Leopard for Artists

November 27th, 2007 | Posted in It's All Geek to Me!

A Guide for the Visual Artist: Mac OS 10.5 Leopard

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Computer operating systems are tricky pieces of software. Imagine if the manufacturer of your car, something you use and need every day, had to build their vehicles so that you could buy and use seats from one company, a steering wheel from another, tires from a third, etc. That’s the challenge for companies like Microsoft… write a program that runs your computer put will also work with all the hardware and software out there on store shelves. The car analogy goes even further in that most consumers don’t need (or care) to know how a car works, they just want it to work without problems.

Microsoft is commonly vilified for it’s mess of an operating system in Windows… unstable, bloated, bad security, etc. In a way it is Microsoft’s own fault because the very reason it’s the overwhelmingly dominant OS is the reason for it’s difficulties. Way back in the early days of personal computers Bill Gates and Microsoft decided to write and allow Windows to be used on any piece of computer hardware, whereas Steve Jobs and Apple wrote Mac OS as a proprietary program and wouldn’t license it to run on anything but Apple hardware. It’s quite a bit easier to write a program to work on only one type of computer and with only a handful of programs and peripherals than to try and make it work with everything.

However Apple’s recent resurgence in the PC world (if you want to call increasing to a still minuscule 8% of the US personal computer market) seems to be taking it’s toll on it’s OS. The recent release of Mac OS 10.5 aka Leopard has had it’s fair share of bugs, problems and incompatibilities. Not all the problem’s are Apple’s fault… in fact despite having taking much more time than usual to develop and having released multiple builds of the new OS to developers a surprisingly large number of programs and hardware did not have Leopard ready updates or drivers ready when it was released. Even Mac staples like the Adobe products are having a few issues with some of their programs. As a result the adoption of Leopard by Mac users has been cautious. Apple has become very Microsoft-like in that they are beginning to rely much more on the ‘evolution’ model of software development… release a new program into the wild and fix problems with software patches as they occur. Realistically that might be the only way for an OS to exist given the overwhelming number of users and almost infinite combination of software and hardware they run these programs on.

A week or so ago Apple released the first update to Leopard in version 10.5.1. I had already installed Leopard on my MacBook Pro to get the hang of it, but decided to take the plunge on my studio Mac Pro with the update. I’ve been using it now for over a week and have had a chance to put it through some paces. Most reviews and articles on the new OS are geared for either geeks or general users, so I thought I’d write my experiences based on the point of view of a working artist/illustrator… detailing what is working and what isn’t with respect to what an illustrator needs out of their computer.

First off, here’s my hardware setup: Mac Pro 2 x 3 GHz Dual-Core Intel with 4 GB ram, Apple Cinema Display, Wacom Cintiq, HP LaserJet 2300 and Epson Color Stylus 2200 printers, Microtek 9800 XL scanner, USB Modem, iPod and iPhone. Software I use daily for my work: Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator (CS3), Microsoft Office’s Word and Excel, Quickbooks Pro (accounting), Mail, Address Book and iCal (PIM), DVD player and DVD Capture (for references), web browser, Fetch FTP client, FAXstf Pro (faxing) and assorted other little programs. This stuff varies of course, so results also may vary with respect to different hardware and software.

Installation

Installing Leopard was painless for me. I expected that, as I have a fairly new Mac being only a little over a year old and not very bloated with programs or the kinds of files that get left behind with lots of installing and uninstalling software. I used the “Upgrade and Install” option. There are also “Archive and Install” and “Erase and Install” options, both of which do clean installs of the OS rather than writing over your existing OS. That would entail reinstalling all your software and hardware, setting, etc. I would suggest doing an upgrade first, and if you have any problems then redo installation using the “Erase and Install” method. One well known bug with Leopard is that if your Mac is older and you initially created your administrator account (your main identity on the computer) with an OS earlier than OS 10.4 Tiger, it will no longer be recognized as an admin account. Alternately, if your password was over 8 characters long and created in OS 10.2.8 or earlier, you can’t log in at all. Use these fixes for the former and latter. It took a while but I had no issues in the upgrade. I was soon booting up to Leopard.

Hardware Compatibility

Hardware compatibly is the most important thing initially… what good is your OS if you can’t use your hardware? Testing it with all my art related peripherals took some time but the good news is, with one very notable exception, all my hardware worked seamlessly in Leopard. If I learned one lesson in the decades of being a Windows user it was this: don’t buy off brand hardware. Yes, Windows is suppose to work with most hardware but if you buy a $50 printer from “POS Technologies” then don’t blame Microsoft when it won’t work with an upgrade. Always buy hardware from a well known company with a history of good support. It used to be with Apple that there were no fly by night hardware companies making hardware that worked with Macs, but these days that’s not true. In fact, companies that are generally very reputable under Windows sometimes only give half hearted support for the Mac platform, so you have to be double cautious when investing in Mac compatible hardware. I recently learned that the hard way.

My first concern was the Cintiq. I use the hell out of this piece of hardware. Fortunately if there is one area of the computing world that is paid more attention to with respect to the Mac platform it’s the graphic design world, since Macs were so superior in that area in the early days a much higher percentage of publishers and graphic design professionals used Macs compared to other businesses, and that carry over is still valid today. Wacom has excellent Mac support and had Leopard ready drivers released immediately. My Cintiq worked perfectly right away. I would advise for the Cintiq, and for all hardware in general, that you delete and then reinstall all drivers and software after upgrading as a precaution. It’s quick and easy to do, and insures you don’t have any oddball files messing up your compatibilities. I also advise keeping up with driver updates as they are released. I check with Wacom every month or so and always download and upgrade to the latest drivers. I have done several projects already with the Cintiq on Leopard, and it works as well as it ever did in Tiger.

My printers needed a little more work. They initially worked but there were some issues, especially with the LaserJet 2300 which kept giving me memory errors. One of the great things about OS X is that Apple includes drivers for hundreds of different specific pieces of hardware. Both my printers had built in OS X drivers, but it seems at least in the case of the LaserJet Leopard either didn’t install the newer drivers or tried and didn’t do it very well. By going into System Preferences > Print & Fax I just deleted the printers, powered them down and then back up. Leopard recognized them, installed the new drivers and they both work flawlessly. I use the LaserJet for business correspondence and the Epson Color Stylus 2200 for proof printing and for printing large sheets of reference for jobs. Both work very well and I actually like the simplified Leopard print dialog boxes better than Tiger.

My monitor and USB modem had zero issues… the upgrade just worked with them without tinkering.

My scanner is where I ran into problems. I used to think Microtek was a reputable company, but then I also used to use Windows. The scanning software that came with the latest Microtek 9800 XL Mac drivers didn’t work in Leopard… it just froze and crashed when I tried to use it. After a little research I discovered that Microtek has a very bad reputation with respect to supporting Mac in general. A friend of mine ran into a problem when he upgraded to OS 10.4 Tiger a few years back and discovered his relatively new Microtek scanner didn’t work. He contacted Microtek tech support to ask when a new driver would be available, and they told him “never”. Only their latest scanners would get Tiger drivers. This scanner was less than 2 years old. I discovered that my 9800 XL didn’t even have a supported driver for Tiger under an intel-based Mac, and no one would tell me if they would ever write a Leopard driver for my 20 month old scanner. For this reason, if you use a Mac I would strongly advise you DO NOT BUY ANY MICROTEK PRODUCTS. They have only feigned interest in supporting their products under the Mac platform, and either refuse to write new drivers for anything but their latest hardware or take a ridiculous amount of time if they do release new drivers. It’s been well over a year since Mac switched to Intel processors and they still don’t have an official driver for the 9800XL. That scanner was $1500.00… it is ridiculous they don’t provide proper support for such a high end item. I’ll never buy another Microtek anything.

So, I had to get a new scanner. I need a large format one and that’s the expensive part. I decided on the Epson Expression 10000XL as that company has a great reputation for supporting their products under any platform. True to form they had a fully Leopard compatible driver and scanning software already available for download on their site. It took only a few minutes to get it up and running. I intend to do a hardware review of this scanner in the near future, but for now suffice it to say it works 100% under Leopard.

Non-Apple Software Compatibility

Here’s where things got sticky. I can’t understand why so many programs were not ready with Leopard compatible updates to ensure they worked on day one with the new OS. There are a few websites with lists of programs that have Leopard compatibility issues which I would check out before upgrading. They are by no means comprehensive, so I would also check the specific support sites of any programs I use regularly… if there is no mention of Leopard on a given program’s support/sales website, take that as meaning it will crash and burn under Leopard.

Adobe PhotoShop CS3/ Illustrator CS3- Both of these programs work perfectly fine under Leopard. They have updated themselves a few times since I installed OS 10.5, so I do not know if their compatibility is a result of said updates or not. Regardless, zero problems. No noticeable upgrades in speed or use, but no degradation either. Back in the spring Adobe finally released CS3, which was the Universal release of their creative suite and therefore finally ran natively on IntelMacs. I have been told that some of the Adobe CS3 programs have trouble under Leopard, specifically After Effects, but an upgrade for that is scheduled for next month. I’ve done several jobs in PhotoShop with the Cintiq with no problems whatsoever under Leopard.

Microsoft Word and Excel- Artists don’t just create, we have to live in that boring world of business also. Client letters, contracts, etc. are all a part of daily life. The Office suite for the Mac are my preferred business programs, and they work without any problems under Leopard. Like the Adobe programs, Office’s automated update engine was busy as a beaver in the week or so after Leopard was released, so I do not know if the updates made them compatible or not, but either way they work just fine. Early next year those lazy bastards at Microsoft will finally be releasing Office for Mac 2008, which will finally bring native Universal support to the programs. Right now they work just fine with OS 10.5.

QuickBooks Pro 2007- I use this program for all accounting including client invoicing, tracking and account management, so it is indispensable. It was not compatible with Leopard initially but Intuit had an upgrade released with a week of Leopard’s debut that brought it up to 100% compatibility. Zero problems.

DVD Capture- This is a utility I used a lot that worked in conjunction with Apple’s built in DVD player that allowed you to capture still pictures from a DVD. I used this to get reference pictures of actors for use in my work. It never really worked all that well with Tiger, since it often captured off-center pics that included parts of the window borders and such but it was functional. It seems to work the same way with Leopard’s DVD Player, but I have long since switched to the VLC program for DVD playback and capture. VLC is a robust player that can handle almost any video codec under almost any OS (including Leopard), and has a built in capture feature. I still use DVD player if I just want to watch a DVD on my computer (which is never) but I use VLC for everything else.

FAXstf Pro- This program disappointed me under Leopard. Not functional, and no sign of an update in sight. OS X’s built in fax function is a joke, and FAXstf worked great for creating a custom cover page, organizing faxes, filtering fax spam and everything else I had to do. Believe it or not there are still plenty of clients that use fax machines for contracts, invoicing, etc. Right now I am getting along with the OS X fax but it sucks. I am looking into a different program called Pagesender, which seems to be a good alternative and is fully Leopard ready.

Fetch FTP– I use this handy program a lot for uploading big image files to either my own or a client’s FTP folder for them to retrieve. Fetch 5 works great under Leopard. I did upgrade to the latest version (5.3) which features an updated look and certain Leopard features, so be sure and update to 5.3 before running Fetch in Leopard. If you already have Fetch 5 it’s a free update.

Using Leopard

The OS itself has plenty of pros and some cons over Tiger. Most of the features don’t specifically apply to use by the visual artist, but some are invaluable or at least pretty handy for a computer user in general and therefore useful to a digital artist.

Desktop– I like eye candy, so the new look and feel of Leopard is fun and welcome. The new Dock has been getting a lot of flack for this reason or that, but I like the 3-D look, little light indicators for open programs and the glassy dock surface. The “Stacks” feature, where a folder on the dock expands into a curved stack of files with a click for easy access, I can live with or without. I organize my files into category folders anyway, so I don’t see that feature being all that handy. I also don’t mind the somewhat translucent menu bar, something that is getting roasted by Macheads on message boards everywhere.

The Finder– The Finder is the Mac’s file management system. The new Finder took some getting used to , but overall it’s better than the old one and seems a bit faster as well. I can see the “smart folders” feature, where you can set up a folder under the “searches” category in the Finder with specific parameters like type, recently opened, etc., being useful if you can figure out ways to make it productive for you. Personally I can’t see how I would use it. “Coverflow” is the new Finder feature that uses a visual iTunes-like format with files instead of albums. That I thought would be handy as I could really get a good look at the image before figuring out if that’s the one I want. I often have multiple versions of a pencil sketch with small differences from revisions that is impossible to see in the small thumbnail image in the old Finder windows. Here I discovered a problem. I had always used the PhotoShop feature that created “Image Previews” when saving files so my icons and thumbnails were visual equivalents of the images themselves… a pretty way of looking at your icon files. It turns out that this preference screws up the Finder previews, and those cover flow images were horribly pixelated and looked terrible no matter how high a resolution the actual image was. So, now that feature is useless unless I go back and resave all those images with the “Image Preview” preference turned off in PhotoShop. That would take all afternoon. I guess I’ll just use cover flow with new files for now and if I happen to open an old one I’ll resave it. Oh, well.

Mail, Address Book and iCal– These programs are all updated with Leopard. I use them all the time as my PIM (personal information manager), e-mailing clients, keeping track of contacts, scheduling stuff, etc. They have been given some tweaks but basically “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the philosophy and these programs were very functional and useful in Tiger. One feature I am looking forward to trying is the automated data recognition, which supposedly scans your e-mails for dates, contact info, etc, and allows you to add things to iCal or address Book with a simple mouse click based on it’s recognizing someone’s address, invitation to an event, etc. So far no opportunity to try that one out. One small thing I like… iCal now shows the actual date on the Dock icon even when closed as opposed to “June 17”, which for some bizarre reason was the icon’s image when the program was closed in Tiger.

Time Machine– This is a built in backup feature that is incredibly cool and smart. Using a separate hard drive, Time Machine will back up your computer every hour. More than that, it keeps track of changes and documents these changes in a series of ‘snapshots’ of your computer’s entire hard drive. Then, if you find that something is missing from a particular folder, you can open Time Machine and see a beautiful graphic visual of that folder and a series of images of that same folder receding into space behind the current one. You can flip though the previous folders like literally going back in time until you come to one that contains the missing folder. Highlighting the folder and clicking “restore” will restore the file to your current folder. I used it to go “back in time” and retrieve a file I had accidentally deleted when I emptied the trash without checking it earlier in the day. Time Machine will not create a bootable backup but there is a method to restore your entire system from a Time Machine drive, so it’s almost as good as a bootable. The drawbacks are that it takes up a lot of hard drive space, and is limited by the space in terms of how far back you can go in time. Once your Time Machine backup drive is full, it will delete the oldest of the saved files as it adds the newest. It uses some smart organization to maximize the drive use, though. I bought a 500 BG firewire drive as by TM drive, and it is only up to 300 GB of use. It saves hourly levels of backup over a 24 hour period, then eschews that for a daily level going back a month, then weekly backups until the disk is full.

Safari– The default Apple web browser has been updated… and is as useless as ever. It is incompatible with many web-based forms and services like my online banking, payroll and most annoying my website’s CMS system. It even has issues with WordPress aka this blog’s software. I have used Firefox ever since I switched to the Mac and have no intention of switching to Safari. Eccch.

Other stuff– I have read that some of the other features, like remote desktop control and such have their problems in Leopard. I don’t use any of that stuff, so I have no experience with that and couldn’t care less anyway. Other programs I use like iPhoto, iTunes, etc. work great with Leopard and should, since they are Apple programs. The only glitch I’ve run into is that for some odd reason formerly hidden files like mach_kernel have suddenly become visible in my drive’s root directory. This was caused by a backup program called Synk, which I have since deleted and will not use again. It has something to do with permissions and hidden file attributes. There are supposedly terminal level workarounds, but Apple will likely fix this in another maintenance release so for now it’s nothing but a minor annoyance.

The verdict is that Leopard is a worthy upgrade, has few issues with the hardware and software I need to do my work as an illustrator, and offers some fun stuff as well as some very useful features. I would not call it a must have upgrade, however. If you find some of your hardware or software may not play well with Leopard, I’d advise you stick with Tiger until those issues are fully resolved.

Comments

  1. SteveH says:

    Great review Tom. I still plan to add a MacBook Pro to my existing collection of window’s pc’s, so that I have both platforms to play with, although I spent the Mac money on a family vacation in Egypt for next summer, but hey, I can wait as it sounds like Leopard needs another 6 months before its stable and ready to pounce!

  2. Tom says:

    Steve- You are going to love your MacBook Pro. Although I believe the PC can do anything a computer user might want, I am now a total Mac convert. I am so tired of the ease with which my kid’s and the Lovely Anna’s PC’s get messed up and need attention that all the kids are getting iMacs for Christmas, and Anna will inherit my Mac Pro when the time comes to upgrade.

  3. […] Tom Richmond has been running Apple’s new OS X 10.5 AKA Leopard for a while now. He’s posted an artist-centric review of the OS on his blog. […]

  4. SteveH says:

    Tom, I went to the Apple store tonight and fell in love with the 24″ iMac…! With an upgrade to 4gig of RAM it comes in at $4000, so I may have to be patient and save some pennies, (as I am treating the family to two vacations next year!), but I think I shall make the move over to MAC in 2008, by then the few bugs et all you mentioned, should be ironed out. I shall also need to plan the transfer of all my microsoft files to the mac and purchase a MAC copy of Adobe CS3, or maybe CS4 will be out by then! I wonder if I upgrade I can move the upgrade over to a MAC copy? Anyway, enough digress from me, I will be a MAC guy eventually!

  5. Tom says:

    Steve- Adobe has a platform transfer program where you trade in your PC version of their software for the Mac version. You only pay for shipping the discs! Just contact their sales dept. for the details.

  6. SteveH says:

    Thanks Tom, that will save me some cash, after surfing the MAC store and having an overview in the apple store this evening, I may treat myself and get the iMac sooner than I planned!! I really liked the Leopard OS!

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