Latest Mac OS X 10.6.3 beta suggests release imminent

A new test build of Mac OS X 10.6.3 has been seeded to developers, with known issues listed as “none.” This typically means that the build is a final test seed and barring major surprises, can be expected to be released in a matter of days.

The developer build, 10D561, is the second in a row which has listed known issues as “none.” Given the nine builds that have been made–and very few kilobytes of data have actually been changed according to developers who have compared 561 with its predecessor, 552–in the past two weeks, work on 10.6.3 (internal code name “Hephaestus,” in keeping with point updates being given Greco-Roman mythological monikers in recent years) has wound down and most members of the operating systems maintenance team are already working on projects intended for either 10.6.4 “Encedalus” or 10.7 “Lion.”

Although the rest of the team is ‘on call’ for any particularly tricky incoming bug reports that may require individual developers’ unique expertise, only about five or six people at Infinite Loop are now working full time on 10.6.3 according to one of our oldest and most reliable sources.

When “Hephaestus” is released via Software Update in early March (possibly sooner, though even with no new bug reports a waiting period of about a week is typical for this final stage of bug-fix point update development cycles….in order to be sure that developers have sufficient hands-on time with the final build), it is expected to focus almost exclusively on bug fixes and include the following:

*New graphics drivers for many nVIDIA GPUs and late-model ATi chips — including the ATi Radeon 5000 series, which has yet to be shipped in any Apple hardware but is rumored for both the imminent next generation of Macbook Pros and the big update to the Mac Pro due later this winter.
*Associated changes to OpenGL which include bug fixes, compatibility with third party extensions to OpenGL, and adoption of recent minor updates to the OpenGL standard.
*Updated codecs, security patches and performance improvements for QuickTime X
*Support code for the 64-bit version of the Logic audio production suite, including performance improvements
*Miscellaneous under-the-hood changes, not all of which are mere bug fixes, for iChat, Bluetooth, AirPort, USB, Printing and IP Networking. VPN related security patches have been mentioned in internal company notes but not seed notes provided to developers.

Interestingly, 10D561 actually shrank in size since its predecessor build two weeks ago, to 715MB from 737 for 10D552. Reliable sources tell Rumors that much of the work done in the nine intervening builds was focused on cutting out unnecessary/redundant files in the Delta update package and preparing the Combo package which should weigh in at just under one gigabyte.

A considerable amount of code in 10.6.3 is specific to the Late 2009 iMac lineup, including new graphics drivers for the Radeon 4850 and 4670 which should show significant performance improvements particularly at high resolutions or when running a second display, but work on fixing persistent problems with the current iMac family has been made a separate dedicated project which expects to release at least two Software Update packages in the next 4-6 weeks so Late 2009 iMac owners should not get their hopes up about 10.6.3 helping with persistent problems such as display flickering, color gradients or other issues not fixed by the two firmware updates (GPU and Display Firmware) released by that working group so far.

Stay tuned to Rumors for the latest on 10.6.3 and all other things Apple, as always; small updates or elements of stories in progress can be found along with all our headlines and ongoing discussion at our Twitter feed: — we welcome your interaction via email, IM (AIM: MacOSRumors), or the web comments form below.

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