Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” – First Sneak Peek

From Apple’s own promotional materials published online last summer, we already know that Snow Leopard will have the following key features under the hood:

*Optimized top to bottom for efficiency, Multi-Core Intel processors generally & the new Core i7 “Nehalem” platform in particular (“Grand Central”), Snow Leopard will shrink the amount of hard disk space, RAM and other resources commanded by Mac OS X.

*OpenCL (Open Compute Library) takes Apple’s GPU-coprocessing tech to the next level, moving countless tasks onto the graphics processor(s) and realizing the full potential of technology previously known as Quartz Extreme/Core Graphics. OpenCL is as the name suggests, a technology meant to be shared with the world and adopted by other operating systems. It will most likely become a dominant force in 2009 & later software evolution.

*QuickTime X brings the long-languishing multimedia standard into the next decade with a complete top to bottom overhaul that improves performance, supports numerous new technologies, and although not yet officially confirmed by Infinite Loop, it is widely expected that “QuickTime Pro” features….long since easily found for free in third party media players such as VLC….will be rolled into QTX free of charge to users who purchase Snow Leopard.

*100% 64-bit….still runs fine on first-generation 32-bit Core 1 processors as well as 32-bit PowerPC G4 CPUs, but is the first major OS release to not only support 64-bit but to utilize it from stem to stern.

*Powerful new Javascript engine which goes beyond what users can already experience in the Safari 4 Beta or Webkit nightly builds to further accelerate performance of key sites & web apps in concert with Snow Leopard’s other performance-revving technologies.

As if all this wasn’t enough (Grand Central alone is a *huge* deal)….from what we have seen, the user’s experience outside the Finder and Appearance styling won’t be changing much over 10.5, but under the hood there is a whole lot more going on than just the above…

Some of the as-yet unannounced features which have already been widely speculated upon include: Core Location (GPS/3G/wifi based location/geotagging brought over from iPhone), Multi-Touch input, a new installation/driver model that only pulls components and kernel extensions such as printer & device drivers from a compressed repository (either the installation disc or a large compressed database on the boot drive itself) instead of installing them all from the get-go.

These are all solid improvements; each fits with the larger themes of optimization, supporting forward-looking technologies like multicore processors (Grand Central) and advanced GPUs (OpenCL), and consolidating advancements made by the iDevice platform. None are any more clearly evident in last week’s limited 10A261 seed than they were in December’s 10A222, but we believe that they will all make the cut in the final release which we will begin to see more of in the coming weeks as complete builds are seeded to the full developer community.

That said, we are particularly glad to have the opportunity to compare internal builds with the 10A261 developer seed….because even though our look at recent internal builds has been only preliminary and some of the best insights will be embargoed for some time yet, there are subtleties revealed by the difference — and things seen only in the internal builds — that have us even more excited for the release of Snow Leopard than we were just a week ago.

And that’s saying something.

In our initial hands-on examinations of 10A261, it immediately struck our West Coast investigation/recon team that significant work had gone into debugging and stabilization work since our last look at the internal codebase in early January.

Click through to the next page for more….

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  • Lyle Millander

    \till runs fine on first-generation 32-bit Core 1 processors as well as 32-bit PowerPC G4 CPUs\

    Does PPC support really exist for 10.6? That’s big news if accurate. Does that also mean 64-bit support on the G5?

  • Mizhou

    \100% 64-bit….still runs fine on first-generation 32-bit Core 1 processors as well as 32-bit PowerPC G4 CPUs, but is the first major OS release to not only support 64-bit but to utilize it from stem to stern.\

    A friend of mine just tried to install on a 1.8 GHz G5, and the installer just says that it is an unsupported architecture.

  • Ryan C. Meader

    Internal builds we’ve worked with have (and continue to) support PowerPC but there are increasing signs that the final version may not.

    Notably, as you’ve said, recent limited-seed developers builds don’t appear to include the PPC code and simply refuse to install on non-Intel Macs.

    Although the unique nature of Mac OS X’s architecture and its underlying technologies allows multiple hardware platforms to be supported with far less effort on Apple’s part that would be required, for example, to port Linux or Windows to another CPU/platform….at the end of the day, debugging and providing support for such a fundamentally different platform that hasn’t been an active part of Apple’s hardware products for three years is holding Mac OS X back.

    From what our sources tell us, it’s still possible that the PowerPC build of Snow Leopard could be finished with surprisingly minimal effort on the part of its developers….the code isn’t the problem. It’s the attention Apple’s developers have to pay to a legacy platform that they haven’t used in years, when they could be re-learning and shifting their focus purely to Intel development. It’s the support costs, far larger install packages, and greater complexity in stripping down a triple-platform (ARM, Intel, PowerPC) OS versus a two-platform system. Also, many of the remaining RISC (PPC/ARM etc) specialists at Apple are now mostly focused on the iDevice variant of Snow Leopard.

    All that said, it’s still possible that the developer seeds are Intel-only because the vast majority of changes that require debugging by third party developers are Intel-specific. Keep in mind that a number of Snow Leopard’s features, including the Cocoa Finder, aren’t present in the current developer seed as we reported above.

    While there’s a certain lack of clarity on this issue from an internal perspective when asking developers at Infinite Loop about the issue….and Apple hasn’t made any clear public statements on the issue of PowerPC support in Snow Leopard….we think it could end up being the case that the grapevine is right; 10.6 could be released as an Intel-only build.

    This is supported by the fact that developers will most likely be able to deploy Universal Binary applications across both 10.5 Leopard & 10.6 Snow Leopard without the backwards-compatibility issues that plagued the 10.4-to-10.5 (Tiger to Leopard) transition. Thusly, while PowerPC Mac owners would be shut out of Snow Leopard’s benefits, they wouldn’t have to miss out on applications that have been optimized to support Mac OS X 10.6’s unique features.

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