The 10.6 Report: An Unexpected WWDC Surprise?

May 27th, 2008

This isn’t going to be your standard WWDC prediction article, because so much of that so far has focused on what form the next iteration of the iPhone will take, and what apps will be available for it on day one. What’s more, I’m sure you’ve heard quite enough on that subject already, and you’d rather wait for the main event, and discover the truth or falsity of the expectations.

That’s true even if you have given up trying to locate an iPhone for sale now. In fact, I suggest you wait for the  new model before you decide whether a possible closeout on the original — if you can find one — makes any sense.

There is also some speculation that Apple might debut new form factors for the aging MacBook and MacBook Pro note-books, but they are incredible sales successes, so where’s the incentive? But even if new models appeared for the summer and fall buying seasons, the internal hardware wouldn’t be all that different, so it wouldn’t be so revolutionary.

However, there is one element of Apple’s product portfolio that analysts and rumor sites just aren’t talking about, and I think you see where I’m going.

As we all know, Leopard went on sale at the end of October of last year, a few months late, allegedly because Apple needed to move a fair amount of its development resources to the iPhone.

Regardless of the truth of the announced reasons for that delay, Leopard came out approximately 30 months after Tiger, which is rather longer than Apple has separated its operating system reference releases in recent years. It was meant to be a 24 month gap originally.

If Apple were to return to that schedule, it would mean that Mac OS 10.6, with an unknown feline designation, would appear in the fall of 2009. Now Apple has to give developers a fair amount of time to play with prerelease versions, and three or four months from WWDC to possible release is far too short for a proper development process.

So, if that schedule is truly being considered by Apple, when would they first deliver preliminary information to developers?

Yes, it would come at the prior WWDC, which just happens to be debuting the second week of June of this year!

So if this schedule passes the logic test, it would mean that Apple is poised to unleash the next great version of Mac OS X upon developers who are simply not expecting that news. Now I wouldn’t expect it to get more than a very basic presentation, with a profile of some key new features, and perhaps less than an hour of keynote time. It is quite possible, in fact, that the actual developer’s releases wouldn’t arrive until the fall, but Apple needs to prepare WWDC members to be ready to consider the wealth of possibilities.

Certainly it would be presumptuous of me to suggest what features Apple might be considering for 10.6. I’ve made some references to improved Help systems and other elements that are missing from Leopard. The improved use of 3D in the standard interface is another idea that ought to be considered, since Apple’s enhanced graphic support could be readily harnessed and exploited on any recent Mac, even the Mac mini.

Beyond that, I just don’t know whether 10.6 should be just a general refinement of the features that first debuted in Leopard, such as Time Machine and Spaces, or offer something far more compelling.

Certainly, the pressure isn’t so high on Apple when it comes to operating systems. Windows Vista hasn’t done the job for Microsoft, and its successor, known as Windows 7, is not expected to arrive until 2010. As far as new features are concerned, Microsoft has already demonstrated their own version of Apple’s Multi-Touch capability, which appeared on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro after originating in the iPhone and iPod touch, and even a Dock alternative. I suppose Microsoft’s imitative tendencies don’t need any explanation. Maybe they still call it “innovation” because they live in a bubble.

However, the scope of the new features publicized so far seems mostly limited to wizzy special effects. MIcrosoft, after seeing many of its key features depart from Vista during its over-long gestation process, is evidently trying, for once, not to make promises it cannot deliver. Today’s Microsoft cannot get away with such shenanigans as easily as in the past, when they delivered demos of new technologies, only to cut back on features or abandon them altogether before they ever saw the light of day.

Does anyone, for example, remember Cairo?

Apple, however, isn’t in the business of delivering less than it promises, and it usually manages to keep close to the timetables it publicizes, with a few rare exceptions that we all know about. So while I really think there is a decent chance that we’ll get the first digs on Leopard’s successor at WWDC, the new iPhone will still be the star of the show.

Or am I just way, way off the mark here?

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20 Responses to “The 10.6 Report: An Unexpected WWDC Surprise?”

  1. Dana Sutton says:

    “I really think there is a decent chance that we’ll get the first digs on Leopard’s successor at WWDC, the new iPhone will still be the star of the show” These two things might more complimentary than competitive. It’s possible that 10.6 won’t feature so many wizzy breakthroughs like Time Machine, but rather the Big New Thing will be that it will be written to capitalize on the fact that OSX is now a multi-device OS that ties together the Mac, the iPhone, and perhaps some great new devices Apple has waiting in the wings (such a more “intelligent” version of iTV, a tablet, a larger personal information device, etc. etc.) and enhance the interoperability of all these goodies.

  2. Nick Murphy says:

    In 10.6 Apple needs to continue to refine how we sort, search and generally deal with files. I think file management is the area of computing that can be pushed forward the most and will provide the most benefit.

    This could include:
    – Additional Metadata attached to files (possible using the extended attributes Apple added in 10.4)
    – File organization based on more metadata than filename and file location – the finder needs to move into iTunes/iPhoto/Aperture territory.
    – synchronizing data across platforms – Apple can go much further on this one

    I think all the building blocks are there and that what we need now are initiative interfaces to make use of these technologies. I guess this really does circle back to a “fix the finder” post. Other Apple programs are using additional metadata and sorting techniques to make file handing easier but the finder is not there yet. Spotlight and Finder integration could go further.

    Here is what I would like to see:
    1. Easy addition of meta data in Save dialogue boxes (this could include assigning files to a project, multiple project, locations such as Home, Office, Mobile, etc, etc)
    2. Make Smart Folders an equal peer to normal folders using the tags/metadata added during Save.
    3. Smart Folders should become the new “default” folder. I shouldn’t have to care “where” on my hard drive a file is, I should only care that if it is tagged it will appear in the location I want it.


  3. gary cohen says:

    An unexpected surprise? How can a surprise be expected?

  4. An unexpected surprise? How can a surprise be expected?

    We expect to learn about features in the new iPhone and new iPhone software that weren’t predicted; hence, surprises. Talk about the next version of Mac OS X is unexpected. 🙂


  5. Douglas McLaughlin says:

    When it’s released late next year, Mac OS X 10.6 “Ocelot”, will be the best version ever!


  6. Tim says:

    I think seeing 10.6 is entirely possible at WWDC now. I wasn’t really considering it until Microsoft showed off multi-touch in Windows 7 today… the timing is too close, just like the first time they showed off touch, right before the iPhone’s release.

    I also think adding touch to the Mac is a good way of fighting off the clones. So far they don’t seem to be doing much, if anything, about Psystar and they’ve had plenty of time. Adding touch might be the one piece they can lock down and prevent others from adding to their cloned machines.

  7. David says:

    I hope 10.6 features solid, under-the-hood changes to restore confidence in the Unix designation MacOS X has. The people over at seem to know more about file systems and Mac development than Apple does. Anyone else find that scary?

  8. gopher says:

    Some things which may never come unless Apple does read this website or already had it in mind:

    1. The return of a leaner/meaner Classic with full driver support for software to boot into Mac OS 9.
    2. A 3D interface like 3D0X
    3. A touchscreen interface for all Macs with Intel processors.
    4. Themes! With InputManagers going out the window with Leopard, why not Apple provide an incentive for others to write themes? Long lost in the development of Copland.
    5. Macspeech integration for dictation support.
    6. Full passive FTP and SFTP support in the Finder, and not just the Terminal
    7. Better airport channel hopping in crowded networks.
    8. WiMax support for all airport capable Macs.
    9. 3D docks on sides and under the menubar.
    10. Windowshades.
    11. Better stack menus showing all icons in a folder, and not just the first assortment.
    12. Stacks from the File Open/Save dialog box toolbars!

  9. Steve says:

    It’s fair to speculate… anything is possible. However, it would be extremely unlikely for Apple to start discussing 10.6 at the WWDC next month other than making a few vague references. As an OS becomes more mature, the ability to update and the need to upgrade lessens with each release. Apple is not in the position where it needs to “catch up” to anyone.

    Also, making guesses based on when an OS should have been released is silly. I highly doubt Apple has different teams working on the odd and even number of Mac OS releases. Apple is highly focused on the iPhone version of the OS. Next year’s WWDC will be our first glimpse of 10.6. Since Apple is the leader, there is no point in tipping their hat in terms of the strategic direction Apple is taking the OS. I would expect Apple to focus on issues such as resolution independence, etc. that developers can work on now with dormant features in Leopard. It’s in Apple’s best interest to make sure developers are getting the most out of Leopard before worrying about what’s coming next.

  10. One of the reasons our school district didn’t purchase MacBooks was because of its plastic case — stating it was too fragile for student use.

  11. NoNamesPlease says:

    The code name is NOT “Ocelot”. WWDC….is ALWAYS full of surprises!


  12. NoNamesPlease says:

    “One of the reasons our school district didn’t purchase MacBooks was because of its plastic case — stating it was too fragile for student use.”

    HUH? My pro level Dell Latitude has a “plastic” case. My IBM ThinkPad T60 has a plastic case. Sorry not getting it.

  13. jimmy says:

    Didn’t Steve say they were going to SLOW DOWN OS releases after Leopard??
    10.6 demo @ this year’s WWDC? – Uh uh, no way. Leopard is fresh and spans the entire lineup from the Touch to the Pro towers… huge expanse for Leopard still to prowl.

  14. Realtosh says:

    Nice try Gene.

    Your timeline is too aggressive. Apple has their hands full at the moment bringing Leopard to the many platforms they are managing. They are still too busy with iPhone SDK, iPhone 2.0, and whatever mobile internet device comes out after iPhone 2.0.

    Steve may make some comments about 10.6, but an hour is just way off. This WWDC will have a focus. That focus will be iPhone, iPhone SDK and what a wonderful mobile platform we have for eveeeeryone to join: gaming, third party software, VARs, vertical industry software developers, etc. It is possible and even likely that 10.6 will be mentioned but only in passing. This show is not Leopard’s show, or car after Leopard’s show. This show will showcase the iPhone and all the new deals that are coming on line. This show is about Apple taking over the mobile telecommunications industry. Leopard is peripheral to that story, even if it is integral to the technology.

    If Apple does anything right is that they know how to tell a story correctly. Focusing on the important point is the way that they accomplish that. Leopard is just thrown in as part of the iPhone SDK story. Like a 2 for 1 deal, but the focus will be iPhone.

    Should I repeat myself? The focus will be iPhone. They have a new phone with new technologies, new features and new territories coming on line in about 50 countries. It would be foolish to mix that story with an message that does not entirely support that message. Apple will be on message. Believe that.

    I don’t see 10.6 for Fall 2009 either. They will make a bigger deal of the new OS next WWDC, and it will come out in the Spring of 2010, at the earliest. Unless, of course there is a crazy multi-touch thing that happens o Macs system wide. But the MacBookPro already has multi-touch trackpads which makes more ergonomic sense than a multi-touch screen.

    There will likely be other touch device(s) but these will likely be in the iPhone/iPod Touch device group. Incorporation of touch alone would not cause the Leopard successor to be sped up.

    Plus, one last time: this WWDC is all about the iPhone. At least that is the story that Apple wants to get out.

  15. Ed Palma says:

    1. Rewritten Finder.

  16. Michael says:

    Couple of thoughts…
    1) Leopard is 64 bit top to bottom. That took a long time to do, but it’s done. With that task out of the way, Apple could focus on things that are more breakthrough-oriented, or some of the more un-sexy enterprise integration issues that continue to nag Leopard.
    2) Apple has OS X running on iPods, iPhones, Macs and AppleTV. What are the future synergies that might grow out of Apple’s OS X everywhere? We’ve already got multi-touch on MacBooks. Ultra-low power iMacs? iPhones that can be docked to large screens? Tablet Macs?
    3) What is Apple’s virtualization story? Some of the underlying ickiness that drives Windows application virtualization doesn’t exist on the Mac. OS X certainly *can* run as a virtual machine on Intel hardware, but could a vMac help drive up Mac usage across the deeply entrenched Wintel base? Or would it just eat into Mac hardware sales?
    4) What is the jaw-dropping, gotta have it feature that ISN’T in Leopard already? I think this is a genuine problem for all OS vendors. How badly do you want a multi-touch interface on your desktop computer (think dirty screen)? How badly do you want to talk to your computer? Have it talk to you? Give pen-based input into your computer? Have intelligent agents doing things in the background? Fly through a 3d filesystem? Have more animation in the OS? We’ve been kicking these things around for the last twenty years and they’re some combination of difficult to do well and not overly compelling.

    In the end, this is what makes Apple-watching fun–because they somehow manage to produce upgrades that include features that are genuinely useful and fun and didn’t even imagine you wanted or needed.

  17. Bryan says:

    I am new to the MAC world, but not the technology world. BUt one thing i have seen, is Apple want to beat MS to the punch. I dont think they will even mention anything new about the OS at WWDC, but will introduce the next OS In January at MacWorld. MS is slated for a new OS in 2010. Apple will want to release there new OS in 2009 to promote more MAC sales before MS’s new version. I also think that the next version will really have major UI enhancements. Windows 7 is definately going to push the graphics envelope, so I can see much more animation and slick popup menus, more customization options built-in to the OS. I switch from windows and the last thing they want, is MS to come out with something that cause people like me to switch back. Right now I have no plans to switch back, but if Windows 7 and a New Mac OS come out very close, it will be a war of who’s is better. MS has a new product development manager for Windows 7, so i would expect some changes and them to really look at what we like about MAC and make sure Windows 7 has most of those features. Also a 2009 release give Apple at least 2 major releases before Windows 8 in 2013/14. Much more innovation. So I would say a 2009 release would be very very possible.

    Just a few thoughts. As for things I would like to see:

    1. When in finder, if i hit delete it should move the item to the trash, which it doesnt do now, why?
    2. More 3D of an interface.
    3. Somehow come up with a way to install a windows app and run it natively on a MAC. Now that woudl be killer.
    4. Install/Uninstall Manager
    5. FTP in finder would be awesome!!!!
    6. IChat enhancement to allow Yahoo, MSN to use the ICHAT interface.
    7. Cisco VPN Support, so I dont have to use a seperate client
    8. When I right click a file, i should have a send option. Thats on of my complaints. I knwo i can drag and drop it to the mail app but i like to select a few files, right click and click send to.
    9. Wireless bluetooh stereo for bluetooth speakers and headseats.
    10. Major overhaul of safari, the new Firefox 3 rocks. the look and feel and everything about it.
    11. ICAL to handle outlook appointments better. We use outlook (Entourage for me) at work and I can not use ICAL cause if someone updates an appointment in outlook and sends an update, ICAL handles it like a new appointment and doesn’t delete my old one. Due to this, I have to use Entoruage, which I hate. It sucks compared to the apple mail.
    12. OS UI customizations – Dock Changers, Icon Chnager, UI color options (be able to change the color of the grey interface, why can’t i pick colors I want) ** If someone knows a app for this i would love to know.

    I am sure I have more, but those are some of the things I think would be awesome. If you guys knwo fo a third party app that lets me do some of that id love to knwo about it. Email me bryanh605 at

  18. Realtosh says:

    @ Gene

    One aspect that you are probably right is that Apple will mention 10.6 and give us a timetable for delivery.
    It is possible that they can work on the OS for the entire next year, make a big deal about it at WWDC 2009 and deliver it in Fall 2009 or Spring 2010.

    But I still affirm that Apple will want all the news about the iPhone to overshadow these mentions of future software development. Apple needs to sell millions upon millions of iPhones this year in close to 50 different countries. The message, that Apple wants to circle the world in a couple of weeks, will be the iPhone is a great phone — best thing since sliced bread. They want it on every cover, in every magazine, every newspaper, on the TV, radio, on the internet. They want everybody talking about the iPhone for FREE.

    They want to sell millions of iPhones this year.

    (Privately the message to developers might be: move your development over to OS X. You can develop for iPhone and Mac with the same code. 2 for 1 Special)

    Publicly, WWDC will be all about the iPhone. They may even announce that 3 of the major phone makers are using Safari/WebKit: Apple, Nokia, and Samsung. Recently reports circulated that Samsung will be using Safari. If true, it means that Samsung licensed Safari or are using WebKit, the open-source foundation for Safari. Plus Google’s Android is also using the WebKit engine in its’ browser.

    Seems like Apple’s open-source WebKit is becoming the new standard for mobile browsing.

  19. loganson says:

    I think Apple may mention the next OS release but will not feature it until January. Apple has a way of developing features that you did not know you wanted or needed until you see it. I could not have imagined Expose, Spaces or Time Machine but now they feel so essential to the computing experience.

    I would like to see enhanced Open/Save dialog boxes with at least the ability to mark files as favorites for the sidebar and smart folders.

    I wish Apple could make fonts less of a hassle. Just make the Mac the only platform that designers will consider by making fonts and graphics so simple. Maybe develop some method that ties documents to their support files so they don’t loose each other. This could be a concept like a “group” that you have the option to keep together wherever the files may go.

    Spaces needs fixing and enhancement.

    More multithreading and multitasking features. I don’t want to slow down for any task I perform in the finder.

    Resolution independence done right.

    Secure things file by file or folder by folder with a simple right or control-click.

    Allow parental controls to be used for any kind of account (even admin) and make it more flexible. This would be useful for families who want to keep out bad stuff without having to switch to a crippled child-friendly account.

    Allow protection of certain things such as the hard drive name. My toddler has accidentally changed the name of the hard drive before. It is just too easy to do by mistake.

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