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

On Twitter, @Shelly asked: “I would love to see you address, even in passing, any accessibility updates in Snow Leopard. Not often covered.”

Well, Shelly….unfortunately we can’t confirm absolutely that what we have seen is the remotely complete or final state of accessibility functionality in 10A261 (which was completely consistent with internal builds in this and most other aspects), partly because the internal builds our sources have access to are themselves not feature-complete and getting too far into these types of fine details, taking screen shots, etc could put those sources at risk right now until wider developer seeds begin in the mid-Beta phase; that said, however, we do have a fairly clear picture based on what we’ve seen and what sources have told us in response to your question.

There will be a few minor changes to Universal Access by the skeleton team designated to manage that project during Snow Leopard development, but most involve the way that Mac OS X works with assistive devices and other behind the scenes functionality. As a result, the only visible Universal Access/Accessibility update we’ve noticed thus far in the 10A26X series is that the “Zoom” feature for the vision-impaired now utilizes an improved version of Apple’s resolution-independence technology and presents a slick, perfectly-smoothed image even under heavy “magnification” where viewing the native pixels/bits would normally result in a blocky image far more difficult for someone with impaired vision to make out clearly than the new, cleanly smoothed view.

We will be keeping a close eye on this and all other features as they continue to evolve in Snow Leopard….although we didn’t have the most exciting answer for you this time, Shelly, we suspect that there may be some interesting Accessibility news coming down the pipe for Snow Leopard yet, so stay tuned. 🙂

@chrispoteet asked: “I was curious when the OS will be released.”

If you scan the latest from the grapevine, it’s mostly just speculation centered around Apple’s existing promise to ship Snow Leopard within a year of last summer’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) — by July, in essence. Some speculate that it may ship significantly sooner than that; in fact, some have even gone so far out on a limb as to suggest that it could ship soon enough to be released alongside the new Core i7 Macs — the iMac later this month and the Mac Pro at the end of March or in early April.

While we are quite confident that the latter is far too optimistic, based on the state of 10A261 and several reports from well-placed sources….we do believe that Snow Leopard will ship significantly in advance of this year’s WWDC. It may only be a matter of weeks, but according to sources, Apple executives intend for Steve Jobs to be able to announce the release of Mac OS X 10.6 upon his planned “triumphant return” in June….in turn allowing enough time for early sales figures to be hyped at WWDC itself in July.

As a result, we are currently projecting Snow Leopard’s release for mid-June — but it is entirely possible that the announcement of its release could come even sooner than that; late May has been mentioned more than once by old friends at Infinite Loop.

Via email, ‘Mark Rutner’ asked: “Is Snow Leopard’s menubar transparent exactly like it is by default in 10.5.x? I heard that it looks different and that the transparency is gone by default.”

Several other readers asked essentially the same question; in both 10A261 and internal builds we’ve seen, the semi-translucent menu bar remains. Also, while we have seen proposed changes to the menu bar styling such as contrasting backgrounds for each “Menu Bar Item” (formerly known as “Menu-lings,” cousins of the “Docklings” seen in early versions of OS X)….to date we have not seen such proposals manifested in Snow Leopard.

Via email, ‘eunificator’ asked: “Recently we have been hearing that Snow Leopard may merge the AppleTV OS and Front Row into one consolidated feature set. Is there any sign of this in 10A261?”

We have heard the same rumor, and thus far, our sources have not hesitated to confirm it — at least in the broad strokes. However, it does not currently look like the full set of AppleTV functionality is present in Front Row, nor does it appear that Snow Leopard can be installed unaltered on existing AppleTV hardware.

Given the fact that Apple recently put out a survey asking customers what they think of the AppleTV and what they might want from future versions, we are compelled to believe persistent reports that AppleTV development has been relatively limited over the past year and has only recently begun to swing into high gear again. Currently a relatively low priority for Infinite Loop, there does now appear to be gathering effort to increase its prominence and appeal among its target markets….but we don’t expect to see the fruits of that effort for many months yet.

A consolidation of the three main branches (Mac, iDevice, AppleTV) of Mac OS X — which are already unified at the core level, despite the unique kernel-level function of the stripped-down iDevice version — was always a significant goal of Snow Leopard’s “Grand Central” initiative. Shrinking OS X and making it more efficient will logically improve its ability to operate on unique platforms like the ARM11 core and 128MB SDRAM of the iPhone/iPod Touch….but at this point, we don’t see the same copy of Snow Leopard straight off the Mac installation disc including the upper-level components necessary for the user interfaces of AppleTV & iDevices.

That said, except for the “Front Row” style interface of the AppleTV and the unique GUI of the iDevices as well as their unique sets of bundled applications….we do expect the remainder of all three variants to be essentially identical. Prior to 10.6 the three were very close cousins based on same remarkable NeXTStep technologies….now in the Snow Leopard era, only a small set of superficial appearance and user experience components differentiate them.

Thanks for bearing with us through a few delays in the posting of this Sneak Peek….please stay tuned in the days ahead for much more coverage of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and all things Apple!

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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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