Since the Intel switch, everyone has been waiting for Apple to set a hard deadline for support for PowerPC based Macs. Some have significant numbers of PowerPC machines in use and want to be able to continue using them with new OS X releases in the future, others are clamoring for Apple to go Intel-only.
While it is a given that Apple will eventually drop support for the last PowerPC based macs at some point with a future release of OS X, it is unlikely this will happen as soon as 10.6. Apple does set arbitrary but hard cutoff points for older hardware, but those are specific machines lacking certain features. For Apple to cut support for PowerPC hardware would mean cutting an entire architecture out of the operating system. Again it will happen some time, but so soon? Doubtful.
Various figures have been tossed around as to how long Apple supports older hardware, but a conservative estimate puts PowerPC support for new releases of OS X until at least 2010, which is a significantly later date than Apples own development schedule for OS X, between 12-18 months between releases. Leopard was released in October 2007, so the absolute latest we can expect retail of the next release of OS X would be 18 months later, April of 2009. If Apple were to drop support for PowerPC even by this late date, it would fall well within the expected support lifetime for machines purchased in 2006 or even October of 2005 when the last PowerMac G5 was released. Dropping support for these machines too soon would make huge news, and would send a terrible message to new Apple buyers.
Rumors are also flying as to Apples intentions for supporting the Carbon API in future OS X releases, with various people claiming that Apple will drop Carbon entirely, or at the least deprecate it. It is true that Apple is working to improve Cocoa support, and encourages developers to use it where possible, but in the past significant frameworks in OS X weren’t available anywhere but Carbon, in particular Quicktime. And as Daniel Eran Dilger of Roughly Drafted points out, these 2 APIs aren’t really in competition with each other as some would like to believe. It would be a massive mistake on Apples part to completely drop Carbon support in 10.6, as large applications still rely on it, such as Microsoft Office.
What will be 10.6’s focus points? It is likely Apple will continue to improve the core of the operating system as they have done with each point release in the past, users regularly claim that new releases of OS X are actually faster on existing hardware, in contrast to a common Windows experience where new releases appear subjectively slower. Judging by the comments of some well known bloggers and podcast producers, Leopard could use some stability work for sure, and security is always welcome but there is obviously no malware crisis in OS X at the moment.
Would Apple really release a new version of OS X without any significant new features? We don’t think so, especially if they expect average users to fork over the standard $129 for the privilege. Expect tighter integration with existing services, refined user experience and perhaps even some yet unknown application or major feature you don’t even know you want yet.