Is Snow Leopard a Bargain at Twice the Price?

by Chris Howard Jun 17, 2009

I don't know if anyone will read this today as you're probably all off playing with your shiny new iPhone 3.0 updates. I know I will be. I've been hitting that "Check for Updates" button constantly for hours. But anyway, in case anyone does show up here...

One of the biggest surprises of WWDC last week was the announcement that the Snow Leopard upgrade would only cost US$29. That was greeted with gasps and then a rousing cheer.

When Steve Jobs announced Snow Leopard at WWDC 2008, he made a point of pointing out that all the work would be under the hood and that not to expect any new features. Snow Leopard would be about polishing the performance and streamlining the code. Rumors abounded early that that would see the end of support for PowerPC, which has proved true. Snow Leopard will free up 6GB on your system compared to Leopard, and the removal of PowerPC compatibility is probably where much of it has been recovered.

Under the hood is where the biggest new feature is. And that's Grand Central of which Apple says "A revolutionary new way for software to take advantage of multicore processors." Plus there's OpenCL, "A new technology that unleashes the power of graphics processors to accelerate application performance."

Being as a lesser upgrade, I think most people were hoping aganst hope that Apple would not charge the usual $129. $89 would have been fine, $49 a bonus, but $29? Wow! The Applesphere was shocked - rapturously so.

So let's look at what we know so far about Snow Leopard and see what you're getting for your $29.

New features, um, refinements

Between Apple's website, and the web we've learnt a lot about what's coming in Snow Leopard. Apple is calling these refiements, but in past OS Xes it would have called them new features.

Here's the ones on Apple's website:

  • Faster Finder
  • Finder customizable Spotlight search options and an enhanced icon view that lets you thumb through a multipage document or watch a QuickTime movie.
  • Exposé is refined and more convenient and integrated in the Dock
  • Exposé also has a whole new look. Windows are displayed in an organized grid
  • Stacks are now scrollable
  • You can also navigate through folders in a stack to see all the files inside it.
  • Time Machine up to 50 percent faster and reduces the time it takes to complete your initial backup to Time Capsule
  • With Snow Leopard, your Mac wakes from sleep up to twice as quickly when you have screen locking enabled. 
  • Shutting down is up to 75 percent faster, saving precious moments when you’re trying to head home or to the airport.
  • Joining wireless networks is up to 55 percent faster
  • Faster, more reliable installation.
  • Smaller footprint
  • Innovative Chinese character input
  • New QuickTime Player application with a  new trimming interface
  • Easy uploads to YouTube and MobileMe from QuickTime.
  • Quicktime delivers more efficient media playback, HTTP-based live streaming, and greater color accuracy
  • More reliable, higher-resolution iChat.
  • In Snow Leopard, services are more simplified, streamlined, and helpful. The Services menu is contextual
  • Automatic updates for printer drivers
  • Automatic time zone setup
  • Easy PDF text selection
  • Faster, more powerful Safari
  • More reliable disk eject
  • When unable to eject a disk, you’ll see exactly which application is using the drive
  • More efficient file sharing.
  • MS Exchange support
  • VoiceOver screen-reading built in
  • Control your computer using gestures on a Multi-Touch trackpad even if you can’t see the screen
  • More braille support
  • VoiceOver in Snow Leopard offers new capabilities that make web browsing easier, faster, and more enjoyable
  • VoiceOver offers a unique virtual control called a rotor
  • Automatic web spots used by VoiceOver
  • Create custom labels for use by VoiceOver
  • More ways to customize VoiceOver
  • All-new VoiceOver Quick Start tutorial

From the blogosphere we've also heard:

  • Snow Leopard now tells owners when their batteries are nearing the end of their useful lifespans
  • AirPort Menu shows signal strength for all available networks
  • "Put Back" feature that restores trashed files to their original locations
  • Finder window slider for resizing icons,
  • Snow Leopard 'Screen Recording' Feature Allows Desktop Video Recording

That might not look much beside Leopard's 300 new features and Tiger's 150, but a lot of those were just fluff (as are a few on this list). And it's likely there'll be many more smaller enhancements too.

And there's things on that list I've been hanging for for ages. For example, Exposé displaying on a grid, smart selection of text in PDFs (hopefully that will be extended to Safari soon), and my favorite - as much for its useful as for the fact Windows has had it for years - that you'll get told what application is stopping you from ejecting your disk.

Snow Leopard doesn't have any new killer features like Dashboard, Spotlight, Exposé or Automator, but it has lots of cool and useful enhancements, the sort that would have populated those "300 new features!" lists of Leopard.

Some of these under the hood enhancements are all about speed, like Grand Central and OpenCL. Should you pay for them? I can't seee why they are not just as valuable as front-end new features.

So, I don't know about you, but I think Snow Leopard is heaps better value than the $29 Apple is charging. Maybe Apple is getting a bit soft without Steve around. smile


  • I would pay the usual upgrade price of $130 for Snow Leopard.  It is well worth it.  Speed and stability are worthwhile upgrades as well as any other additional functionality.

    James Katt had this to say on Jun 17, 2009 Posts: 11
  • Of course it is!  Have you looked at what some shareware authors want for some of the little OS tweaks they create?  It has always floored me that some people think nothing of paying $19 for something that deletes a printer cache and then complain about the price of an iLife or OS X update.  $29 is a bargain!

    JEFF had this to say on Jun 17, 2009 Posts: 4
  • $29 for bugfixes that should have been in OS X 10.0? Jeebus

    hmurchison had this to say on Jun 17, 2009 Posts: 145
  • hmurchison….Yeah there are just bug fixes..uh huh…

    JEFF had this to say on Jun 17, 2009 Posts: 4
  • Idiot comment about the ‘Bug Fixes’, just shows their ignorance.

    Parky had this to say on Jun 17, 2009 Posts: 51
  • $29 is a pretty good deal.  Surprising from Apple, but probably worth it.

    I’m guessing the motivation has something to do with Windows 7 coming out around the same time and the generally positive buzz it’s been getting.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 17, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • Oops. Kind of throws a wrench in the competitor’s pricing advertising.

    Neil Anderson had this to say on Jun 17, 2009 Posts: 23
  • That’s exactly what’s going on…this is Apple’s payback for the recent Microsoft ads.  Prince Mclean did a piece on this last week. (But AppleMatters won’t let me post the link).

    tao51nyc had this to say on Jun 18, 2009 Posts: 45
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