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    Operating system upgrades promise performance boosts

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver September 8-14, 2009; Issue #1037

    High Tech Office column

    Last week, we saw Microsoft hoping to convince you to upgrade to Windows 7, due for release on October 22, and that Vista users might want to make the move while XP users might prefer to hang tight.

    Mac users face similar issues. Apple promised its next generation – OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” – sometime in September, but released it early on August 28. Like Win 7, Snow Leopard aims to be tighter and faster performing than its predecessor; unlike Vista users, though, Mac owners have generally been happy with the previous version.

    OS X 10.5 “Leopard” was designed to work both on the current Intel-powered Macs and on PowerPC Macs – models prior to 2006. Snow Leopard drops support for the earlier generation, letting Apple scrub out legacy code. By also dropping installation of unneeded printer drivers, Snow Leopard requires much less hard-drive space than its predecessor.

    Hard-drive space is cheap and plentiful. Snow Leopard, however, is both slimmer and perkier. Apple claims messages load 85% faster in Apple’s Mail, shut down is 75% quicker and connecting to wireless networks 55% faster. I’m running it on a couple of systems, and they do feel more responsive. Upgrading took about an hour with no pain. While not promising as many new features as in past OS X versions, Snow Leopard includes a share of neat new stuff – like the ability to enter Chinese characters by drawing with your finger on a Mac laptop’s trackpad.

    While Apple has a relatively small number of corporate users, the upgrade promises them Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 support for its Mail, Address Book and iCal applications.

    Windows 7 users will have to choose between 32-bit (for greater compatibility) and 64-bit (for more power) versions of home, professional and ultimate editions. Snow Leopard comes in a single version with increased 64-bit support with compatibility for 32-bit applications (like the Mac version of Photoshop). Five-user licences are available.

    And unlike Microsoft, Apple is pricing this one as a modest upgrade: the single-user upgrade version costs $35; there’s a five-system “family pack” for $60. (There’s also a $200 box set bundling Snow Leopard with Apple’s iLife and iWork applications). If you’ve bought a Mac since June 8, you can upgrade for $10.

    My advice: if you have an older PowerPC Mac, you’re out of the loop. Intel Mac users running the current OS X 10.5 should get this affordable performance enhancer.

    But Apple’s not the only non-Microsoft game in town. Linux – the free operating system that runs on standard PC hardware – has made tremendous improvements in usability over the past few years. It’s easy to get confused, though, by the huge number of different Linux distributions, but it’s hard to go wrong with what has become the most popular of the bunch: Ubuntu.

    Ubuntu’s developer, Canonical, releases a new version twice a year. The next release is promised by October 29, as a result being numbered 9.10. Each Ubuntu release gets a codename – this one is Karmic Koala. Despite the silly name, Koala promises performance improvements – particularly start time and hooks for online cloud computing.

    As with the current edition, there’s a separate Netbook Remix version promised for users of these popular low-powered notebooks, though I prefer the standard interface on my netbook.

    Nicest feature of the past recent Ubuntu semi-annual updates: users can update to the latest version right from the standard software update dialogue – no CD or DVD needed. As a result, moving to the latest version is exceptionally easy.
    I’m going to be moving my pair of Ubuntu systems to the new version when it comes out. Business users might opt to skip this one, however.

    The promised next version – April 2010’s 10.04 – should be what Canonical calls an LTS (long-term support) version, with three years of support. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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