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Snow Leopard, OS 11, and the Future of Apple OS’

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the ‘Snow Leopard’ rumors as they’ve circled around the web today. Cory Bohon over at TUAW broke the news this morning:

TUAW has received some information that suggests Apple may be working to seed developers with an early build of Mac OS X 10.6 at this year’s WWDC. 10.6 will not include any new significant features from 10.5; instead, Apple is focusing solely on “stability and security.”

We have also learned that OS X 10.6 may go gold master by December 2008 in an effort to start shipping it in January ‘09 at Macworld Expo. Mac OS X 10.6 will be a milestone release for Apple, as it will leave the PowerPC behind: a fully 64-bit clean, Intel-only Mac OS X.

‘Snow Leopard’ has been the topic of many heated debates today. I’ve been most interested in the posts on the MacRumors forum regarding the 10.6 rumor. Comments ranged from: “Does it make sense to do a speed and stability upgrade only? That sounds like a 10.5.X, not a 10.6!” to “Steve Jobs needs to go sooner than Ballmer if he things that is a good move.” to my personal favourite “It’s NOT GOING TO BE Snow Leopard.”—I recall hearing something similar to that in January regarding the MacBook Air…

First, let’s clarify a few things:

  • This is a rumor. None of this is confirmed.
  • ‘Snow Leopard’ is a codename.
  • “Speed and stability” are not the only new features—Snow Leopard is said to be ‘pure cocoa’ as well.
  • ‘Pure Cocoa’ does not mean abandoning all Carbon APIs. Apple may only axe the Carbon UI stuff.
  • Giving PPC users all the features of Leopard and giving Intel users a “speed and stability” boost is not Apple abandoning their loyal customer base.
  • Steve Jobs: “I’m quite pleased with the pace of new operating systems every 12 to 18 months for the foreseeable future”

I was very skeptical about this rumor at first, but as it has developed throughout the day, pieces have fallen into place. The Snow Leopard upgrade may very well be the last version of OS X. It’s a chance for Apple to tie up all the loose ends in the OS before they move on to even greater things—OS 11.

Think of all ‘loose ends’ in OS X. The Finder, FTP, Quartz GL, Resolution Independence, ZFS, etc. This is Apple’s chance to fix the integration and interoperability of their OS, as well as optimize it for the computers/devices on which it will run.

Snow Leopard could mark the end of the Intel transition. Why should the people going out and buying a Mac today have to deal with the bulk of code in OS X and third-party universal binaries? It would make much more sense to have a leaner, faster, more-optimized version of OS X running on those machines. Apple increasingly needs to slim down OS X for it’s growing lineup of mobile devices—iPhones, iPod Touches, MacBook Airs, and possibly a Mac Tablet.

If this rumor is true, and Apple is working on an Intel-only, leaner, faster, more reliable version of OS X, I have to give props to the people over at Apple. This is something that Microsoft has never done, and has put them into the hole they are today with Vista. Feature-ridden bloated code is no solution for an OS. Sure, there will be some unhappy devs, but in the long run, this decision will prove it’s worth to both Apple and their user-base.

The Future for Apple

If Apple seeds developers a beta of Snow Leopard at WWDC next week, it could give us a glimpse of what Apple has planned for the future—both hardware and software-wise. Possibilities include:

  • An all-Intel iPhone and iPod Touch
  • Beating Microsoft to the game with a multi-touch Mac at Macworld 2009.
  • A free—or next to free—upgrade in January for all Intel Mac users that will improve the performance of their systems.
  • Resolution Independence, ZFS, and a tabbed fully Cocoa Finder.
  • Improved battery life across all portable devices.
  • Cocoa updates to iTunes(8?) and Final Cut Pro.
  • OS 11—Intel & Cocoa only—slated for a late 2010 release.

Exciting times are ahead for Apple and the Macintosh. It will be interesting to watch how Apple markets Snow Leopard, and the real-world performance gains from leaning the OS. I want to publicly ask Microsoft to stop their photocopiers, and refrain from pulling any stunts like ‘Snow Vista’. Please Microsoft, no.