For us Mac users, this Friday marks a special day, which only happens every couple of years. After what seems to be a very long four-month delay, Apple will release the fifth major update to their next generation operating system: Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. 1.6-percent stake 1.6 percent stake

As most of you may already know, the Mac computing platform is the healthy alternative to the market-dominant Windows platform, with its latest upgrade – Windows Vista – released just under a year ago. Unfortunately, for those poor souls who bought into the Microsoft marketing machine, the “Wow” did not start that day, nor does it seem like it will ever happen. Even worse, those ignorant few who spent the extra bills to buy the Ultimate version ultimately got ripped off. DreamScene? Texas Hold ‘Em? Give me a break. For the sake of credibility, I actually got a copy of Ultimate from Intel and have it installed on my Boot Camp partition. Even after almost a year since launch, we have yet to see a decent build. This is genuinely pathetic and shows just how little Microsoft cares.

All the while, Apple’s Mac OS X operating system marks a significant achievement in software development, releasing five major revisions loaded with new features within just seven years. The 10.0 Cheetah marked the transition into the Mac OS X platform from OS 9. The 10.1 Puma provided faster performance and DVD playback. The 10.2 Jaguar brought forth features such as Quartz Extreme and iChat. Then came 10.3 Panther, marking much faster performance and introducing Expose. Finally, 10.4 Tiger included features such as Spotlight, Dashboard, Core Image and Core Video.

And today, Leopard will prove to be the greatest upgrade to the already solid operating system. Some of the more exciting features include a Time Machine backup system, Core Animation technology and improvements to the user interface. These include a new desktop, dock, finder and a feature called Quick View, which lets the user quickly preview any file formats without actually having to open the respective applications. Other features include the new iChat, Safari, built-in Wikipedia and apparently 300+ other features.

Microsoft Vista had a bazillion different versions – including full and upgrade boxes – and costs anywhere from $99 to $399. Meanwhile, consumer Mac users who wish to upgrade to Leopard get to choose from only one version, which is the full version of the operating system and will cost just $129. If you are lucky enough to be a UCSB student, the campus bookstore will be selling copies on Friday for only $89. New Mac purchasers who bought their Mac during October will be pleased to know that they can get a free copy of Leopard – minus shipping – from Apple. Just type into your browser.

If and when you do decide to upgrade, installing a new version of Mac OS X continues to be painless and very straightforward. You can choose between three options. Your first option is to simply upgrade your current operating system. Or you can erase and install, which means you will get a fresh operating system on your Mac but will lose all current data. And finally your third option: Archive and install, which archives your current operating system then installs the new one in a different library.

If your Mac seems very sluggish and you don’t have much to backup or lose, I would recommend the second option. However, for most people – myself included – I don’t have time to backup and reinstall everything so I will opt for the first option. The third option is kind-of the redheaded stepchild of upgrading Mac OS X. I never understood who actually would choose it – I guess if you need a fresh installation but are too lazy to backup everything, it can be fitting.

One last note: While upgrading Windows might significantly lower the performance of the user’s existing PC, every Mac OS X upgrade has improved reliability and performance of the Macs that were able to upgrade. With that being said, don’t be a cheap ass and just upgrade.