By Garrick Chow | Sunday, September 20, 2009
When Apple first announced at their 2008 World Wide Developers Conference that the new version of OS X would be called Snow Leopard, they included the surprising statement that Snow Leopard would have “zero new features.” Now of course, this was a bit of an exaggeration—there are enough new features to warrant my recording Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard New Features (available now!), but the point was that Snow Leopard’s main focus was under the hood, with the goal of making OS X faster, more efficient, and less bulky. Hence the the name Snow Leopard, which references the similarities of the new OS to the previous OS, Leopard.
Although the cosmetic changes are few, Snow Leopard features several enhancements to the Finder, the Dock, and to most of the built-in applications like QuickTime, iChat, Mail, and so on, but my favorite new feature so far is Snow Leopard’s greatly improved support for scanners connected directly to your Mac or on your local network.
Prior to Snow Leopard, I was locked in a never-ending battle with my moody and unpredictable network printer/scanner, which never seemed to be able to communicate consistently with my Mac. Some days it would work, some days it wouldn’t (I won’t name the brand, but let’s just say it rhymes with Pewlett Hackard). I was constantly updating and reinstalling drivers, restarting both the scanner and my Mac, and it would still only function properly occasionally.
But once I installed Snow Leopard, I was able to leave all the third-party software and drivers behind. Using Preview, which comes as part of OS X, I chose File > Import from Scanner and instantly my Mac found my scanner, installed drivers, and opened the scanning interface, from which I could select my scanning options and preferences. It just worked, and I’ve since tried it with my scanner in my home office as well with identical results. That alone was worth the $30 upgrade price to me.
And even if you don’t use scanners much these days, you’ll be happy to know that setting up a printer in Snow Leopard is just as easy. Again, you no longer have to manually install any drivers. As long as you have an internet connection, choosing File > Print will cause OS X to find your your printer and automatically install the proper drivers from the collection of pre-installed drivers included with the OS, or failing that, it will find the necessary software on the internet, download it, and install it. There’s nothing else you need to do. Of course, I haven’t personally tested every scanner/printer out there, but I’ve already experienced the ease and advantage of this feature several times when I’ve found myself in someone else’s office connected to a printer I hadn’t previously installed on my MacBook.
So if you’ve been considering upgrading to Snow Leopard and you rely on multiple scanners and printers as much as I do, I definitely recommend you make the switch. And be sure to check out my Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard New Features course in the Online Training Library®. I go into much more detail demonstrating how Snow Leopard recognizes and installs scanners and printers, and I cover lots more of what you’ll find in the latest version of Mac OS X.
By Garrick Chow | Tuesday, May 26, 2009
My favorite new feature of iPhoto ’09 is Faces–a combination of face detection and face recognition technology that lets you sort and organize your iPhoto collection by the people who appear in your pictures. Faces also provides behind the scenes improvements in activities like slideshows, making sure your subjects’ faces stay onscreen if you’re using effects that incorporate zooming and panning. If you’ve used previous versions of iPhoto and have been frustrated when your slideshows zoom in on people’s feet instead of their faces, you know what I’m talking about.
Using Faces is a simple matter of letting iPhoto detect the people in your pictures and typing in their names. iPhoto then goes through the rest of your library, finding other pictures of those people and tagging names to them. And for the most part, it does this incredibly well. You do have to coach iPhoto by letting it know when it’s put the correct or incorrect name to people, but in my testing and real-world use, iPhoto has surprised me with its accuracy. It can tell the difference between twins, and recognize people wearing sunglasses or with other parts of their faces partially obscured.
But if you’ve been using Faces, you also know there are times when iPhoto sees faces that aren’t really there, and those instances can range from making you scratch your head in wonderment at iPhoto’s tendency to find faces in hubcaps and rock formations, or laugh out loud when iPhoto sees a face in a ball of cookie dough or offers a photo of a baseball as a match to one of your friend’s faces.
I was so amused by these quirks in Faces, that I started a flickr group called “Things iPhoto Thinks Are Faces.” I thought it would be a fun way for my friends to share the times when Faces misfires, but it seems to have struck a nerve among iPhoto users and the group now has hundreds of members and submissions. You can check it out here:http://www.flickr.com/groups/977532@N24/
When iPhoto finds faces where none exist, I see it as a reflection of how we as humans are pattern seekers–seeing faces and formations where none may have been intended. As you check out the photos in the gallery, you might be surprised at how many of iPhoto’s finds actually look like faces if you squint or stare at them for a while. In much the same manner as we look to other applications to speed up our work by performing repetitive tasks faster than we’re able to do on our own, iPhoto has become an efficient pattern finder–locating things that look like faces that we might not have noticed on our own.
If you’re a Mac user and haven’t checked out Faces in iPhoto ’09 yet, be sure to give it a spin. It’s surprisingly addictive to go through your library tagging names to faces. And be sure to check out Derrick Story’s “10 Things to Know about iPhoto: Faces” to learn more about how to take advantage of this awesome feature of iPhoto.
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