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The Leopard Report: Playing the Great Waiting Game

I’ve noticed that, of late, that people who care about such things aren’t speculating all that much about the alleged “hidden” or “top secret” features of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. Instead, they’re wondering when the darn thing will be released, as if that’s something that is more important than almost anything in their lives.

More to the point, you don’t hear so many predictions these days about those new features. I’ve weighed in on a few possibilities I’d like to see in Leopard, but beyond a new, more fluid Finder that can handle multitasking in a reasonably swift fashion, the speculation isn’t all that interesting, or imaginative.

In a sense, maybe some of you will be so glad to see the thing after all this time that any features extending beyond the ten or so that Steve Jobs debuted at the WWDC last June will just be icing on the cake. Just having Leopard available may be sufficient to expand the Mac platform into new, unexpected directions. Or maybe not. We’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, Apple can easily make everything right in this alternate reality simply by revealing all the information that hasn’t been disclosed so far about Leopard, including its expected release date. That would be the simple answer. Lacking that, folks are looking for signs, checking the direction of the wind, or whatever it takes to ferret out the truth, which is definitely out there. But that truth lies within the walls of Apple Inc., and even they might not have a precise shipping date yet.

So let’s look at three of the theories that have arisen around the Web in recent weeks and see how they survive a little dose of logic:

The 10.4.9 Theory

This new wrinkle on an old idea has it that development of Tiger — with the possible exception of critical security patches — must have ended with Tuesday’s release of the 10.4.9 update. Thus, Leopard is just around the corner, and that, as they say, is that.

However, nobody has any way of knowing whether there is a 10.4.10 in our future. You see, it’s always possible that 10.4.9 will reveal a serious, remaining defect that will require another update. Or maybe that update is already under construction, slated to appear in the next month or two. In short, we just don’t know. Sure, it may be true that Apple would rather not devote too many more resources to Tiger, but software development isn’t that certain a process.

The Leopard Book Theory

If 10.4.9 provides no clues, might as well go to Amazon and see when your favorite computer book author has a Leopard title slated for release. Right now, May is the most common publication date. But take it from me, since I’ve written Mac OS books too, that such dates are sheer guesswork. The editor asks their author if they know anything. He or she will say no, but make an educated guess, based on the present state of the prerelease seeds they are getting from Apple.

Yes, that’s how they get those books out within weeks of the release of a new Mac OS. As with developers who join Apple’s paid programs, they get to see the operating system as it’s being developed. They can’t talk about it, of course, because they all signed an ironclad confidentiality agreement. If they violate that agreement, they won’t be writing any more books, and will probably lose whatever money they’re earning on their current assignment.

But don’t take those estimates as anything more than estimates.

The WWDC Theory

This one may have some traction. A goodly portion of the Worldwide Developer’s Conference will be devoted to Leopard and how programmers can make their products take full advantage of 10.5. This year, the WWDC is scheduled for June 11-15, which means Apple expects it to be released by then. They don’t traditionally reschedule a WWDC, but the date provides lots of clues. Consider, for example, that last year’s WWDC was held in August, in time for the release of the first developer preview of Leopard and the Mac Pro.

In short, unless something goes really wrong with Leopard’s development process, you can be reasonably assured it’ll be out shortly before WWDC. Sure, it could appear sooner, but even if Apple gave that delivery date tomorrow, which is not very likely in the scheme of things, it wouldn’t appear at your favorite computer store until some time in the middle of April, and that may be pushing it.

So be patient and don’t worry. When it’s here, it’s here. Your life won’t change either way.