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More Hidden Refinements in Snow Leopard

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard doesn't feature many major new features (see "What's New in Snow Leopard," 2009-08-27), but it does incorporate hundreds of tiny changes that can affect how you use your Mac on a daily basis. Here, we note some refinements that we feel are noteworthy beyond what Matt already covered.

Time for Password -- A subtle change in the Security preference pane can affect laptop users. The first option under the General preferences now lets you set an amount of time before the Mac requires a password after going to sleep or engaging the screen saver. In Leopard, the option was simply to require the password or not. Choose among several increments between 5 seconds and 4 hours. [JLC]

Smart Eject -- Two of the most irritating long-term problems in Mac OS X have finally been eradicated in Snow Leopard: knowing when the system has ejected a hard drive, thumb drive, disk image, or network drive; and knowing why it sometimes refuses to eject a disk.

Snow Leopard adds a visual cue to let you know an eject is in process: it dims the disk's icon. This lets you know that something is happening. When ejection is complete, the disk icon disappears from the Desktop.

If Snow Leopard cannot eject the disk because an application or process is accessing or has open a document on the mounted volume, it displays a dialog that tells you which program or system component is in use. Previously, you'd have to use the lsof command via Terminal and learn to understand the results.

And even better, a Force Eject button lets you override Mac OS X when you believe it's in error or you really need that disk off the Desktop. (Warning! Ejecting disks that are truly in use can corrupt open documents.) [GF]

Bigger iChat Theater -- We've always liked iChat Theater, a way to push a presentation, pictures, or other Quick Look-supported media to a remote party - we use this for presentations with user groups, among other purposes. In Snow Leopard, Apple says you can now push iChat Theater - and any iChat video - at up to 640 by 480 pixels while using as little as 300 Kbps upstream, about a third of the previous requirement for a lower resolution.

Jeff Carlson shared a PDF with me via iChat Theater, and the text was clearly readable. Pages instantly refreshed as he flipped through the PDF on his end. [GF]

Location via Wi-Fi -- Apple can now set your time zone via Wi-Fi, most likely using the Skyhook Wireless positioning system that's also part of the iPhone OS. Bring up the Date & Time preference pane, click the Time Zone view, and check the Set Time Zone Automatically box.

A progress spinner shows up while Snow Leopard sends information off about Wi-Fi signals in your vicinity and receives data back. I've seen this both fail and succeed, but usually Mac OS X quickly tells me I'm in Seattle (whew). [GF]

Wake on Demand -- Putting your Mac to sleep saves power, but it also disrupts using your Mac as a file server, among other purposes. Wake on Demand in Snow Leopard works in conjunction with an Apple base station to continue announcing Bonjour services that the sleeping computer offers.

The requirements are complex. You must have firmware release 7.4.2 installed on either an AirPort Extreme Base Station or Time Capsule. If WPA or WPA2 encryption is turned on, the base station can't be in bridge mode. Only newer computers - every 2009 model and at least several 2008 models - can be woken over Wi-Fi; all Macs can be woken via Ethernet. Apple provides more details in a support note, and our Glenn Fleishman wrote a long article with the ins and outs for Macworld.

You toggle this feature in the Energy Saver preference pane. It's labeled Wake on Network Access for computers that can be roused either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet; Wake on Ethernet Network Access or Wake on AirPort Network Access for wired or wireless only machines, respectively. Uncheck the box to disable this feature. [JLC]

Expose Shortcuts -- As one of the few feature changes in Snow Leopard, you've probably seen how Expose now works from the Dock, arranges windows in an easier-to-read layout, and enables you to move content between applications. Here are a few shortcuts that will make Expose even more useful:

  • With all windows visible (press F9 or the Expose key [F3] on recent Mac laptops), press Command-1 to arrange the windows by name.
  • Also with all windows visible, press Command-2 to arrange them by application.
  • Press the Tab key to view all windows belonging to one application (equivalent to pressing F10 or Control-F3 on recent laptops). Press Tab again to switch between applications while remaining in Expose. You can also click an icon in the dock.
  • Hover your mouse pointer over a window and press the spacebar to view a larger Quick Look version of that window. [JLC]

iCal's New Inspector -- Admittedly, this new feature feels more like a workaround hack than a solution, but we'll take it. The Leopard version of iCal made editing events more difficult than in the Tiger version. To view details about an event, for example, you must double-click the event to reveal only some information in a pop-up box; you then need to click the Edit button (or know to press Command-E) to edit an item's information. In contrast, iCal in Tiger provided an optional drawer to reveal and edit those details. In Snow Leopard, choose Edit > Show Inspector (or press Command-Option-I) to bring up a floating Inspector that provides an editable view of any items selected in your calendar. [JLC]

Screenshots Named Better -- Gone are the inscrutable "Picture 1" files on your Desktop. Snow Leopard instead names screenshots taken with the built-in screenshot feature along these lines: "Screen shot 2009-08-31 at 12.57.39 PM." Wordy, but it gives you a slightly better sense of what might be inside. [GF]

240 Pages of Snow Leopard Details -- Available the day that Snow Leopard was released, Jeff Carlson's latest book, "The Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Pocket Guide," includes details like these as well as a great overview of Mac OS X, all in just 240 pages of clear text and screenshots. The book retails for $14.99, and is available in bookstores and at Amazon.com (currently discounted to just $10.19). (A downloadable excerpt should be available from Peachpit.com by the time you read this.)

Tip of the Iceberg -- As we mentioned above, these changes are merely the hidden refinements that jumped out at us right away and demanded to be trumpeted to our readers. To learn more about other tweaky changes straight from the cat's mouth (some of which are useful; others of which are merely marketing points), check out Apple's Snow Leopard Enhancements and Refinements page. We'll be keeping an eye out for additional refinements in the coming weeks - stay tuned!


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Comments about More Hidden Refinements in Snow Leopard
(Comments are closed.)

Snow Leopard will also let you FORCE the ejection of a disk if the system is unable to dismount it. Huzzah!
Glenn Fleishman  2009-08-27 22:35
Great extra tip! Thanks!

How about "awakened?"
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-08-28 08:20
It does sound a little funny, but it's a completely legitimate usage as far as I can see.

how about uplifted?
The (brilliant) tab-tip works in 10.5.8 also - I'm so happy!!
Dean Shepherd  2009-08-31 10:11
Hey. Tab Tip. I haven't found that yet. Where is that?

Jules Black  2009-08-31 19:18
WHAT TAB TIP? please
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-08-31 19:33
With Expose active, press the Tab key to view the windows from an application (as opposed to all windows). Press Tab again to switch to the next application in the Dock.

I thought that was a new feature in 10.6 -- never used it under Leopard, but I just confirmed it works there, too.
Matt Jeffryes  2009-09-04 14:35
The new innovation is highlighting the focused app in the dock. I think the tab between apps may have even been there in Tiger.
Terry McCall  2009-08-31 04:52
I haven't seen Snow Leopard in person but,

I believe that tabbing to cycle through applications has been around as long as expose has been around... and it's definitely in Tiger. Clicking on the app icon to achieve this is new though.

And my favorite Expose feature in (regular) Leopard: hold down option while Expose is active and bezels with the window titles will appear over their respective windows. Sometimes it doesn't work right away, but this (soon to be obsolete?) feature helps a lot with window management
all Expose windows now have title descriptions under them.
Dean Shepherd  2009-08-31 09:29
I took a grab of part of your article with my energy saver dialogue box open with the 'Wake on Network Demand' box ticked to send by Mail my Dad as it may be useful for him to know. I also sent him the link of course, but I wanted to highlight the particular paragraph that applied to him.

Could I find the saved file when I went to attach it in Mail? Not on your nellie! I looked for Picture.??.png as usual but it was simply not there. However, I have discovered that this was because the file name has been changed under Snow Leopard.

It was named -

Screen shot 2009-08-31 at 15.36.37.png.

Absolutely terrific!!! It feels like Christmas has come early!! WooHoo. Best 39 quid I've spent in ages.

Thanks for your articles here by the way. They are really very interesting and helpful.

PS. I also note you need to press a key on the keyboard to wake my iMac after it has fallen to sleep like when it was put to sleep using the Apple menu item. Just can't move the mouse anymore
Glenn Fleishman  2009-08-31 09:18
Thanks for pointing that out. I was taking some screenshots and was surprised by the new name, but hadn't made the connection to Snow Leopard. No more Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3.
Sharon  2009-09-04 14:07
I keep seeing this, but mine now say "Screen Capture 1", etc. -- no date or time. Is there a setting for this?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-09-05 09:00
Could you have some other software that's taking over from Snow Leopard for screenshots? "Screen Capture" seems like a very different name.
doug Tallman  2009-09-05 13:53
Unfortunately, I'm not sure this is a plus. On my desktop I see the icons, and the names are "Screen Shot 09 ... AM.png"

With Picture 1, Picture 2, etc. the file names were short enough to get a handle on which was which. The longer names only help in list view, and in list view, you've got easy access to the creation date anyway.

Better might be include the frontmost app in the file name: Pages Screen Shot 1, Numbers Screen Shot 2, etc.

Hart Bezner  2009-08-31 20:02
The ability to involve the GPU in general computing tasks is surely a momentous "under-the-hood" development. I'm surprised that most reviewers appear to ignore it. To me it seems like a quantum leap into the future.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-08-31 20:33
OpenCL is indeed a big development, but it's a development that's under development. We won't see real benefits from it for a while until developers incorporate it into their applications.
Mark Smith  2009-09-01 03:14
One "refinement" that may cause problems is the demise of AppleTalk support for printers. Easy enough to get around if your aging printer supports other protocols, but could cause problems for several people.

Haven't seen this mentioned before, and the online Help just tells you to use OS X 10.5 instead. :-(
Alan Goldberg  2009-09-04 22:46
My Appletalk LaserJet 2200 still works fine, although it now advertises itself as a bonjour printer (it's a pre-bonjour device). I had previously assigned it an IP address, and it's been given a bonjour name. I'm not at my office, so I don't have the new name to hand - but it works fine!
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2009-09-04 14:19
A reader emailed me a great Snow Leopard tip:

Press Option-spacebar to enter full-screen QuickLook.
tyches  2009-09-04 14:41
timestamps are also present in photobooth file names as well as screen shots.
Mackenzie McGonagle  2009-09-04 16:37
Another Expose tip: if you mouse over a window in Expose view (i.e. after you had pressed F9 or F10), that window will have a blue border. When it does, press the spacebar. That window will now grow to full size -- while still within the Expose view! Now, if you move your mouse over an other window that one will grow to full size while the previous one reverts.
Mike Matthews  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2009-09-04 20:54
I think the Snow Leopard iCal solution actually covers the waterfront.

Apple left in place the Leopard behavior of double-clicking an event to see its details, and reinstated the behavior of the Tiger drawer with the Inspector window.

So you can double-click multiple events to open separate editing windows for each of them (allowing easy copy and paste or drag and drop), or work with the Inspector window (which is identical to Tiger's ability to detach the drawer from the iCal window) to view editable details for any selected event, or both.

Better all the way around, I think.
Wade Ferguson Dansby 3  2009-09-06 14:23
You may also right click on an event and Show Info is the first item offered,
Aaron Davies  2009-09-04 21:18
Leopard added a very short, non-customizable screensaver grace period at some point--you have about half a second from activation to move the mouse before the password is required.
TheAngryPenguin  2009-09-05 23:34
I really hate this new behavior and really hope there's a plist somewhere that can be edited to restore this to how it used to be in just plain old Leopard.
You simply set the delay to "immediately" and the screen saver locks right away. Personally, i love having a 5 second grace period.
Robert Black  2009-09-04 23:48
No one seems to be writing about this, but Safari under Snow Leopard has hardware-accelerated 3D CSS. To see it in action visit http://3dSafariSites.com with Safari if you already have Snow Leopard installed.
Mike Kelly  2009-09-05 21:47
Another one I found a few days back. Option-clicking on the battery indicator in the menu bar will give you the battery's condition on newer Macs.
If you option-click the volume dispaly in the menu bar you can change the sound input/output devices. Huzzah!