5 Best Mac OS X Leopard Features for Small Law Firms

November 10, 2007  (Jeffrey Kabbe)

Mac OS X LeopardMany of the most highly touted Leopard features seem to be useful primarily for home users. Some very creative law firms will no doubt find practical uses for Mail stationary and Photo Booth effects in iChat. Even so, I have identified five Leopard features as the most likely to have an immediate impact on your law practice. The first four features, taken together, can literally transform how you work with documents at your firm. The last feature doesn’t directly relate to document management, but is just too important to leave off the list.

1. Quicklook

QuicklookI don’t think I need to tell you that lawyers in virtually all practice areas have to deal with a lot of documents – pleadings, discovery, letters, work product, and much more. Even with proper file and directory names or Spotlight searches (more on that later!), it may be necessary to look at a number of files before finding the specific file or version you are seeking. If you have ever hunted for that one letter to opposing counsel from a month or two ago where a promise – as yet unfulfilled – was made, you will know what I am talking about.

Even when you know exactly what document you are looking for, finding it can take time. Previously, viewing a document meant loading up the application to and opening the file – a task which could take anywhere from five to thirty seconds. Leopard adds Quicklook, a tool that allows you to view a file without loading up the application. Quicklook supports most of the major file types, including PDF, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, images, and movies. Since Quicklook doesn’t allow you to edit files, it will be faster even if the application you normally use to open the file is already running. On my computer, Quicklook opens most small-to-medium-sized files in a second or less. That may not sound like a huge savings, but even an extra five seconds per document can add up to significant time if you have to look at ten or twenty documents.

2. Preview

PreviewPreview in Tiger could best be described as a fast, feature-poor PDF viewer. In Leopard, that place has been taken by Quicklook. In Leopard, Preview has been reborn as a tool for managing and marking-up PDF documents. As before, Preview can still be used to view other types of files, such as images. The new features will be most beneficial, though, when working with PDF files.

The first thing you will notice about Preview is the new interface. There’s nothing outstanding about the new interface – but if you were using Adobe Reader because Preview was awkward and unpleasant, you can stop now.

The Preview annotation tools have been vastly improved in Leopard. For example, you can add notes to your PDF documents. The notes appear as yellow icons in the document. The text of the notes are displayed in yellow boxes – reminiscent of Stickies notes – in a sidebar to the left of the document.

The Leopard version of Preview also allows you to combine or rearrange the pages of PDF documents. You may have already had this capability through Adobe Acrobat. Upgrading to Leopard provides the same functionality to everyone in your office without buying additional Acrobat licenses.

3. Spotlight

SpotlightApple introduced Spotlight in Tiger, allowing you to quickly search the contents of files on your computer or a hard drive connected to your computer (like a USB drive). With Leopard, Apple has expanded the reach of Spotlight to include other computers on your network. Combining Leopard with a ScanSnap and (the usually bundled) Adobe Acrobat allows you to set up fairly effective document repository on your network right out of the box.

The new Spotlight search options in Leopard will also give you much greater control over your searches. In Tiger, Spotlight could only handle simple keyword searches. Leopard adds the often-requested capability to perform very complicated searches. Apple added new search fields, including the primary fields from Address Book, iCal, and Mail such as Due Date, Email Address, and Subject. Document searches will benefit from new fields such as Authors and Pages. The already lengthy list will likely grow as programs are updated to take advantage of the new Spotlight features and add new search fields.

Spotlight also now supports Boolean AND/OR/NOT logic. By holding the Option key down when adding a search term, you can build searches such as “Condition A but not Condition B” or “Condition A and any of Conditions B, C, or D.” Like in Tiger, these searches can be saved as Smart Folders and accessed directly from the Finder sidebar.

4. Folder Sharing

FinderFolder sharing isn’t an amazing feature by itself, but in this case it is the last piece of the puzzle. Folder sharing in Tiger was rather limited – you basically had to give everyone full access rights to everything. Leopard replaces the all-or-nothing approach of Tiger and lets you share individual folders with other users. Each user can be given different rights – or no rights – to the files in the shared folder. You can, for example, allow all users to read the files in a directory but permit only some users to edit or delete the files.

Fine-grained control over access to your documents is necessary as your practice grows. With Leopard, you can share your documents without losing control.

5. Boot Camp

Bootcamp One of the reasons people often cite for refusing to buy a Mac is that they need to run a particular piece of software. There are now two primary solutions to that problem: virtualization software, like Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion, and Boot Camp. Originally introduced last year as “beta test” software, Boot Camp is now an official part of Mac OS X with Leopard. A Mac running Boot Camp can have Mac OS X and Windows XP or Vista installed. Each time the computer boots up you can choose whether to run Mac OS X or the installed version of Windows.

The real magic of Boot Camp comes when it is combined with Parallels or VMWare software. Both Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion allow a computer to run Windows from inside Mac OS X. The Windows installation normally exists as a very large file stored on your computer (my biggest Windows installation is currently 6.8GB). However, you can also choose to use a Boot Camp installation of Windows with either Parallels or VMWare. So by combining Boot Camp with Parallels or VMWare, you can run: just Mac OS X, both Mac OS X and Windows at the same time, or just Windows. That is the ultimate in flexibility.


Mac OS X Leopard is well-suited to a business environment. Leopard includes many more features than I have space to mention here that you may find a use for in your law practice. In addition, Leopard follows in the tradition of earlier releases of Mac OS X, such as Panther and Tiger, by adding great features for software developers. You won’t see a benefit from the new developer features right away. But, over the next couple of years you can expect to see new Mac software released that either wasn’t possible before or would have been much more difficult – and costly – to create. Mac OS X Leopard Server adds even more useful features, but that’s a topic for a whole article unto itself.


  1. I cannot get Spotlight to search contents of pdf notes. Am I missing something? Thanks.

  2. I don’t think you’re missing anything. I ran a few tests and got the same results. You can get it to work by copying the note text into the spotlight keywords box for the pdf, but that’s far from ideal.

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