Snow Leopard Server-Related Changes

That title should give you a hint just how much my responsibilities have changed since I took my new job. Yes, I still run a Mac OS X Server, but I no longer get bi-yearly hardware updates. So my server is running a PPC, as is my workstation. So no Snow Leopard Server for me, at least not for a while.

I have noticed (as have many others) a few changes to how Snow Leopard handles certain server-related tasks, and I thought I'd just jot them down for the record — mine as much as yours.

Directory Utility

The first, and possibly weirdest, change is that Directory Utility is no longer a readily available application. It now lives in the very unintuitive /System/Library/Core Services, which tells me that Apple would rather us not use it unless absolutely necessary, which, generally speaking, it should not be, at least not for binding to Open Directory servers. Much of its functionality has moved to other applications and parts of the OS.

OD Server Binding

Curiously, OD binding now happens in the Login Options section of the Accounts preference pane. Even more curiously, you can open the Directory Utility from here as well:

Snow Leopard OD Binding

NFS Mounts

Directory Utility used to have a pane for configuring NFS automounts. That pane has been moved to the arguably more logical Disk Utility application, where you access it under File->NFS Mounts, but it looks pretty much the same as it did before:

Snow Leopard NFS Mounts

Root User

Since 10.5 the root user has also been activated via Directory Utility. I haven't found a new way to do this. It looks like if that's your bag you'll need to either find a way to open Directory Utility, or use the command-line. 'Course, if you know what root is, you shouldn't find either of these things terribly difficult. Especially since I just told you two ways to do the first thing.


There used to be an app called Directory in the Utilities folder, but it too is gone. I'm assuming some of its functionality has been added to Address Book, which now has its very own Accounts preference pane:

Snow Leopard Addressbook Accounts

And I've read that some of its functionality has been moved to the iCal Server Utility app now included with the 10.6 Server Admin Tools:

iCal Server Utility

I've also read that there is some functionality that is completely gone now.

MCX Cache

A fellow SysAdmin has posted his own groovy list of Snow Leopard changes as well. My favorite:

"New command, mcxrefresh, used for refreshing managed preferences on clients"

Hallelujah! I've bitched frequently about Mac OS X Server's overly aggressive cache. Having a way to clear it makes all the difference.


So we have a bit of a shuffling around here, but overall it looks to me like Apple is trying to keep simplifying the OD binding and setup process in Snow Leopard, as they have done with each iteration of Mac OS X. The most obvious features are in obvious places, whereas the more obscure features have been moved to more obscure locations. Most of these changes make sense, too, though dedicated apps for OD setup make sense on some level too. Must everything be another preference pane? In any case, it's just good to know that all the same stuff is there, it's just been moved around a bit.

On a personal note, it's a bit of a bummer to not get to play with Snow Leopard Server. I may never get the chance, actually. It could be long gone by the time we get new hardware, and we just don't rely on Mac OS X Server like we did at my old job. Ah well life goes on.

If anyone has any Snow Leopard Server stories to share, I'd love to hear them in the comments. As far as reportage goes, though, I'm gonna have to sit this one out.

Snow Leopard Impressions

So I finally got my hands on a copy of Snow Leopard and have had a chance to kick the tires and take her 'round the block a few times. Here are my initial thoughts.

The Good

There are a bunch of really great improvements to Snow Leopard. You've probably heard all about most of them. These are some of my favorites.



Upgrading my Leopard system was a breeze. This is the first time I've ever performed a straight upgrade, in the past opting for the Archive and Install option. But, as I'd surmised, this installer is made for the upgrade. It was absolutely seamless. A few clicks — literally two or three — and half an hour later I was back up and running. Everything happened from the Desktop, too. After inserting the DVD I simply hit the Install button, set my customizations (I installed Rosetta and opted out of Language Translations), and the DVD did the rest. I was able to walk away while the whole thing happened. I believe I had a muffin.

Installation Customizations

My girlfriend's Tiger upgrade was a bit slower and behaved slightly differently. Upgrading from Tiger is more like what we've seen in the past. Running the installer from the Desktop will prompt for admin credentials and then boot into the DVD before allowing you to customize your install. And it took closer to an hour to complete. But beyond that, again, it was seamless.

I find myself mightily impressed and filled with a new confidence in Apple's Upgrade installer. I think they've gotten it right this time. I will use it again.

Performance and Disk Space

The claims that Snow Leopard is faster are, in my experience, true, though your mileage may vary. My girlfriend doesn't really notice the speed boost so much. It may be due to the vastly differing systems we're running, mine an 8-core Mac Pro with 6GB of RAM, hers a Macbook from a couple of years ago. In my experience, the most notable speed bump is in how quickly many applications — particularly Carbon ones — seem to launch. Safari, for instance, comes up almost instantly. TextEdit's fast now too. And seemingly speedier animations provide a psychological speed boost as well.

10 Extra Gigs

But the disk space savings are undeniable. I have an extra 10GB of drive space on my system partition. No, I have not figured out what that works out to in the old math. But no matter how you slice it, it's significant. And a very good thing.

Finder Improvements

I'm very happy to finally be able to sort columns by criteria other than name. That will be immensely useful as I tend to prefer column view and use it exclusively, but I tend to sort a lot of things by label. Prior to Snow Leopard this required switching to list view. Now I don't have to. Being able to sort my search results by Date Created and Last Opened will also be a boon. And the new naming convention used by the screen capture utility — naming by date, what a concept! — is wonderful, if long overdue.

Column View Sorted By Date Created

I'm also very much enjoying some of the changes and additions to Exposé and the Dock. I've never used Exposé much in the past, being more in the habit of command-tabbing and batch hiding whole groups of applications. But I'm already using the preference to minimize windows to their corresponding application, and I like it. That, combined with the new application-centric Exposé features have me wanting to try out Exposé for window management, and perhaps finally make it a part of my daily work habits.


New Go Menu Items

In Snow Leopard Apple has continued the tradition of adding more items to the Finder's Go menu with Snow Leopard. This time they've added a Documents link, complete with the requisite key-command (command-shift-O). Very handy! They've also added a link to select the startup disk on the Desktop (command-shift-up arrow). Yes, that one is a bit strange, I agree.

New Go Menu Items

Quicktime X Screen Capture

I'm not a fan of the new Quicktime X player by and large (more on that in a bit), but boy is it nice to be able to record my screen to video. The screen capture utility almost makes up for everything else Quicktime X lacks. I've always wanted to be able to record screen videos, but never badly enough to pony up actual money. And Quicktime X makes it drop-dead easy and seems to do a great job. Quicktime X captures your screen at its current resolution using the H.264 CODEC.

Screen Capture: Window Resize Pron

The results are very good looking. Now that I have the capability, you may well see videos start to appear on TASB. I know you're excited about that!


What can I say. Services, once relegated to the productivity ghetto, are now actually very useful. I think contextual was absolutely the right way to go with them, and I'll finally be able to get some serious use out of my right-click. But the best thing about Services, the big wonderful surprise, is that they're now customizable. Sure, the old standbys are mostly there, but Snow Leopard offers numerous ways to customize the hell out of them if you want to. Which, of course, I totally do.

Services Prefs

First of all, Services now have their own special section of the greatly improved Keyboard Shortcuts preference pane. Here you can turn services on and off and assign keyboard shortcuts to them.

But the real customization comes from the fact that you can now create your own Services in Automator. I'd already been doing this with Automator workflows a great deal. These have been replaced by customized Services, which offer better context control in a wider array of apps and, I think, will be a better solution in the long run.

Custom Services n Automator

Right now Services can only be built for a handful of specific applications or for "any application." I'm not sure if there are ways for developers to augment Services functionality, but I would assume there are as there have been in the past. With third-party additions, home-grown Services could become even more insanely useful than they already are.

But the way Services is currently implemented — with a focus on context — is something I've wanted for a long, long time. I'm really looking forward to using this.


Image Capture

The obscure digital camera photo importing app gets a really nifty new feature: it's scanner software! Finally, Image Capture can read and import images from many common scanners. It recognizes and scans from my Epson scanner just fine, without the need for third-party drivers or software. I've only poked at it, but on the surface, at least, it looks very nice. I'm pretty psyched to not have to install and use the crappy scanner software that's generally included with these scanners anymore.

The Ugly

There are some things about Snow Leopard that, while not downright bad, turn out to not work as well as I might have hoped.


Substitutions are a great idea: type an abbreviation and the computer will replace it with the full text. I hate typing my email address over and over again, for instance. It's long and I always screw it up. It takes tiny bits of time away from my life, and those bits add up, as bits will do. An abbreviation system is something I've longed for, particularly in my browser.

Substitutions Prefs Pane

Unfortunately, as is so often the case with new core services like these, Substitutions are limited to Cocoa applications, and my browser is Firefox. With Safari's improved speed and now Substitutions, I've been very tempted to switch. But the fact of the matter is that Safari just doesn't work for me. So many things I need to do in Safari — like writing this web post — just don't work well, even after all this time. And while I understand the reasoning, I'm starting to get a bit annoyed with useful system-level features that only work in Cocoa apps.

Look, I know you guys want developers to move to Cocoa, but unfortunately you're making the user suffer for it. I love the idea of Substitutions, but the plain fact of the matter is that the main apps I want to use it in are Carbon apps. And that's largely because most major apps are Carbon apps. So, while Substitutions may be a great feature, it's not a particularly useful one.

Substitutions Activation

There's a discoverability problem here as well: by default Substitutions is not activated in most apps, Safari in particular. At first I thought it plain didn't work, but it turns out you just need to activate it. To do so, simply right click in a text field and select Substitutions->Text Replacement. It will activate immediately and you can begin using the feature right away.


I've been posting Automator scripts to add as Finder Workflows for years now, and I use them regularly myself. Unfortunately, rather than being augmented by custom Services, they've been completely replaced. That's right, Finder Workflows no longer work, they simply don't appear in the contextual menu anymore. For similar functionality you'll have to redo all your Workflows with Services.

Services Contextual Menu Item

The Services contextual menu is also inferior to the old Workflow menu in at least one regard: you cannot order the Services menu; it's a flat list. Oddly, the Services service does some organization for you: Services are stored in ~/Library/Services. If you have more than four Services in the folder, the contextual menu will group them into a Services submenu.

Contextul Weirdness

Oddly, Services appear in reverse alphabetical order in the contextual menu. I would imagine that this is a bug. And it's definitely ugly.

The Bad

There are actually ways in which Snow Leopard takes backwards steps or fails to rectify long-standing bugs. Here are a few I've noticed.

Quicktime X

As a long time Quicktime Pro user and fan you'll have to forgive my near complete and total disdain for Quicktime X (in every regard except screen capture, of course). It fails at the one thing it seems expressly designed for: playing movies. The controller obscures the content far too much, especially on SD content, and stays active for far too long. I have 30 second SD movies that play in their entirety with the big, giant controller blocking a significant portion of the image. There's no way to move it off the content, though clicking the surrounding image does at least make it disappear. The titlebar overlapping the movie also seems contrary to what this player is supposed to be about. Why is Quicktime X so intent on obscuring content? This is wrong way to go.

Trimming is nice, I suppose, but nowhere near frame-accurate. In fact, it's the same trim action I have on my iPhone. Except on my Mac! What? Thank the good lord I still have my Quicktime Pro (now relegated to /Applications/Utilities).

The Quicktime X interface is a glaring case of attractive design impeding usability where it should normally enhance it, and it's a shame to see that, especially from Apple.

Stealing Focus

I wrote a while back about a long-standing problem in which applications can and do steal focus from one another, leaving the user in an input no-man's-land. This issue has not been addressed in Snow Leopard. I can't believe this doesn't bug the crap out of someone at Infinite Loop. Guys, fix this shit!

Desktop Background

Prior to Snow Leopard I was using an SGI image as my Desktop background. Upon logging in after the upgrade, my background image had reverted to basic blue. It appears that, for some reason, SGI images are no longer supported as Desktop backgrounds in Snow Leopard. What a weird thing to stop supporting. Oh well.

Screen Saver

Snow Leopard removes support for 32-bit screen savers, which pretty much amounts to all third-party screen savers. Awesome.


Software Update

Snow Leopard's version of Software Update no longer offers "Download Only" or "Download and Keep Installer" options. Actually, you know, maybe this isn't such a bad thing. I didn't need those cluttering up my drive anyway.

Software Update: No More Direct Downloads

The Annoying

There have been a few things that, while certainly not the fault of the new OS, have made the overall Snow Leopard experience less than it could have been.


Not to harp on this, but I still haven't received my Snow Leopard discs, and it's been out for well over a week. While I'm glad to have gotten Amazon's $20 discount, I had no idea it'd be at the expense of the shipment arriving in a timely fashion. To make matters worse, Amazon had the disc sent via a carrier knows as A1, who marked the item "Delivered" when it arrived at their facility, not when it arrived in my sweaty mitts, so I had to call Amazon for clarification.

Overall, pre-ordering has been a bad experience: The shipment has come well after the release date, and I've had no sense of when to expect my delivery, where it is or what's taking it so long to arrive. At this rate my custom MacBook Pro is liable to make it here from China before I ever get my Snow Leopard disc. And that's just lame.

I will not be pre-ordering Apple products from Amazon again.


Overall I've been pleased as punch with application compatibility in Snow Leopard. Nothing broke. Not even my copy of Photoshop CS2 (yes, 2!). That's about as good as it gets. But one application I've come to rely on has decided to "go Pro." That application is called PTHPasteboard. PTHPasteboard is an application that stores multiple clipboards for easy retrieval. Having multiple clipboards is something I've come to really rely on, and PTHPasteboard has always had a "Lite" version that was free and suited my needs well. But now, with Snow Leopard, PTHPasteboard will be "Pro" — read: "pay for" — only. There will no longer be a free version. If you want to use the app you'll just have to pay.

While I certainly don't begrudge developers charging for their wares, I've grown weary of this tactic. It happened with Pro Tools, way back in the OS 9 days. Then Butler (though its pay version is, thus far, vaporware). Now it's happening with PTHPasteboard. I'm sick of it. It's beginning to feel a bit like bait-and-switch, frankly.

Look, pick a pay structure and stick with it. Otherwise you lose customer loyalty (yes, I'll likely look elsewhere for even a pay-for clipboard manager), and build customer animosity. It's a great way to make folks feel cheated when your app goes from free and easy to costly and a pain in the ass.


Overall I'm very happy with Snow Leopard. There's lots to like in the promised performance and space improvements, and even a lot of new toys to keep the constant tinkerer busy for a bit. But if you pre-ordered from Amazon, get comfy and find a friend with a copy you can burn, 'cause it's gonna be a while.

I will say, though, it's worth the wait. I already miss it when I'm working on my PPC machines.


What review of a new Mac OS would be complete without the obligatory link to Ars Technica's famed coverage of said OS. Amazingly thorough and detailed, yet somehow still fascinating. Go read it, if you dare!


It occurs to me that the themes of the last two posts will likely soon converge. When I buy my new MacBook Pro it will come with Snow Leopard, thus negating much need for pre-ordering the beast at all, which I've spent the last two weeks obsessively worrying over.

And, speaking of, pre-ordering, while I'm glad to have helped out Daring Fireball, I'm still waiting on the shipment. That's right, Amazon hasn't even shipped the order yet. Not sure what the point of pre-ordering is if you end up getting your order a week after everyone else. Looks like I can still pre-order it, in fact. Because Amazon just doesn't have it yet. So, a word to the wise: If you're expecting an Amazon pre-order of an Apple product to be in your hands on release day — or anywhere close, for that matter — don't. It doesn't work like that. The good news is, Amazon's giving me a $20 discount on my pre-order. So that's cool.

I guess if I'd played all this right I'd have just gotten my Snow Leopard MacBook and forgone the hand-wringing. Or at least focused said hand-wringing exclusively on which MacBook Pro to get. 17" or 15"? 17" or 15"? 17" or 15"?

Oh, and, "Glossy screen or matte? Glossy screen or matte? Glossy screen or matte?"

In any case, it's done now. And so I wait.

Pre-Ordering Snow Leopard

I've been on the fence for some time about whether or not to pre-order Snow Leopard, and, if I were to do so, which package I should get. There are two options under my consideration.

The first is the $29 Upgrade option. This option requires the user to already have a copy of Leopard. What this means exactly is unclear. It could simply mean that you will need to prove that you have purchased Leopard in order to qualify for purchasing or using the installer on this disc. Given Apple's lack of serial number tracking for their OS, though, I find this scenario unlikely. More likely is that the upgrade disc will require that Leopard has already been installed on the system, and then the upgrade disc will be used to literally upgrade that install to Snow Leopard. MacRumors even states:

"...the standalone OS X Snow Leopard, priced at $29, will require an existing installation of OS X 10.5 Leopard."

The second option is the Box Set option. The Box Set comes with iLife, iWork and a full installer for Snow Leopard, and is said to be required if you want to upgrade from Tiger (or, presumably, even older OSes). This option, though, is $169. And, though it remains to be seen, it appears to be the only option available at this time to those looking for a full installer disc.

Since no one is really sure what the final options will be, I've been holding off on pre-ordering Leopard, despite the fact that I'd really like to show my support as well as get the disc as soon as humanly possible. But now I'm reconsidering. Again.

I had originally said that the Upgrade option was a no-go for me, that, as a SysAdmin I felt I needed a full install of the OS as, traditionally, there had been much lacking with previous upgrade-style OS discs. (No, I can't recall offhand what they were, but there's definitely a red flag in my brain on these sorts of things, and it's there for a reason.) But I'm starting to think it's meant to be this way. That is, after reading up on the matter, it sounds like Apple intends Leopard owners to use the upgrade disk, that this is the preferred method of installing Snow Leopard. And frankly, the new installer tricks sound cool enough that I want to use that upgrade disk to check them out, see if they work, and, if nothing else report my findings. Yes, I'm considering it for the blogging potential. Plus, at $29 bucks you almost can't go wrong.

Here's the thing, though. Even though I already have iLife, and even though I certainly don't need — but wouldn't mind getting — a copy of iWork, I may find myself buying the Box Set at some point anyway. Just to have the full installer. And this makes me really back off the idea of getting the Upgrade option. So, here we are: Cognitive Dissonance City.

What I wish is that Daring Fireball had a pre-order link to the Box Set. I'd almost certainly do that. As it stands now, I've just about talked myself into getting both — pre-ordering the Upgrade and then getting the Box Set later.

How sick is that? Yes, I have problems.

UPDATE: Problem solved: Mr. Gruber has a page with pre-order links to all the various possible incarnations of Snow Leopard. I'll be pre-ordering the Box Set of Snow Leopard today.

UPDATE 2: I have just ordered the Snow Leopard Box Set. I'm assuming this will give me the best of all possible worlds — an upgrade install if I want it, and a full install if I need it. I also just realized that I will, in fact, be upgrading a Tiger system, so having the full, unfettered installer will be a real boon. And having iWork and an extra copy of iLife bundled in won't be so bad either. So there it is, done at last.

Just a final thank you to everyone who wrote in on this, both in this article's comments and here. Your input helped with this decision a lot. Thanks!

UPDATE 3: Just to follow up on this, there has been some discussion in the comments — and on the Internet at large — about the fact that the Snow Leopard Upgrade disc actually contains the full installer and that the Box Set is not physically required to upgrade from Tiger, though it is required in order to be compliant with the EULA. While part of me did feel a bit scammed by the vague nature of the pre-order language, I mostly feel quite pleased with Apple's policies governing OS updates: They are reasonably priced and extremely liberal in the restrictions on how and where they can be installed. Simply put, Apple does not require any sort of serial number input or product activation to use their updates; you buy them and are on your honor to abide by the EULA. Snow Leopard continues this proud tradition. While I do wish there were a cheaper legal option that didn't require me purchasing iLife and iWork, I'm still, overall, a very happy camper and am looking forward to receiving my Snow Leopard Box Set. In the end, no complaints here.

Mac OS X 10.5.8 Reduces Drive Space Usage

I'd day this is probably a first in my career. It appears that after installing the Mac OS X 10.5.8 update my drive space requirements have gone down.

Before 10.5.8

Yup, that's right, my System partition now occupies a bit less space than it did prior to the update. I'd first noticed this on my old PowerBook and thought I was going nuts. But after installing the update on my Intel tower as well, the results seem pretty consistent.

After 10.5.8

If this is the sort of thing we can expect in Snow Leopard, you can officially call me excited.

Now about those upgrade disks. Anyone know what's up with them?



So I just installed three additional updates — Safari 4.0.3, Security Update 2009-004, and the latest GarageBand patch — and my available drive space has increased even more. One commenter has brought up the possibility that these space gains are simply due to swap files being deleted after a reboot. But all these screen shots — including the first one — are taken immediately after a reboot, so I don't think swap files should be a factor. Also, the gains on my PowerBook were significant enough to rule out swap. And now I'm seeing subsequent updates freeing up even more drive space.

After Additional Updates

No, I think something else is going on here. My suspicion is that we're beginning to see some of the sorts of efficiency improvements — like a smaller disk space footprint — that Snow Leopard is supposed to be all about. I suspect that whatever they're doing in Snow Leopard to reduce disk usage is making its way into the latest bunch of updates, and so these updates are actually decreasing the amount of disk space required by the OS.

But this is only a wild guess. For the record, I've got no more evidence than I'm presenting here, and have not been thorough nor the least bit scientific in my approach to this phenomenon, nor do I have time to investigate much beyond these observations.

I think you have to admit, though, if nothing else, it's quite odd to see a consistent increase in drive capacity after multiple system updates. This is not the usual way of things.