Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Myth and Reality of Mac OS X Snow Leopard

Jeff Johnson (Mastodon):

This famous keynote slide was, to put it euphemistically, a bit of product marketing. Non-euphemistically, it was a big lie. Snow Leopard had quite a few new features, including significant changes “under the hood”, so to speak. In fairness, though, 10.6 was a smaller update than 10.5, 10.4, 10.3, or 10.2, and its price reflected its modest ambition: $29, compared to $129 for its predecessors. (Remember when major Mac updates cost money?)

Since 2009, the myth of Snow Leopard has only grown. As memories (and accuracy) fade, Snow Leopard has come to be known as a “bug fix update”.


Snow Leopard was not a bug fix release. In fact, Snow Leopard was quite buggy, and Mac OS X 10.6.0 was certainly much buggier than Mac OS X 10.5.8, released a few weeks prior. So why do countless people still look back fondly at Snow Leopard as a high point in Apple software quality?


When you look back fondly at Snow Leopard, I suspect that you’re not remembering version 10.6.0 but rather version 10.6.8 v1.1, which was released almost two years after 10.6.0.

And the fact that you could actually use that stable version for a long time. There was much less pressure to update, e.g. for Xcode support, in those days. The annual release schedule has not been good for the Mac.


Update (2023-11-20): Jerry Nilson:

It worked better and perceivably faster than Leopard. You could run all OSX ported software still. It came with faster and better hardware. The Mac really came back then at last.

During Snow Leopard it was the easiest time during all time to convince people to move to the Mac (much easier than today). From a developer point of view it might not seem like a big moment, but for users it was.

Jeff Geerling:

Dear Apple: macOS sorely needs a bugfix release.

10.1 and 10.6 (Snow Leopard) were the two best releases of OS X.

We need another no-features release, not just one week of bugfixing.

Michael Steeber (2018):

Was Mac OS X Snow Leopard really the gold standard of software releases, an undefeated champion in the halls of computing history? Believe it or not, the meme is almost as old as the software itself.


Early updates to Snow Leopard were packed with fixes to a long list of bugs. A 2009 article from iLounge on Snow Leopard’s reliability is filled with comments from frustrated users, some considering moving back to Leopard.

Time heals all wounds, right? It didn’t take long for Mac users to begin to wax poetic about Snow Leopard. In February 2012, this tweet made an astute prediction[…]

11 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

I think my favorite release of macOS from that era might be 10.5, actually. And that was because 10.6.0 (in alignment with Jeff pointing out that each major release introduces more new bugs than it fixes) introduced a really annoying bug that had to do with spaces. I forget exactly what it was, but I hit it constantly and it kept interrupting my workflow, and I don't think any of the future releases of 10.6 ever fixed it.

Regardless, every time I boot up a 10.6 VM (and I do for work reasons every now and then) it's such a breath of fresh air to be using a release of macOS before they messed up its UI. It runs faster virtualized than 10.14 does natively, to say nothing of later releases of macOS. That's just sad.

So I am 100% on board with the conclusion of this piece. Apple needs to sloooooooow down and let versions of macOS hang around for longer. The yearly release cycle is a huge burden on *everyone*, users, devs, and Apple alike. I'm convinced it's the main reason why the mac platform has been degrading for the last decade.

I have fond opinions about Snow Leopard 10.6.8, partially because I still have a few Macs that intentionally continue to run Snow Leopard. One of them is a 2010 13" MacBook Pro, and despite having the original 5400rpm HDD, I swear navigating around Finder, Expose, and general system responsiveness feel faster, no, they are faster, than my 2023 15" MacBook Air running Sonoma. Things like WindowServer and kernel_task barely take up any memory at all in Snow Leopard, something like 300MB. Meanwhile, on this 2023 M2 Sonoma machine, WindowServer is currently using 5GB RAM and 50% CPU at all times, kernel_task is at 1.5GB and 15% CPU at all times, and despite having 24GB RAM, this M2 Air (which is my favorite modern Mac by far) *feels* slower to interact with than a 13 year old Mac running a much leaner operating system.

I agree with what the above commenter Bri said, using Snow Leopard feels like a breath of fresh air. The UI is clean, simple, intuitive, obvious, and yes, skeuomorphic. There's no guesswork about what is interactive or not, there's no pestering from every app about disk access or are you sure you want to do this or do you want to grant permissions for blah blah or dozens of notifications that I do not ever want to see, no awkward attempt at merging iOS/MacOS, Snow Leopard just feels barely there in comparison to modern operating systems.

> The annual release schedule has not been good for the Mac.


I've been told on more than one occasion, it is something that upper management at Apple is fully aware of, and have been for a long long time. It's just not important to those few decision makers.

Mac Folklore Radio

The last MacOS releases that dramatically improved my life were 10.4 (Spotlight) and 10.5 (Time Machine).

Right now the Finder window search widget is completely broken (no results ever). Do they even test this stuff?

Tim Cook, we know you're drunk on that sweet, sweet subscription revenue. I will happily fork over $100/year (actually, let's make that $200 every 2-4 years--see above comments) for more polished MacOS releases.

Craig Federighi: please don't drive Mac OS _and_ NeXTSTEP into the ground. Please.

While I'm rambling about polish and testing, if Apple still does any user testing at all, they certainly never call up anyone over 30. We can no longer disable multitasking on iOS (remember when iPads and seniors got along famously? good luck with that nowadays) and we STILL have no control over how long it takes a long press to register on iOS. This means I get weekly iPad technical support calls from my parents. \o/

For Snow Leopard, I remember replacing with the version from 10.5 after every patch, just to get the proportional window scaling back in Exposé. I did feel a bit vindicated when Apple switched from the grid style back to proportional scaling years later ^^

Maybe it’s a net positive that such stunts aren’t possible anymore with the sealed system volume, but looking back over the years, that certainly wasn’t the only time I used a hack to roll back some questionable design decisions in the OS.

Mac Folklore Radio:

Settings > Accessibility > Touch

There you’ll find Touch Accommodations, many settings for adjusting touch recognition behaviors, been around since like iOS 12.

You’ll also find, new to iOS 17, Haptic Touch, where you can slightly adjust the timing for long touch actions.

Hopefully those customization options can help make your parents’ experience using iPads less frustrating!

10.6.8 is what people mean when they mean "Snow Leopard". That OS X reached such a venerable state of stability and speed while not taking away some visual UI component is why there is such nostalgia for it. It was the last version where Hyperspaces worked. In 10.7, Apple "fixed" Spaces, but did it in a way that broke all 3rd-party software built up around the feature for no reason other than self-righteousness.

Remember when the icons in the sidebar had color? That was Snow Leopard which also was the last version to support PPC code. It was the last version where having a remote with your Mac was awesome because (with Perian) you could enter Front Row and play .mkv files all day. Using my iPhone as a remote has always been a shitty experience that is worse than using the Ive-ian AppleTV remote.

10.6.8 was the last time Apple gave a shit about the whole Mac experience or wanted to have any fun with what a Mac could be.

It was labeled as a bug fix release, and it was such a desirable promise, that everyone loved it. There are a lot of bugs, and there are a lot of new irritations. The number of new features trumps the quality of the final product, which goes against Apple's promises.

For the release schedule, I propose updating the macOS as often as the Mac Pro, or basically every time all macs are updated, then timing it with the release of the new macOS.

If Apple ever released an LTS version, I'll bet half the users would use it instead of upgrading.

10.4 was my favorite release. 10.5 was a bit of a meh for me. 10.6 completely broke Webkit internal Objective-C APIs. Few people noticed because few people used them, but it completely broke a product I was working on. From then on, I could no longer trust Apple's documentation wasn't actually lying (the documentation still claimed those APIs worked, but they didn't). That was my first step into becoming quite disillusioned about Apple. Why work on something if it can be arbitrarily broken tomorrow? And that trend of wasting 3rd party developer's time and money has just continued ever since.

What is clear is that all the recent updates (I guess especially those after Catalina) have not been well-received in general. They keep adding features that nobody asked for.

I hope Apple will reconsider its approach towards existing developer users like us and reduce the emphasis on attracting non-Mac or light users with unnecessary features.

The OSes Apple creates have become mere brands for selling hardware.

"The OSes Apple creates have become mere brands for selling hardware."

Yup. I'm the person who has to keep up with Apple plans and doings in my development group, and other developers are frequently puzzled and frustrated by Apple behaviour. The short version of my explanation is:

"Apple aren't an IT company at all. Don't think of them that way. They're a fashion house, whose products happen to be electronics, software and entertainment, rather than clothing, jewellery and accessories. They make far more sense when you look at them that way. Their appeal to iOS users (who are the dominant source of income), is primarily as a lifestyle statement, rather than as a tool."

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