Remember Mac Classic? That was so last century. Mac OS X continues to mature, perhaps even adding middle aged weight. Middle aged? Think about it. Much of what’s inside Snow Leopard can trace a heritage back to the mid-to-late 1980s with NeXT Computer and Nextstep, the precursor to Mac OS X. So, what’s really inside the Mac’s new Snow Leopard OS?
Despite Apple’s claims that OS X is a modern operating system, it’s really middle aged. The first public beta of OS X was Kodiak, debuting in September, 2000. That was quickly followed by Cheetah, OS X 10.0 in early 2001.
Since then, Mac users have been treated to a growing list of OS X versions, each seemingly better and faster than the last, each with more bells and whistles. From Cheetah, OS X went to Puma at 10.1, Jaguar at 10.2, Panther at 10.3, Tiger at 10.4 on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs, and finally Leopard at 10.5 in October 2007.
Despite the lack of eye candy adornment, the upcoming Snow Leopard promises to be the beginning of the best Mac OS X yet. Beginning? Sure. It takes a few updates for each OS X version to iron out the kinks, right?
Snow Leopard is different than previous Apple cats. First, it’s Intel-only Inside. Snow Leopard won’t run on your old PowerPC Mac. Apple has supported the PowerPC chips since Mac System 7 back in the last century.
Second, the hardware requirements for Snow Leopard are more substantial. Intel-only, of course. One gigabyte of RAM is the minimum. Snow Leopard will run on any Mac with an Intel CPU, including Core Sole and Core Duo, though some will be limited to 32-bits. Newer CPUs will run in 64-bit mode.
Finally, the price tag. Previous Mac cats weighed in at $129 for the single user version, causing some Apple pundits to include the upgrade cost as part of the infamous Apple Tax. Snow Leopard is priced at just $29. Hello Kitty!
Snow Leopard is billed as a refined, faster, more capable Leopard. For example, out of the box, Snow Leopard will provide support for Microsoft Exchange 2007 servers for Mail, iCal, and Address Book.
QuickTime whatever becomes QuickTime X, the Mac’s ubiquitous media player. You’ll notice new screen controls and support for HTTP live streaming. Other goodies include Grand Central Dispatch which will make better use of the Mac’s multiple core CPUs. Not now, but soon, as developers upgrade their wares to take advantage of GCD.
OpenCL (Apple’s Open Computing Language, adopted by Intel, AMD, and Nvidia) will provide improved graphics capabilities, but only with specific graphic processors.
It only works with the following Mac GPUs: NVIDIA Geforce 8600M GT, GeForce 8800 GT, GeForce 8800 GTS, Geforce 9400M, GeForce 9600M GT, GeForce GT 120, GeForce GT 130 and ATI Radeon 4850, Radeon 4870.
Exciting, no? Not really, but OpenCL, GCD, and full-on 64-bit capability will play a big part in future Macs.
Apple has added new features to each new cat since Cheetah. Snow Leopard won’t have eye-popping new features, instead sporting few visible refinements, including semi-transparent contextual menus in the Dock icons, faster startup, and less space.
Still, cosmetic differences within Apple’s own software will remain in Snow Leopard. The scroll bars on the Finder will differ from those in iTunes. If you want a reason to upgrade to Snow Leopard it won’t come in a list of new features. QuickTime X is about a new looking as it gets.
If most of what makes Snow Leopard is under the hood, behind the scenes, and yet to become mainstream for users, why bother to upgrade? Is it worth it?
Apple priced Snow Leopard $100 less than previous versions for a reason. Strange as it may seem, Mac users will pay for features. Performance? Not so much. Snow Leopard should make recent Macs run faster, start up quicker, shut down quickly, and run multi-media smoother.
Support for Microsoft’s Exchange Server 2007 will be a plus. Microsoft plans to discontinue Entourage and replace it with a Mac version of Outlook late next year.
From what I can tell, and it remains to be seen, Snow Leopard appears to be an upgrade. That means you can upgrade your Mac from a previous version of Leopard for $29. If your Mac is running OS X Tiger, Apple wants to charge more for an upgrade to Leopard and Snow Leopard. I won’t be surprised if the $29 version of Snow Leopard clean installs on any Intel Mac.
When? Apple promised Snow Leopard in September. Should you upgrade? Why not? It’s only $29 and upgrading is fun.