– Apple’s list of Snow Leopard software provided for printers and scanners that can be installed using the install disc or the Software Update tool (some models have software available through Software Update only). Apple updates this list as device vendors release Snow Leopard-compatible drivers.
- Gamma 2.2 settings – Snow Leopard defaults to a gamma value of 2.2, rather than a 1.8 gamma setting used in previous OS X versions. This support document is of particular interest to graphic and video professionals.
- Battery menu changes – Info about an improved battery menu bar for portable Macs providing information about the condition of the battery, the amount of time remaining on the current charge, the current active power source, and any current charge status details.
- Wake on Demand – The Wake on Demand feature in Snow Leopard lets you access shared items on an asleep Mac via an AirPort Base Station or Time Capsule with firmware 7.4.2 or later installed, even remotely across the Internet. Apple notes this could be useful to offer full time support for iTunes Sharing, Printer Sharing, Back to My Mac, and more. More at MacWorld.
- BootCamp 3.0 changes – The software which enables a dual-boot OS X and Windows installation on Intel Macs now has the ability to read Mac volumes in Windows, in addition to an improved tap-to-click support, a command line version of the Startup Disk Control Panel, and the support for advanced features on Apple Cinema displays.
- Adobe apps compatibility – The official blog entry with an up-to-date information about the compatibility of Adobe’ products on Snow Leopard.
- Adobe Creative Suite FAQ: Check for the CS4 compatibility with Snow Leopard.
- Photoshop CS3 compatibility – Adobe’s Photoshop team has tested Photoshop CS3 on Snow Leopard and “found no significant problems.”
- Syncing legacy Palm OS devices – AppleInsider’s handy guide to third-party solutions that let users of Palm OS devices sync their Palm Desktop information via Snow Leopard’s Sync Services.
- Lifehacker’s guide to a clean Snow Leopard install.
- MacRumors’ Snow Leopard support forum – A community-based support for Snow Leopard hosted at the popular Apple rumors site.
Snow Leopard hits the headlines
- WSJ’s Walt Mossberg says Snow Leopard “isn’t a big breakthrough for average users, and, even at $29, it isn’t a typical Apple lust-provoking product.”
- NYT’s David Pogue thinks that even for Leopard-running users “paying the $30 for Snow Leopard is a no-brainer,” citing “the leap forward in speed polish.”
- CNET’s Jason Parker recommends upgrading “for all the new features and Microsoft Exchange,” noting that the publication’s tests indicate that Snow Leopard is “slightly slower than the older version of Leopard in more intensive application processes.”
- Chicago-Sun Times’ Andy Ihnatko dubbed Snow Leopard an “impressive and important update that will revitalize your existing Mac.”
- USA Today’s Edward C. Baig is convinced that “Snow Leopard should delight Mac fans, especially those who use Exchange at work,” adding that Snow Leopard “adds bite, especially for business.”
- AP’s Peter Svensson notes that Snow Leopard’s benefits will be most apparent down the road, while Windows 7 promises more of an immediate payoff.”
- Macworld’s Jason Snell says “it’s a collection of feature tweaks and upgrades, as well as under-the-hood modifications that might not pay off for users immediately,” adding that the low upgrade price makes it worthwile for “all but the most casual, low-impact Mac users.”
- Engadget points out that “the sheer amount of little tweaks and added functionality more than justifies skipping that last round of drinks at the bar,” speculating that “Exchange support alone has made the sale for a lot of people.”
- Gizmodo cited “modest changes” and non-existent performance gains in non-optimized third-party apps as key reasons for holding off on Snow Leopard “for at least awhile.”
- Wired singled out six things to know about Snow Leopard, concluding that it “won’t deliver any radical interface changes to blow you away, but the $30 price is more than fair for the number of performance improvements Snow Leopard delivers.”
- PC Magazine compared Snow Leopard to Windows 7, finding the former “more coherent and consistent, and smoother and faster in most operations,” adding that Microsoft’s OS ups Apple’s with the Device Stage, Libraries, and PlayTo media streaming.
- Geek’s list of some of the more prominent features in Snow Leopard (here and here).