While the Apple hype machine and its fanatical followers would have you believe that Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" is a major upgrade to the company's venerable operating system, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, Leopard is yet another evolutionary upgrade in a long line of evolutionary OS X upgrades, all of which date back to the original OS X release in 2001. But let me get one huge misunderstanding out of the way immediately: That's not a dig at Leopard at all. Indeed, if anything, Apple is in an enviable position: OS X is so solid, so secure, and so functionally excellent that it must be getting difficult figuring out how to massage another $129 out even the most ardent fans. Folks, Leopard is good stuff. But then that's been true of Mac OS X for quite a while now.

Still, I'm amused that simply stating such an obvious fact is enough to send the crazies rushing out of the wood pile in such predictable fashion. Come on, kids. Don't make it so easy. See the compliment for what it is: As is the case with Windows these days, it's getting hard for Apple to top the last release. Microsoft discovered this with Windows Vista (see my review), as XP simply shows no sign of going away any time soon, despite the many benefits of its newer and more capable sibling. Likewise, Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" (see my review) is still a viable and capable system that should provide a solid computing foundation for Mac users for years to come. If it ain't broke, it's hard to fix.

Indeed, the parallels between Vista and Leopard are hard to ignore, and not just because Jobs and Company have spent the past several years being more fixated on Vista than perhaps even I've been. Both Leopard and Vista were horribly late, Vista even more so than Leopard. (But then Apple CEO Steve Jobs did once proclaim that Leopard would ship before Vista, so Leopard is plenty late as well.) And because both of these releases are late, the previous versions, Tiger and XP, respectively, have been on the market longer than their own predecessors and have matured nicely in the interim.

That said, there is one real difference between Vista and Leopard. Unlike Leopard, Windows Vista has been rearchitected from the ground up into a componentized new OS that is both more secure and more easily malleable at a low level than were previous Windows versions. Of course, Microsoft abused this functionality and its user base by bifurcating the Vista product line into far too many versions, and packing the best features into the most expensive ones. Meanwhile, Leopard is an incremental, evolutionary update over the previous release with no major architectural changes, which makes me wonder why Apple is even charging for it: In the Windows world, such releases are called service packs. Put more kindly, while the changes Microsoft made under the hood in Vista added a level of sophistication to the OS that was previously lacking, this kind of change was unnecessary in Mac OS X.

With that clearing of the air out of the way, let's take a look at Apple's latest operating system version. Windows users might be surprised to discover that Leopard is a solid, even excellent alternative to Windows Vista, while Apple fanatics will blissfully skip over any accolades I may have to offer and focus instead on the pedantic meanings of terms like evolutionary and minor. They'll quibble that I'm not getting it because Leopard is the basis for future iPhone releases or whatever, or because I just need to wait and see what developers will do in the future with the unbelievable underlying new technologies in this release. (That the same argument was made with Tiger and never materialized into anything exciting or interesting is, of course, lost on these people.) They'll point to some feature that I don't mention in the review as "proof" that I just don't understand what it is that makes Leopard special.

I'll never please those people, so I'm not going to even try. Here's what I'm concerned with: How does Leopard compare, today, out of the box, with both its predecessor and with Windows Vista? Is it enough to make Vista users switch to the Dark Side? You know, I don't believe so, but I'll get to that in a bit. First, let's examine what's really going on with this release.

Major new features

Apple advertises that Leopard includes over 300 new features, but even a casual examination of the new feature list reveals that the vast majority of those "features" are hardly anything to write home about. For example, the DVD player application has been updated for this release, and one might charitably describe that as a "new feature," in the sense that any improvement is, at least pedantically, new. But Apple doesn't break things down that way. No, the updated DVD player in Leopard is responsible for fully 10 of the operating system's new features. Among these "new" features are a time slider, auto zoom, and the ability to display the DVD player application on top of other windows. (Yes, seriously.) If Microsoft used this loose definition of the word new, it might have advertised Vista as having 11,000 new features. Heck, maybe it should.

Looking at Leopard objectively, there are precious few truly new features, where to qualify for this label, the feature must actually be new (i.e. have not appeared in any form in a previous version of the product) and must actually be something that impacts end users in a practical way. As with the previous OS X release, Tiger (which Apple claimed only had 200 new features), there are exactly two major new features in Leopard. Virtually everything else Apple added to the system is either a minor evolutionary feature change or an update to a previously existing feature.

Oddly enough, even the few major new features in Leopard will look familiar to users of other operating systems. There's Time Machine, a bizarre take on the Previous Versions feature in Windows. And there's Spaces, a pleasant graphical front-end to the workspaces functionality that's been available in UNIX and Linux since, well, forever. What's old is new again.

Time Machine

New to Leopard, Time Machine is Apple's version of Microsoft's Previous Versions feature, which first appeared in Windows Server 2003 over four years ago. (It's in Vista too.) Apple calls it a revolutionary way to back up and restore your entire Mac, and that's somewhat true though third party tools have provided most of this functionality for years. What makes Time Machine truly interesting is that it works with certain applications in addition to files and that's something Apple should stress more in its discussions about this feature. Unfortunately, the company mucked up Time Machine with a truly juvenile user interface, one that is horribly out of place in its otherwise staid and professional looking OS X. Apple also blows it by requiring a second hard drive: This makes Time Machine less useful for mobile users, which Apple says represent over 50 percent of its sales. Way to ignore your own trends, Apple.

Because of its reliance on a second hard drive, Time Machine is disabled by default. You can go into the new Time Machine System Preferences utility and enable it manually, but Leopard will prompt you to enable the feature the first time you plug in a compatible USB or Firewire external drive. Enabling Time Machine involves clicking a single On/Off slider, which is as easy as it sounds.

Once its enabled, Time Machine backs up entire your hard drive, giving you a restorable system backup similar to what's available via Vista's Backup and Restore Center. It then monitors your system going forward so that documents and other data files are backed up as you make changes. That way, you can use the Time Machine UI, crazy as it is, to "go back in time" and recover previous versions of these files. Time Machine works from the Finder, naturally, but also within specific OS X and Apple applications that work with data files, such as Address Book, Mail, and iPhoto 08 (the latter of which must be purchased separately with iLife 08 for $79).

The restore UI, as mentioned previously, is absolutely insane. Like Front Row, it slides over the desktop and occupyies the full screen. Unlike Front Row, however, it is not attractive or professional looking. Instead, you get an animated star field with a cascading set of windows, stretching back into the visual rear of the screen, depicting whatever folder or Apple application you're using (Figure). (If you launch Time Machine while using a non-supported application like Microsoft Word, you'll simply get a view of whatever Finder window was previously open instead.) On the bottom is a bar with a large Cancel button on the left and a large Restore button on the right. In the middle is text describing the current view ("Today (Now)," "Yesterday at 12:10 PM," and so on).

Above this bar are arrows pointing back and forward, so you can navigate back and forth through time. On the right is a timeline showing you how far back you can go. Meanwhile, the star field actually animates toward you like a slow motion version of that old Windows screensaver. Snork.

Optionally, you can also use Spotlight to find items via Time Machine. You can do this from within the currently viewed Finder window inside of Time Machine (which is handy for folders crowded with files). Or, simply perform a normal Spotlight search from the Finder and then, with the results window displaying, tap the Time Machine window in the Dock to see what the search results look like over time. Nice.

To restore an older version of a file, select it in the current view and click the Restore button. The Finder reappears, and whatever files you selected are copied back.

For all its niceties, Time Machine has a very basic problem. If you've unplugged the drive that's storing all those backups, you're out of luck: You'll simply get an error dialog if you try to run Time Machine. That will be disheartening to anyone anyway from the home office or on the road, and there's nothing like not having the correct file version available at 30,000 feet when you've got a few hours to kill. Not to belabor the point, but this is a problem Vista users won't face: Previous Versions is on by default and uses the same disk on which the original file is stored. (And no, it doesn't kill storage space, thanks to its ability to store only parts of files that have changed.)

That said, Time Machine is nicer than Previous Versions in that it does support some built-in and other Apple applications natively, and it integrates with a system backup feature that is separate in Vista. Overall, Time Machine is a solid addition to Leopard, though I wish Apple would consider adding a Pro interface as well.

Spaces

Spaces, like Tiger's Expos?, is one of those power-user features that sophisticated users will latch onto immediately and wonder how they ever lived without it. Less sophisticated users won't even know it exists, let alone care much about it, which is pretty much as it should be. All you really need to know about Spaces is that it's a typically elegant Apple take on a long-time UNIX feature called workspaces, which allows you to configure two or more virtual desktops, or workspaces, each of which can contain its own application windows.

Like Time Machine, Spaces is disabled by default. You can configure two or more spaces, in multiples of two, in various layouts of rows and columns. There are also some handy keyboard shortcuts to configure. Once it's up and running, you can tap CTRL + one of the arrow keys to move between the various spaces. (I found this to be problematic because I'd often inadvertently tap CTRL + RIGHT ARROW, for example, while trying to navigate word-to-word in Microsoft Word documents.)

If you're familiar with workspaces, there are no surprises here. You can assign specific applications and windows to specific spaces, move windows between spaces, and all that good stuff. Spaces is heaven if you're organizationally retentive, or perhaps if ALT+TAB (well, Apple + TAB on a Mac) is too complicated for you.

Improvements over previous versions

With those two major new features out of the way, it's time to turn to the other changes in Leopard. These changes are simply improvements over similar features in previous versions of OS X and aren't new (or major) updates. I can't possibly cover all of these features in a single review, as there are, after all, over 300 of them. But I would like to highlight some things that are important or at least obvious differences between Leopard and Tiger.

Improved user experience

After years of deemphasizing unnecessary translucency effects in Mac OS X, Apple takes a big step back in Leopard. Now, not only are menus more translucent than ever in Leopard, but so is the system-wide menu bar at the top of the screen, meaning that it will rarely be solid white as it?s been in all Mac OS releases since the original version in 1984. The effect is ugly, and I wish you could at least turn it off. For example, if you choose a solid medium blue background color for the desktop, the system wide menu will be light blue, even when you?re using an application in full screen mode (Figure). Pick a photographic wallpaper and it could be anything. It just looks ugly.

Worse is the updated Dock, which now sports a gratuitous and pointless "3D" shelf effect. There?s no real 3D involved, of course, but there is a hokey looking border, modeled after a highway median strip, separating the two sections of the Dock. As ever, the Dock is a usability nightmare, with overlapping functionality (it contains shortcuts for both running and certain non-running applications as well a separate location for folder shortcuts), but Apple seems to at least tacitly acknowledge this fact: Its added a useful if limited new feature called Stacks to the Dock to close the gap with the superior and more logical Windows Start Menu.

In previous versions of OS X, if you dragged a folder to the right side of the Dock, it would act like any other shortcut (excuse me, alias in Mac-speak): When clicked, the location would open in a new window. In Leopard, these shortcuts now open Stacks instead. So instead of opening a window, they will instead open an overlay fan display (Figure) (if there are only a few items in the containing folder) or a grid of icons (Figure). This way, you can access the item you wish without going through an additional step (opening a window) and further cluttering the desktop. Sort of. If there are too many items in the underlying folder, the Stack will only show up a sub-set of its contents.

Like the Windows Start Menu (and the Dock), Stacks use a one-click launch paradigm. You can also configure how items in Stacks are displayed, including various sorting options. It's a nice little feature, though I suspect it will lead to Dock overloading as some users will be tempted to keep aliases off the desktop and use Dock-based Stacks instead. And since a slew of Stack icons right next to each often look nearly identical, you'll be doing a lot of mouse-overs to figure out where that exact Stack you want is located.

Answering a long-time complaint, Leopard finally sports a consistent look across all applications. As with Windows Vista, Apple also applies a more-obvious drop shadow on the active window to make it visually stand out. Though Apple uses such muted gray colors in the Finder and other windows--a flat dark gray for the active window and a flat light gray for inactive windows--it's about as effective as are Vista's glass-like windows.

Apple's file manager application, the Finder, has always been adequate, but this time around it's been upgraded with a number of Vista-like features, including a new look and feel (based, go figure, on iTunes) and a semi-customizable sidebar. This, I like quite a bit.

If you're a fan of iTunes, as I am, you'll enjoy the new Finder. The updated sidebar now sports four collapsible sections, Devices, Shared, Places, and Search For (Shared is disabled if you're offline). The Devices section includes shortcuts to any hard drives, USB storage devices, and other storage related devices that are attached to the Mac. (It will also include a link to iDisk if you're one of that service's 17 users.)

In Shared, you'll see Macs or PCs on the local network. This initially got me a bit excited, as getting a Mac to actually connect to Windows file shares has always been a bit balky. My Windows-based PCs did show up in the Shared list immediately, which got my hopes up. But connecting to these shares proved even more difficult than with past versions, and the Connect As button, which lets you type in a specific user name and password to connect with particular credentials, wouldn't work until the initial connection attempt failed. And this took quite a bit of time, unfortunately. (This is clearly a bug that will be fixed in the inevitable first Leopard update.)

The Places section, like the Favorites list in Vista's Explorer, includes shortcuts to oft-needed shell locations, such as your home folder, the desktop, the documents folder, or your applications folder. And as with Vista, you can easily rearrange these shortcuts, remove shortcuts, or add new shortcuts.

Search For, as you might expect, is OS X's answer to Vista's Searches folder. Here, you'll see links to prebuilt searches such as Today, Yesterday, Last Week, and links for searching for images or documents. And as like Vista, you can create your own saved searches. These will automatically show up in the Search For list in the Finder when saved.

In another nod towards reducing steps and thus increasing efficiency, Leopard includes a new feature called Quick Look, which lets you view the contents of most document types without opening them in the application that created them. This feature, apparently modeled after the preview feature in Windows Desktop Search, augments Leopard's Finder-based icon views which, like those in Vista, use thumbnails to reflect the contents of documents. But Quick Look takes that a step further, providing a quick pop-up view that's half-way between in-window previews and the full application view. It's typical Apple: Over the top and flamboyant, but very attractive.

Quick Look is accessed via the new Quick Look icon in the Finder toolbar (or you can press the spacebar when a data file is selected in the Finder window). When enabled, Quick Look utilizes a resizable Vista-like window with translucent edges: You can scroll through multiple page documents from within the window, or display Quick Look full screen using an iTunes-like 'heads-up display" with restore and close buttons. Quick Look works with a huge variety of document types, including images, movies, PDF files, Microsoft Office documents, and more. It's a real time saver if you're hunting around and aren't sure where something is. That said, it's also somewhat limited. If you open a text file with, say, a software registration ID inside, you can't copy and paste from Quick Look. You'll have to open your text editor first.

Another big change to the Finder was also inspired by iTunes: Apple has added a new Cover Flow view style to augment the previous Icon view, List view, and Column view. Cover Flow, which dates back to a third party acquisition, works about as well in the Finder as it does in iTunes and the late 2007 iPods: It's attractive put pointless, and performs poorly (Figure). The first time you open a folder, the document previews will take some time to load, and you'll find yourself tabbing through a list of generic icons instead of rich looking documents. In a nice touch, however, Quick Look works from Cover Flow too. There's also a completely pointless preview mode for multi-page PDFs (and possibly other formats): When you mouse over such documents in Cover Flow mode, you'll see left and right arrow overlays appear. Click these arrows to navigate through the PDF.

Cover Flow also works over the network, though you can expect performance to be even worse in such cases. If you're a .Mac member (and, really, who isn't?) you can access a truly valuable feature, assuming you're also living in a multi-Mac household: You can access your other online Macs, even if they're not on the local network. This can be handy if you're on the road and need to access a file on a different Mac back home, for example.

Improved Spotlight

When Apple copied Microsoft's instant search feature to create Spotlight, it only got it partially right, so the Leopard version addresses some of the missing features from Tiger. For example, you can now search online help, which is sort of a "duh" feature. Spotlight now supports Boolean operators like AND, OR, and NOT, which should be familiar to database gurus and Google fans. As with Vista's Start Menu search feature, you can now use Spotlight to quickly find and launch applications. (This was possible in previous versions, but wasn't as seamless.) And for all you DOS-minded folks out there, you can actually use Spotlight to search for file names now. What a country.

For those with multi-Mac households, Spotlight works across the network now, too, which could be useful. You have to enable Personal File Sharing first, however.

Improved Safari

Apple's lackluster Safari Web browser is updated to version 3 in Leopard and it features some improvements that will be familiar to user of Firefox. First, there's an enhanced find that works a lot like the Find functionality in Mozilla Firefox, with a subtle Find box near the toolbar instead of an obtrusive dialog box as in previous Safari versions. Of course, Apple being Apple, Safari's new Find feature is a bit flashy, dimming out the parts of the displayed page that don't include the text you're searching for.

Safari 3 also supports drag and drop tab reordering, another feature lifted from Firefox. However, Apple one-ups Firefox with an additional feature that lets you drag a tab into its own window by dragging it below the tab row. Nice.

Safari 3 now supports creating a single bookmark from an entire range of tabs. Yes, you guessed it: Just like Firefox.

Improved Mail

I've been a big fan of Apple's Mail application since it was called Mail.app in the NeXTStep days. Given its lineage, however, there's really not a lot Apple can do to improve things, so what we get in Leopard is just a few new email-oriented features, like new stationary (which is admittedly attractive), simpler email account setup (similar to what's on the iPhone), and, finally, mailbox archiving. Confusingly, most of the rest of the new features in Mail have nothing to do with email at all.

For example, you can now create and even manage iCal To-Do's from within Mail. There's the requisite RSS support, just in case the RSS support in Safari was too obvious for you. And then there's the strangest new feature, Notes, which, yes, lets you write notes in Mail. This feature is weird because notes have nothing to do with email and because the default look and feel of the Notes is almost identical to the terrible-looking Notes application on the iPhone. I guess no idea is bad enough not to copy.

Improved iChat

Whereas Microsoft is busy melding its instant messaging technologies into corporate communications tools that enterprises will want to implement, Apple has its feet firmly in the consumer space with its own IM solution, iChat. In Leopard, iChat picks up the usually lame Photo Booth effects (squeeze, stretch, whatever), which isn't all that interesting. What is cool, however, is the new backdrop effects, which let you place a still or video image behind you in sort of a virtual green screen mode. The effect can be quite professional when it work--it will depend largely on the background---though you'll have to reprogram it every time you move your laptop as it relies on first studying the background to understand what to cut out. You can supply your own still and video backdrops too. Cute.

While other instant messaging solutions provide basic document and screen sharing features, iChat goes one better, assuming everyone involved has Leopard. A new feature called iChat Theater lets you share photos, Keynote presentations (requires iLife '08, which is not included in Leopard), QuickTime movies, and other items in a nice full screen UI. This feature uses Quick Look technology, according to Apple, so any document type that can previewed in Quick Look can be shared here. The new iChat also provides a nifty screen sharing feature, which will be a boon to anyone that needs to do remote troubleshooting on a family member or friend's Mac.

Other improved features

But wait there's more.

Boot Camp lets you dual-boot between Leopard and Windows XP or Vista. Not to be a jerk about it, but this could prove to be Leopard's best feature: While Leopard itself is pretty tame overall, the ability to run Windows is going to help sell a lot of Macs. Of course, Boot Camp, like so many Leopard features, has actually been around for a while, this time as a free beta for Tiger. (See my reviews of Boot Camp and Boot Camp 1.2 for more information.) The big change in the Leopard version of Boot Camp is that Apple has dropped a step from the installation process: Instead of creating a Windows driver disk, you can now access Windows drivers directly from the Leopard install DVD. Note that Boot Camp only works with 32-bit versions of Windows for some reason. If you were hoping to use Vista x64 on that Macbook, as I was, you're out of luck.

Leopard features enhanced parental controls, compared to what was available in Tiger. In fact, they're downright Vista-esque. Instead of just offering Administrator and Standard user account types, however, Apple goes on step further and offers a new account type, Managed with Parental Controls, which is clearly aimed at children. You can select a simpler system UI, allow only certain applications, restrict access to Web sites, email, and instant messaging, and even hide profanity in the system dictionary. As with Vista, Leopard provides UI for limiting when kids can use the computer, though Leopard's interface is more convoluted than what Vista offers. You can also view activity reports, as with Vista.

Front Row has been enhanced to closely resemble the Apple TV user interface, which makes sense. Functionally, Front Row is still a poor alternative to Microsoft's Media Center, but something very positive has happened since Tiger: It no longer appears to quietly launch iTunes and other applications in the background. Overall, this is a decent application that badly needs a DVR (digital video recording) module for live and recorded TV functionality.

As is usually the case, Apple has provided a number of updates for developers and other technical users. The AppleScript scripting language and Xcode and Dashcode development environments have been improved somewhat, and the Automator feature that was so heavily promoted when Tiger shipped in 2005 can now record user actions and recreate them as a workflow. UNIX fans can exult in the fact that Leopard is a fully certified UNIX operating system that conforms to the Single UNIX Specification (SUSv3) and POSIX 1003.1. That should move some boxes.

Apple has significantly simplified the process of upgrading an existing Mac install to Leopard, and unlike with Windows, I have no qualms recommending this procedure to Mac users. The Leopard upgrade will take an hour or two to complete, according to Apple. My Leopard installs were much closer to an hour, however.

Vista vs. Leopard: A switcher's dilemma

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard is similar enough to Windows that I think most Windows users would have little issue using it from a functional perspective, though they may miss certain applications or features. Certainly, my wife, who is by no means a computer-savvy technophile, has had no huge issues since moving to the Mac. She's been on the Mac platform for two years now, though her computing needs are arguably pretty limited.

The problem with Leopard from a switcher's perspective is that it doesn't change the equation at all. It's not like OS X, which has had no real world viruses or malware attacks over the year, has gotten any more secure in a realistic sense. Taken a step further, there's no real effort with Leopard to attract Windows users, no application compatibility mode, no wizard for moving over documents and settings automatically, nothing of that kind at all.

Leopard will be attractive to a certain class of Windows users for the same reasons that Tiger was. Maybe you're a big fan of Apple's iTunes and iPod and want more software tools that work similarly. Maybe you're attracted to Apple's admittedly beautiful Mac hardware, and simply like the thought of a 24-inch iMac on your desk or a sleek Macbook in your travel bag. Whether these and other reasons for preferring Apple's products over the PC pack are valid or not is debatable. What isn't debatable is that Leopard does nothing to tilt the scales any further to the Mac side. You're either into this stuff or you're not.

And that, I think, is Leopard's biggest failing. While I don't believe that describing Leopard as a minor release is a criticism, other than of Apple's marketing, shipping such an inconsequential upgrade in the wake of Hurricane Vista was a mistake. Microsoft has sold 85 million copies of Vista in 9 months, and it's selling 25 million copies of the OS every quarter. If Apple is seriously about slowing that growth, it needs to offer an OS that is obviously better than Vista. Leopard is not that system.

Leopard is, however, equal to Vista in many ways. I just don't feel that that will be enough to drive new users to the Mac. This was a missed opportunity.

Final thoughts

Make no mistake: Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" is the real deal, a mature and capable operating system and a worthy competitor to Windows Vista. But then, so was Tiger, Leopard's predecessor.

Are there problems with Leopard? Sure. I point first to the price, $129, which is extravagant for a product that's been updated so frequently since 2001. (Apple also sells a Leopard family pack for a more reasonable $199, a boon to multi-Mac households.) But $129 is only the beginning of the price Mac users will pay for Leopard. Some of those (ahem) 300+ new features actually require a .Mac subscription at a hefty $99 a year, while others require the latest version of iLife, also updated annually at $79. And since Leopard, like all previous Mac OS X releases, excludes certain classes of Macs from its compatibility list, some users will simply need new hardware. This is another area where Apple is far more aggressive than Microsoft, and it leads to more technically advanced but less compatible system. Thus far, Apple's users have been openly supportive of this policy, opening their wallets every time the company announced a new product.

Another problem with Leopard is the unmet expectations. Apple, like Microsoft with Windows Vista, promised more than it delivered with Leopard, and even went so far as to promise secret new features that never materialized. It's one thing to explain, as Microsoft did repeatedly with Vista, why certain features are being dropped; that's just disappointing. It's quite another thing, however, to brazenly promise secret features to a giggling crowd and then not deliver them and pretend the promise was never made. That's pathologically dishonest and disillusioning.

Leopard is also incomplete. If you purchase this product on October 26, you'll be getting pre-release quality software that Apple will update early and often, as they've done so often in the past with virtually all of its software products in the past several years. While your garden-variety Mac zealot may bristle at this suggestion, people who actually beta tested Leopard know what I'm talking about. It will get better over time. It always does.

But the biggest problem with Leopard is that it doesn't really offer enough of an advantage over Vista to make anyone want to switch. For all the baloney news stories about Vista's supposed problems, Microsoft's latest operating system is actually a solid effort that finally closed the gap with Mac OS X. Leopard was Apple's chance to once again leapfrog Windows, and given the five years of delays Microsoft put us through, it should have been a slam-dunk. That Apple was only able to come up with something that's roughly as good as Vista is both surprising and telling, I think. Leopard just isn't better than Vista. And it should be.

No matter. Leopard is an excellent product. Mac users will upgrade immediately or purchase new Leopard-based hardware with no regrets, and that's just fine. But if you're a Windows user sitting on the fence, Leopard doesn't change the switcher equation at all.