If you use a Mac, the chances are that you’ve heard about a new release of the Mac operating system – OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard”.Â I haven’t bought a copy yet, largely because I can’t really see any “must-have” features (increased security and improved performance is not enough – even at a low price), but mainly because I use my Macs for digital media work – primarily my digital photography workflow on the MacBook – and upgrading to a new operating system brings with it the risk that applications will fail to work (I already have problems with NikonScan on MacOS X 10.5 and 10.6 is likely to introduce some more issues).
If you are, like me, primarily using your Mac for digital photography then there are a few things, that it might be useful to know before upgrading to Snow Leopard:
- Applications may break.Â Whatever your platform (Mac, Linux or Windows), a new operating system brings new functionality and, generally, retires some of the legacy API calls.Â If your application vendor is slow (or even unwilling – yes, I mean you Nikon…) to support the new operating system release, then you may need to look at replacing applications.Â Whereas it’s possible to virtualise applications or operating systems on other platforms, OS X is (at least legally) tied to Apple hardware and cannot (legitimately, even if you find a way to do it technically) be virtualised.
- If your application was compiled for the PowerPC architecture, it may not work on Snow Leopard… at least not until you install Rosetta.Â When Apple switched to IntelÂ processors, they introduced the Rosetta binary translation technology to allow PowerPC applications to run on Intel computers.Â Rosetta has it’s limitations (performance, access to limited memory, etc.) but it was only ever intended to be a stop gap until application developers released “universal binaries” (software that will run on PowerPC or Intel architectures).Â With OS X 10.6, Apple has stopped installing Rosetta by default – it’s now an optional installation.
- Macs use a gamma value of 1.8, other PCs use 2.2, right?Â Not with OS X 10.6.Â Apple has moved to standardise the gamma value to 2.2; however, if your workflow is colour sensitive, you’ll need to recalibrate your monitors to prevent images without colour profile information from appearing too dark.
- Snow Leopard’s 64-bit processing is being over-sold.Â Unless you have a MacPro, or a recent-model iMac or MacBook Pro, the chances are that your hardware can’t address all of the extra memory.Â In theory, the double word length of a 64-bit operating system should yield some benefits, but only if the applications are also compiled to run in 64-bit mode – and it won’t be a huge performance increase.Â Many applications aren’t yet compiled for 64-bit, including the most memory-hungry application that many digital photographers use – Adobe Photoshop (although Lightroom is).Â On the other hand, if you’re buying a new Mac, put as much memory in as you can (third party memory is generally less expensive than the memory that Apple will sell you) but, also, be aware that Snow Leopard’s 64-bit mode needs to be activated manually at startup (although a third party startup mode selector is available)Â and may not even apply to your hardware, even if you have a 64-bit CPU.
I’m sure that I will move to Snow Leopard in time; however these notes may well be useful if you’re a photographer first and foremost and the whole idea about using a Mac was simplicity.Â Don’t be fooled by the glossy cover – Snow Leopard may bite you – and, like all operating system upgrades, it needs to be handled with care.