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Mac OS X Snow Leopard to Focus on Performance, Not Features

At the beginning of the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, Apple announced it would provide information about the next version of Mac OS X – code-named Snow Leopard – after the keynote. Since all the content at WWDC other than the keynote is covered by non-disclosure agreements, it seemed that Apple didn’t plan to talk in public about what we could expect.

However, a press release about Snow Leopard appeared late in the day revealing some details. Instead of adding marquee features like Time Machine and Spaces, Snow Leopard will instead focus on enhancing performance and reliability and lay the foundation for future features. In particular, Snow Leopard will be optimized for multi-core processors, be able to tap into the computing power of modern graphic processing units (GPUs), make it possible to address up to 16 TB of RAM, ship with QuickTime X, and provide out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange 2007 in Mail, iCal, and Address Book.

A new technology code-named “Grand Central” will make it easier for developers to create applications that make the most of multi-core Macs, which should let people get more from those 8-core Mac Pros. Additional performance gains will come from support for Open Computing Language (OpenCL), a new language from Apple that supposedly lets any application access the gigaflops of computing power previously available only to graphics applications. Apple says that OpenCL is based on the C programming language and has been proposed as an open standard; the only hints about it up to now came in an interview with the Nvidia CEO.

QuickTime X will reportedly optimize support for modern audio and video formats for more-efficient media playback. It seems likely that QuickTime is due for a major rewrite, given how long it has been around. Finally, Safari will receive JavaScript performance enhancements that are intended to provide an enhanced user experience for Web applications, perhaps due to a new JavaScript engine called SquirrelFish that’s recently seen the light of day.

The press release said that Snow Leopard is slated to ship “in about a year,” and I’m sure more details will start leaking out as developers receive seeds. Overall, my initial reaction is that Snow Leopard is a very good move for Apple, because the focus on adding features in favor of performance has meant that Mac OS X has become increasingly poky for many users. And I suspect that people are no longer responding as favorably to long lists of features that they may or may not use – although I use them happily, none of the new features in Tiger or Leopard have radically changed the way I use my Mac. Apple touts Mac OS X as being rock-solid and easy to use (especially compared to Windows), so enhancing the engine under Leopard’s hood
could be just what many people are looking for in the next update.

It can be difficult to convince users to pay for better performance and more efficient workings under the hood, but perhaps Apple will charge less than the usual $129. Or, perhaps Apple will give Snow Leopard away for free, in preparation for a Mac App Store that will give Apple a cut of every Mac application sold. But that’s just crazy talk… or is it?

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