Reasons I'm looking forward to Snow Leopard

I'm looking forward to Mac OS X 10.6 ("Snow Leopard") even though Apple has said it won't sport any flashy new bells and whistles. Building upon Mac OS X 10.5, the goal is to improve overall performance for Mac desktop users.

And there's plenty of under-the-hood improvements to look forward to, based on a variety of reports (including those at "AppleInsider" and "Mac Rumors," as well as from Apple itself). Here's a round-up of features expected to be included in Snow Leopard:

° It will include out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange 2007 and is scheduled to ship in about a year.

° Snow Leopard will be optimized for multi-core processors and enable “breakthrough amounts of RAM.” "Grand Central,” a new set of technologies built into Snow Leopard, brings "unrivaled support" for multicore systems to Mac OS X, according to Apple, who says that "more cores, not faster clock speeds, drive performance increases in today’s processors." Grand Central takes full advantage by making all of Mac OS X multicore aware and optimizing it for allocating tasks across multiple cores and processors. Apple says that Grand Central also makes it much easier for developers to create programs that squeeze every last drop of power from multicore systems.

° It will support a “modern media platform” with QuickTime X that “optimizes support for modern audio and video formats resulting in extremely efficient media playback," according to Apple.

° Safari will also be receiving an optimized Javascript rendering engine that will purportedly increase performance by 53 percent.

° Under Mac OS 9, users could restore files put in the Trash before the Trash was emptied back to their original locations with a "Put Away" command. This capability was lost in the transition to Mac OS X, but it's supposed to return via a "Put Back" feature in Snow Leopard.

° You'll purportedly be able to navigation through Stacks folders.

° Apple is reportedly eliminating the QuickTime Pro upgrade that currently costs US$29.95 and making QTPro available to all Snow Leopard users.

° Apple will reportedly use Snow Leopard's release to tweak the overall user interface for Mac OS X and unify it across applications.

° Despite licensing the proprietary ActiveSync Exchange Server protocol from Microsoft for use with the iPhone, Apple is building its own Push Notification Server for messaging services in both the iPhone and Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server using open, interoperable standards.

° Snow Leopard will offer expanded support for ZFS. ZFS is a file system designed by Sun Microsystems for the Solaris Operating System. The features of ZFS include support for high storage capacities, integration of the concepts of filesystem and volume management, snapshots and copy-on-write clones, continuous integrity checking and automatic repair, RAID-Z and native NFSv4 ACLs. ZFS is implemented as open-source software, licensed under the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL).

° As part of Apple's plans to help trim the footprint of Mac OS X Snow Leopard, the new system will cease the customary installation of several gigabytes of printer drivers and instead load only the files necessary for existing devices, relying on Software Update to obtain new drivers in the future as needed.

° Snow Leopard will include tools borrowed from the iPhone that let developers determine the geographical location of Macs, as well as extend additional support for multi-touch to their apps.

° Blu-ray recording/playback support? Maybe, though I'm dubious (but hopeful).

Also, Snow Leopard will take full advantage of the OpenCL 1.0 specification, which is the first open, royalty-free standard for cross-platform, parallel programming of modern processors found in personal computers, servers and handheld/embedded devices.

Neil Trevett, chair of the OpenCL working group, says that OpenCL (Open Computing Language) greatly improves speed and responsiveness for a wide spectrum of applications in numerous market categories from gaming and entertainment to scientific and medical software. Proposed six months ago as a draft specification by Apple, OpenCL has been developed and ratified by industry-leading companies.

"We are excited about the industry-wide support for OpenCL," says Bertrand Serlet, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering. "Apple developed OpenCL so that any application in Snow Leopard, the next major version of Mac OS X, can harness an amazing amount of computing power previously available only to graphics applications."

OpenCL enables software developers to take full advantage of a diverse mix of multi-core CPUs, Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), Cell-type architectures and other parallel processors such as Digital Signal Processors (DSPs). OpenCL consists of an API (application programming interface) for coordinating parallel computation and a programming language for specifying those computations.

What's more, Apple is improving its Open Directory services in Snow Leopard Server for better scalability and performance in handling more concurrent connections. Directory services are used to manage users, groups, and devices on the network.

I also agree with Gene "the Mac Night Owl," who says that Apple should make Snow Leopard free to Mac OS X 10.5 ("Leopard") users. Why?

"... in one sense, the 10.6 release is similar to 10.1, in that it cleans up the system and makes it function faster and more reliably," says Steinberg. "Of course, the original 10.0 was, according to Apple, meant to be a product for early adopters and folks who might be considering the possibility of moving their companies to Mac OS X."


Dennis Sellers had covered the tech industry for almost 20 years. Currently, he's the editor and publisher of Macsimum News.

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