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Should You Upgrade to Mac OS X Snow Leopard?

by Terrence O'Brien on September 11, 2009

Mac OS X Snow LeopardAre you still holding out to see if the $30 upgrade to OS X 10.6, also known as Snow Leopard, is worth it? For most people it’s an easy "yes," but a few may want to hold off.

The first and most important thing to know before you spend any money on the update is that Snow Leopard is strictly an Intel based Mac only affair. So if you're still using that Power Mac G5 or toting around that G4 based Power Book this is unfortunately where the trail of OS X updates ends for you.

Thanks to changes in the Snow Leopard operating system’s underlying components, some programs are no longer compatible. The list of programs that either refuse to work, or are only partially functional includes several products from Adobe, older versions of Parallels, AT&T's Laptop Connect, and even some older versions of Apple products, like Keynote and Aperture. You can see a complete, but unofficial list of Snow Leopard compatibility here. If any incompatible apps are essential to your daily computing needs, we recommend that you hold off on the upgrade until your app is updated to work with Snow Leopard, which may add an additional cost to your upgrade.

If these aren't deal breakers you'll still have to decide, is the update really worth $30? First, it’s faster. And don't be dismissive of the speed increases. Normally OS speed improvements are barely noticeable, but Snow Leopard turns out to be quite a bit faster than Leopard. Just check out these tests from Gizmodo and this video comparing the time it takes to open a preview of six JPEGs. Second, Snow Leopard is better able to judge how much disk space is left. These two capabilities alone make the upgrade worth it.

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You’ll also get the ability to interact with Microsoft Exchange servers (so you can ditch Entourage). You can now sync your contacts and calendars with Yahoo! and Google. Quicktime X how has video editing and sharing features. And can finally see wireless signal strength, which Windows users have been enjoying since XP. Boot camp even gets a welcome improvement, adding the ability to access your Mac files from within Windows.

Before you update we strongly recommend backing up your most important data, on OS X and under Windows if you're using Bootcamp. The upgrade shouldn't erase any of your data, and should leave your Windows install untouched, but its better safe than sorry.

Snow Leopard isn't a game changer. It's an incremental upgrade to the Apple OS, but a reasonably impressive one. You'll have to decide if it's worth the $30 and the potential price of upgrading incompatible software. But if you ask us, this one is a no brainer.

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