For years, Apple has churned out versions of Mac OS X pumped full of new features geared toward the average user. And it seems like with every iteration of Mac OS X, the new feature count balloons. While many of these new features are small -- for example, Apple touted additional fonts as a new Leopard feature -- new features still drove marketing and appeal for new Mac OS X versions. With Snow Leopard, Apple is taking a detour, and is focusing on performance, under-the-hood improvements, and user interface refinements. That doesn't mean Snow Leopard isn't worth paying attention to, though. Here are five things you should know about Snow Leopard.
Speed and Efficiency
Snow Leopard includes a host of new features with performance in mind, such as Grand Central Dispatch (which allows Snow Leopard to better take advantage of multi-core processors) and OpenCL (which lets Snow Leopard use the graphics card to do general computing tasks). This has uses beyond science, 3D, gaming, and such, but could be put to work for everyday tasks. Also, Snow Leopard should use much less disk space; Apple claims you could regain over 6 GB of disk space by installing Snow Leopard, but your mileage will most certainly vary.
As a point of comparison, Windows 7 Release Candidate saw a slight performance boost over Windows Vista in our preliminary testing.
Snow Leopard will be a US$29 upgrade for users of Leopard ($49 for the five-license family pack). With previous upgrades, you would have to pay the full price -- $129 -- even if you were upgrading from 10.4 to 10.5, for example. Apple probably reasons that most users won't be able to see the new features and changes, which Apple has traditionally used to sell Mac OS X upgrades, so Apple will cut Leopard users a break this time. Even during the keynote, Apple positioned Snow Leopard as "Leopard: Second Edition" instead of a brand new version. It seems to fit in between a service pack and a full-blown upgrade, so it's priced appropriately.
New Goodies to Come
While there aren't a whole lot of features that you'll be able to notice offhand (aside from improved performance, perhaps) Snow Leopard's big under-the-hood changes should result in better software for users going forward.
PowerPC Users: No Leopard for You!
If you own an older Mac from before Apple's switch to Intel processors, you're out of luck; Snow Leopard will only run Intel-CPU-based Macs. Snow Leopard will debut nearly four years after the first Intel Macs shipped in January 2006.
Get It in September
Last week Microsoft announced that Windows 7 would be publicly released in October. Today, Apple announced Snow Leopard will be available in September, at which point you can expect unending comparisons between Snow Leopard and Windows 7. Fight!