The plan is for yours truly to give this month’s presentation on Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard at next Tuesday’s Salem Mac Users Group meeting, so I was a little perturbed when day after day my copy of the new operating system refused to be delivered by FedEx.

Happily, yesterday finally saw its arrival–almost a week after some other Apple Consultants Network members, but hey–and I installed it (after making a backup of my hard drive of course) last night.

The early report is good: So far everything is snappy and stable. I’ve updated a few programs for compatibility reasons, but nothing out of the ordinary in terms of the update process. I’m very pleased with how well the update went.

What I like:
• Spaces: Virtual desktops would be more valuable for someone with a smaller screen or someone not running dual displays, but I can see this being an incredible useful feature when I’m on the road with the laptop and its relatively small 15″ LED monitor is all I have to work with. Even on a dual display setup like mine, Spaces takes advantage of both screens. It’s really neat! (And Control + Arrow keys makes for great key combos.)

• The overall look: Windows seem more clear, the red/yellow/green window buttons seem more distinct, and everything seems more crisp than Tiger. (There are, however, notable exceptions to this which I’ll hit in a moment.)

• Speed: Intel-based machines reportedly show 5 to 10 percent speed gains over Tiger, and this corresponds with my experience. Everything feels snappier. Mail in particular feels wonderfully faster. (Note that Leopard on PowerPC Macs is reported 3 to 5 percent slower.)

• Parental controls: It’s not like any of my kids will be hopping on my laptop, Asgard, any time soon, but eventually they’ll be using a Mac that runs Leopard and when they do, it’s nice to know that I can set all kinds of parental controls to keep them from doing things that they shouldn’t.

• Universal Access: I have several clients with macular degeneration, which means that they’re slowly but surely losing their eyesight. Leopard’s Voice Over system coupled with Alex, the new synthesized speech voice, will go a long way toward improving their Mac experience.

• Time Machine: I’ve not really restored any files using it yet, but the set up–plug in an external hard drive and click “Yes, use this drive for Time Machine”–was about as painless as possible. The visual effect, for all its flash and bang, is actually quite effective in promoting the “travel through time” metaphor.

• QuickLook: Huge timesaver. Love not having to open Preview all the time to see what’s in a document. Just select a file and hit the space bar. Neat!

• LAN control: If you’ve got another Mac on your local area network (LAN), you can now log into it from the Finder, see its screen, and control the computer remotely. It’s like having Apple Remote Desktop built-in.

• To-dos: I’ve not really started using them, but I love the promise represented by a “to do” list that syncs from Mac to iPhone. The “to do” list Mail integration is a great idea, too, since I’ve been using my In Box as a to do list for years now.

• iCal interface improvements: It’s a small thing, but the new iCal places the day/week/month controller at the top window instead of inexplicably at the bottom as it had before.

What I dislike:
• The new folder icons: Looks like they were designed by a committee. No personality, no character, and, worst of all, it’s darn near impossible to see the symbols on them.

• The Dock (when placed at the bottom): Horrible, horrible, horrible shiny glossy 3-D effect renders everything like the Desktop version of Las Vegas. The open applications indicator, heretofore a smallish black triangle, is now replaced with a spot of light which is virtually impossible to see against Apple’s default Leopard background and which only adds to the feeling you’ve entered a casino. Happily, a dark desktop screen and a move of the Dock to either side of the screen mitigates all problems. (I remain a Dock-hater, though.)

• Stacks: Worthless visual eye candy. I have no idea how this in any way represents an improvement over just opening a window. I do like the concept of a Downloads folder, though.

Those interested in an upgrade to Leopard can purchase it at my online store for $20 off retail (with free shipping).