updated 09:10 pm EDT, Mon June 15, 2009
Snow Leopard upgrade
Apple recently showed off the next iteration of its Mac OS X platform, Snow Leopard. The company called upon Bertrand Serlet, its vice President of Software Engineering, to outline some of the key new features during the WWDC keynote presentation. Serlet began his presentation by noting that Apple was very happy with Mac OS X 10.5 and began working on 10.6 with the goal of creating "a better Leopard." The presentation was then broken down into three different categories: refinements, technology, and Exchange support.
The developers focused on improving and refining 90 percent of the operating system. The work should be reflected in a more responsive Finder, a faster Mail application, a 64-bit version of Safari 4, a new Dock Expose feature, and more. The Finder interface has not changed in Snow Leopard, but the underlying architecture has been completely rewritten using Cocoa and 64-bit optimizations. Overall, the Finder is said to be more responsive and will include several new features such as customizable Spotlight search options, an enhanced icon view that acts similar to Quick Look, and a new Services menu, among others.
Snow Leopard is said to install up to 45 percent faster than the previous release, while the required disk space has been cut in half. Apple claims that users should recover almost 6GB of hard drive space after upgrading to Snow Leopard. Additionally, the OS installer now verifies all of a user's installed applications for compatibility after the upgrade. Any applications that are deemed incompatible will be set aside and users will be able to deal with them accordingly. Refinements have also been made to Time Machine, which is said to be more efficient and 50-percent faster at completing the initial backup to a Time Capsule device.
Apple also took the opportunity to show off its new Expose feature and Stacks update. In Snow Leopard, the window management system that has come to be known as Expose will be integrated directly into the Dock. The new functionality allows users to click and hold on an icon in the Dock and all windows related to that application will then be displayed in the standard Expose style. A similar function is currently available in Leopard but requires users to first find and select a window from the desired application. Snow Leopard will also bring changes to Stacks allowing them to better handle a large number of files more efficiently. The grid view now includes a scroll bar and also allows users to move into sub-folders without having to leave the stack view.
Dock Expose feature
Stack update showing scrollable stack functionality
QuickTime X made its official debut during the presentation and is said to be completely rebuilt, including a revamped user-interface. The new interface now overlays the playback controls on the video and fades all controls when not in use. QuickTime X will also include options for trimming videos and exporting files to iTunes, MobileMe, and YouTube. While watching a video, a user can turn on the trim mode which then displays a timeline across the bottom of the video. Controls can then be used to scrub through the video and select only the desired portion. Another feature announced for QuickTime X is the ability to capture audio and video using a Mac's built-in microphone and camera.
QuickTime X interface
Snow Leopard is also set to continue the move to a true 64-bit system that started with the release of Leopard. Nearly all of the core system applications have now been rewritten as 64-bit applications which enables them to address far greater amounts of memory than previously possible. According to Apple's testing, the new 64-bit applications are able to deliver faster overall performance while increasing security. In order to ensure that a user's applications still work, Snow Leopard will still be able to run 32-bit applications. Despite the backwards compatibility, Apple still encourages developers to move their products to the new architecture.
Speed comparison between 32- and 64-bit
Grand Central Dispatch is another updated technology introduced in OS X 10.6. The system allows software to better utilize multi-core processors by efficiently distributing tasks. During the keynote presentation, Serlet addressed the idea that technology has shifted from increasing processor clock speeds to adding additional cores. The transition provides improved performance and requires less power consumption, but adds the need for a special programming technology called threads. In the past, each application required its own threading code and was often difficult for developers to effectively implement. Grand Central Dispatch is a system that lets the operating system handle threads instead of individual applications.
The third technology Apple is introducing for Snow Leopard is OpenCL. The architecture allows developers to make use of the unused computing resources on graphics chipsets and multi-core processors. Applications can be coded to route processes to the GPU cores that would typically be handled by the CPU cores. The optimized resource allocation should result in faster application functions, as a portion of the processing can be performed aside from the CPU to free system resources.
Snow Leopard will also feature built-in support for Microsoft Exchange Server, integrated directly into Apple's Mail, iCal, and Address Book applications. To set up an Exchange account, users begin by entering their login information in Mail's Accounts pane and then selecting which applications to configure. When using an Exchange server with Autodiscovery enabled, all settings will be pulled from the server and automatically adjusted. By integrating the support into Apple's own core applications, users can continue to take advantage of many of the OS's other features. Spotlight can be used for searching through an Exchange e-mail account for specific messages, while Quick Look can be used for opening attachments without opening them, and data detectors can be used for interacting with dates, phone numbers, and addresses.
Mail Exchange support
iCal Exchange support
Mac OS X Snow Leopard is scheduled to ship sometime in September. Current Leopard owners will be able to upgrade for $29, while a family upgrade carries a price of $49.