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Tuesday, 10 June 2008 08:33

OS X 'œSnow Leopard' proves real, after all: previewed at WWDC

Despite the doubt some of my journalistic colleagues expressed over the chance that Apple might decide to preview the next version of OS X, dubbed “Snow Leopard”, at the WWDC, it has happened! OS X 10.5 Leopard owners can rest easy, however: it won’t arrive for at least one year.

If you’ve upgraded to OS X “Leopard” 10.5 to take advantage of features such as Time Machine, built-in Boot Camp and a range of other features, and are worried that you’ve wasted money for an upgrade that will soon be replaced: don’t worry.

That’s because the next version of OS X, “Snow Leopard”, which is presumed to be numbered 10.6 (although Apple provided no confirmation), is “scheduled to ship in about a year”, which would seem to indicate the 2009 WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference), although there will no doubt be beta versions and developer previews long before that actual date. 

Every time Apple advances a dot point, such as from 10.3 to 10.4 to 10.5, it signifies a major new version of the Mac OS X operating system, and normally comes replete with new features.

But while Mac OS X Snow Leopard will be, according to Apple, “the next major version of the world’s most advanced operating system”, Apple advises that this new version won’t focus primarily on new features, but will instead “enhance the performance of OS X, set a new standard for quality and lay the foundation for future OS X innovation”.

Let’s certainly hope that’s true, because OS X 10.5 Leopard hasn’t quite been the “incredible success” that Apple trumpets in its press release announcing the second coming of the Leopard, but this time the Snow Leopard breed.

You see, Apple has had some major problems with wireless Wi-Fi connectivity, and while Mac users aplenty will jump to OS X 10.5’s defense to declare their experiences with OS X 10.5 to have been “trouble free”, or to have had problems fixed with the application of one of the 10.5.x updates, many reports of wireless Wi-Fi issues have plagued OS X 10.5, almost reminding me of the wireless issues Ubuntu Linux has experienced over the years.

These kind of problems are quite puzzling, because Apple has a vastly smaller set of hardware configurations to work with that the typical Linux or Windows PC installation.

Such an infinitesimally smaller number of hardware configurations should, in theory, make it as easy as pie to write wireless drivers for and to ensure rock solid stability, but clearly the black art of operating system programming isn’t as easy as I’d imagine it to be for Apple or we wouldn’t have had these problems in the first place.

So, it’s great to see that Apple is specifically singling out that it wants to “set a new standard for quality” in the next version of OS X. After all, Apple would never want to be tarred with the Vista instability and unreliability brush it so fervently painted over Microsoft’s reputation with, even though that has happened thanks to OS X 10.5’s oddities.

So, leaving all of these “quality” issues aside, what cool and interesting new things does Apple have planned for the fresh new feline that will be the Snow Leopard? Please read on to page 2

Well, despite the fact that Apple says it isn’t “primarily focusing on new features”, new features there most definitely are. Hey, it wouldn’t be a new OS release without them!

Apple promises that Snow Leopard is “optimised for multi-core processors, taps into the vast computing power of graphic processing units (GPUs), enables breakthrough amounts of RAM and features a new, modern media platform with QuickTime X.”

In addition, and rather startlingly, Apple promises that Snow Leopard will also include “out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange 2007”. Apple says that “native support” is included “for Microsoft Exchange 2007 in OS X applications Mail, iCal and Address Book” for the “first time”, thus “making it even easier to integrate Macs into organisations of any size.”

Wow! Apple realises that if you can’t beat ‘em when it comes to replacing Windows PCs outright in the enterprise, why not join ‘em? Or at least... join ‘em just enough to make it much less difficult for a Mac to live in business environments. It certainly makes you wonder why Apple didn’t think of it earlier... but hey, better late than never!

It also mimics the fact that the iPhone 2.0 software will synchronise with Microsoft Exchange through ActiveSync. Clearly, Apple has been thinking about this for a long time.

Bertrand Serlet, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering said that: “We have delivered more than a thousand new features to OS X in just seven years and Snow Leopard lays the foundation for thousands more. In our continued effort to deliver the best user experience, we hit the pause button on new features to focus on perfecting the world’s most advanced operating system.”

Apple then delivered some additional information on what those new features specifically are. I’ll simply quote what they say:

The press release indicates that: “Snow Leopard delivers unrivaled support for multi-core processors with a new technology code-named “Grand Central,” making it easy for developers to create programs that take full advantage of the power of multi-core Macs.”

It continues: “Snow Leopard further extends support for modern hardware with Open Computing Language (OpenCL), which lets any application tap into the vast gigaflops of GPU computing power previously available only to graphics applications. OpenCL is based on the C programming language and has been proposed as an open standard. Furthering OS X’s lead in 64-bit technology, Snow Leopard raises the software limit on system memory up to a theoretical 16TB of RAM.”

Please continue to page 3.

Apple then claims that: “Using media technology pioneered in OS X iPhone, Snow Leopard introduces QuickTime X, which optimises support for modern audio and video formats resulting in extremely efficient media playback. Snow Leopard also includes Safari with the fastest implementation of JavaScript ever, increasing performance by 53 percent, making Web 2.0 applications feel more responsive.”

Apple advises that “Performance will vary based on system configuration, network connection and other factors. Benchmark based on the SunSpider JavaScript Performance test on an iMac 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo system running Mac OS X Snow Leopard, with 2GB of RAM.”

So, the developers at WWDC are getting their sneak preview of Mac OS X “Snow Leopard” right now, and can start thinking about how their upcoming software can take advantage of the new features of Snow Leopard, with several months up their sleeves to spare.

And while OS X “10.6” looks like it definitely won’t appear this year, which some journalists expressed serious doubt over and turned out to be right about, the new version of OS X is officially on the radar and developers are now fully aware.

That is as it should be when it comes to Apple – its new operating system releases have in the OS X timeframe been far more regular and timely than Microsoft, so really, to be previewing Snow Leopard at 2008’s WWDC is actually perfect timing!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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