The countdown to the launch of Leopard on Apple’s front page currently reads 3 hours 16 minutes 36 seconds. At that time, Apple shops will open their doors after a few hours of secretive preparation, and allow people to get their first glimpse of Leopard.

Unless of course those people happen to already have it installed…

The look on the face of the Apple member of staff who turned my MacBook on to check it before it went in for repair this morning was an absolute classic.

WHERE…?!!” he started out in a rather loud voice, then regaining composure, continuing, “Where did you get this?!” pointing at the freshly installed Leopard Desktop. I thought about telling him that Steve always sends me a copy of a new OS ahead of time, but thought he might punch me, so instead told him the truth: TNT had ignored the request to not deliver it before 6pm. Thus, it had arrived at 8.30am, and I’d installed it immediately (most of the installation actually took place whilst I was on the tram to the Shopping Centre; I was just completing the registration process as they unlocked the front door). The idea was that if I got in installed before I dropped it off, not only would that erase the personal data I hadn’t already manually removed, but also, if I had problems with the install I could get it sorted whilst I was there.

“That’s really not right! It doesn’t go on sale until tonight! We’d get in serious trouble if we even showed it before then, you know what Apple’s like with secrecy …and here’s a customer running it! You know, we weren’t even allowed a preview of it, not even for training. I only saw it myself for the first time an hour ago.

Thinking that he might ‘accidentally’ drop my Mac on the floor in revenge, I asked him about his holiday. He’d mentioned that he’d been away, and was looking mightily tanned. With the initiation of that conversation, he instantly brightened up. “Yeah, Spain, it was so nice…”

Back in good humour, he said they’d get it fixed asap.

So there we have it – my claim to fame is that I was running Leopard 8 hours in advance of its official launch.

(For about 2 minutes. Until I handed over my MacBook for surgery)

Now, I’m using this incredible OS, “Windows XP” I think it’s called. Comes complete with a Large Hammer pre-installed.

Anyway, initial thoughts on Leopard?

Very nice. The changeover was painless, and only took 58 minutes. Whilst the default option upon insertion of the disk is ‘Upgrade’, I went for ‘Erase and Install’ as a simple Upgrade will always leave some cack behind. I was impressed by the way it didn’t even have to restart to format the hard drive – I think it ‘reinitiates’ the HD rather than formatting it as such. So yes, just a couple of clicks, and 58 minutes later it’s up and running.

Having handed it over to the Genius Bar staff, I had a play with the other Macs in store that had just had 10.5 Installed. Unfortunately they were yet to be linked up to a backup drive, so no chance of playing with Time Machine.

Looking at the new Finder, with coverflow and all, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that it is still pants when compared with Pathfinder. It really is a lame program (in the same way that Windows Explorer is), so limited in functionality, despite the enhancements in 10.5.

There are some practical improvements I’m happy about, like the built-in Japanese dictionary and the way that Automator can now record any action. There’s some great new networking options too, although these only really come into their own when you have several macs in the house.

One of the features I especially like is the new Parental Controls – great idea. I guess I’m thinking about that time when I buy my twin baby girls their first Macs at the age of 7 days.

Anyway, I’ll let you know how I get on with it when my Mac comes back shiney and new next week.

Till then, it’s ctrl-alt-delete all the way!