Does it Really Matter When Snow Leopard Appears?

April 2nd, 2009

When Apple first delivered its low-key introduction to Mac OS 10.6 last year, they said it would be out in “about a year.” Nothing has changed since then, although speculation about Snow Leopard’s possible release date ebbs and flows on a fairly regular basis, no doubt when there’s not a lot of Apple Inc. news to write about.

So late last year, it was suggested that there would be a major demonstration of Snow Leopard during the keynote address at January’s Macworld Expo. It didn’t help, of course, when Steve Jobs declined to participate and sent Philip Schiller as his replacement.

This is not to say that Schiller couldn’t give a credible demonstration of Snow Leopard, but a presentation of this sort wouldn’t be terribly graphic After all, most of the new operating system’s changes are supposed to be below the surface, and just showing how easy it will be to connect to a Microsoft Exchange server wouldn’t be visually appealing.

Regardless of the reason, Snow Leopard wasn’t mentioned during that keynote, one regarded as lackluster not because of the quality of Schiller’s performance, but because of the lack of compelling new products to discuss.

So maybe 10.6 isn’t visually appealing, at least compared to previous versions of Mac OS X. Indeed, it may also be true that Snow Leopard’s official debut was still far in the future as of the beginning of the year and there was no real need to show the work in progress when there’s lots of work left to be done. If the rumor sites are correct — and that’s not always a given — a new user interface, known as “marble,” will make its debut in Snow Leopard.

Based on what we have been told, it would appear to be mostly a smoothing and perhaps a darkening of the look and feel of Mac OS X, more in line with iTunes and such. Perhaps Apple wants to add some visual fluff to make Snow Leopard more salable, a more compelling upgrade for you.

If that’s the case, I can understand the logic behind a decision of that sort. You see, just saying Snow Leopard will be faster, use less RAM and take less hard drive space isn’t sexy. How many of you really care about such arcane features as improved 64-bit support, better support for multicore processors, and the ability to offload work to the graphics chips?

Sure, maybe all this stuff will make for a more efficient, more reliable Macintosh. But it’s also going to be a hard sell to explain the value of all these advancements to the average customer. To be sure, except for those of you who stretch your Macs to the limits with such tasks as high-energy gaming and 3D rendering, Snow Leopard’s improvements may not prove all that significant.

So it comes down to this: Does Snow Leopard’s debut make any difference? Not that it won’t be a good product. Personally, I have great hopes for it, whether it has a user interface refresh or not. Some of my work could benefit from better support of my Mac Pro’s twin eight-core processors, and I would hope that developers will take advantage of the enhanced tools to make that possible. However, does Apple stand to suffer if that “about a year” promise means September instead of — say — June?

I realize that there is a potential competitive threat on the horizon, in the form of Windows 7. Indeed, Microsoft, a company that has rarely seen a successful product they don’t want to imitate, is touting Vista’s successor as being faster, less bloated. Sound familiar? All right, there will also be a little more eye candy, such as a revised Windows taskbar that resembles Mac OS X’s long-controversial Dock. There will — or at least that’s the promise so far — be support for Multi-Touch. That’s hardly original either.

Should Windows 7 get an official release before the holidays at the end of the year, I suppose some will hope that Apple will have a worthy competitor, assuming that the regular version of Leopard isn’t up to the task. I think it is, but a two-year-old operating system may seem like yesterday’s news, which is unfortunate.

In any case, none of the analyst predictions or rumors pinpoint Snow Leopard as being late in any respect. If it’s going to be fall, so be it. That won’t make a significant difference in Apple’s ability to compete with Microsoft.

What might be more interesting is the upgrade policy. With Windows 7, Microsoft is going to resort to the same multiple-SKU confusion as Vista, and I expect upgrade pricing will continue to be excessive. Apple could really pull a coup here and make Snow Leopard free — or almost free — for Leopard users. Of course, those who still have Tiger would have to buy a standard upgrade package for $129 for the single user version.

I don’t see a decision of that sort as seriously hurting Apple’s profitability, since most of their earnings for new operating system upgrades disappear after the first few months of release. After that, the new system just sells the hardware on which its preloaded. End of story.

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8 Responses to “Does it Really Matter When Snow Leopard Appears?”

  1. Richard says:

    The timing of Snow Leopard matters mostly in that it should not be released until it is well sorted out and there are 64 bit cocoa apps ready for it (even though Photoshop may not be on this list). Otherwise there is no particular reason for it…OK, the ability to address more RAM than you can afford is nice. That said, there will be people who will be miffed at not getting it with their new hardware purchases.

    It just needs to be done right.

    Oh, and no more bone headed moves like the RAM slots in the new Mac Pro…four, count ’em, four slots for triple channel RAM which uses multiples of three. Use the fourth one and it actually slows the system.

  2. DaveD says:

    The pause that refreshes…

    I commend Apple for taking time to step back and assess the state of Mac OS X. They have come a long way since version 10.1, a slow OS that with a facelift. Apple provided the means for the OS 9 base to move to OS X, and later to the x86 processors.

    Looking back, all I can say is “Wow!” Apple did one fantastic job with Mac hardware and software. Still, they had time to dabble in a music playing device, a cell phone, online services, and all these “real” Apple Stores. Now reflect what has Microsoft done in the same nine years. Apple had a lot of winners and Microsoft had a lot of losers.

    What is the need for a “screen Multi-Touch” feature on a PC? Who like seeing fingerprints on a “glossy screen” and doing the motion of reaching out to touch? Microsoft is rushing to pump out Windows 7 ASAP. The sooner for a release candidate, the quicker Vista can be buried.

    There is no need for Apple to rush out Snow Leopard. Apple has been putting out Mac hardware today for future Mac OS X versions. All that internal reworks will be fruitful in the years to come like hopefully, the resolution independence feature. I would want Apple to go through a vigourous operating system test period for any loose ends from all that nuts and bolts tinkering.

    My guess for Snow Leopard introduction is late October 2009.

  3. James Ludtke says:

    Am I the only Mac user who is bothered by the beach ball spinning, at times, for seconds on my MacPro?

    If Snow Leopard does nothing but fix that issue, it will be worth every penny, and I will be one of the first to buy it.

    To be sure, 64-bit operation alone will not solve the issue. For example, the Save panel is one of the worst offenders. It takes several seconds to become active at times, probably caused by HD spin-down. It surely should be possible for the Finder to cache at least the three to five levels of my home folder, allowing me to enter the save information, and get on with life. The actual file writing could take place whenever the HD is ready.

    Another slow action problem: At times, when I click a button, or enter a key stroke, nothing happens at all for several seconds. If any action takes longer than, say 1 second, there should be some visible feedback, such a cursor icon change, or a progress indicator, showing the user his action is being executed. This lack of feedback has crept into OS X over time. It is time to get it fixed in Snow Leopard.

  4. Joe S says:

    I think some underestimate the importance of the 32 bit to 64 bit transition. I suspect that a lot of applications will not make the transition and wind up in fumbolia (from Godel, Escher, Bach an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter). Whoever owns the architecture that dominates the 64 bit world will be very very rich. Microsoft won the 8 to 16 and 16 to 32 transitions. I think OS X has a shot at the 64 bit dominance. Snow Leopard and its server version, with a bit of help from Linux, may wind up being the tidal wave that washes Micrsoft out to sea. There is not that much need TODAY for 64 bits, but in just five years the situation will be much different.

  5. Richard says:

    At Joe S,

    Sadly, Apple sells the OS only with their hardware and so have no chance whatsoever of “dominating” the 64 bit architecture. Will Apple grow? I hope so, but it will never “dominate” the OS wars.

  6. “Am I the only Mac user who is bothered by the beach ball spinning…”
    How much RAM do you have? All firmware updates applied?

    “Snow Leopard … may wind up being the tidal wave that washes Micrsoft out to sea.”
    Or the avalanche that buries them.

    “Will Apple grow? I hope so, but it will never “dominate” the OS wars.”
    You mean like smart phones and mp3 players? Five years from now the computing landscape is going to look major different.

  7. Richard says:


    MP3 players and the iPhone, successes that they have been, have nothing to do with computer OS sales.

    Simply put, Apple will never “dominate” the OS wars because they will never “dominate” hardware sales of computers. It just will not happen. Any other belief is self-delusion.

    The proof of this is Apple’s refusal to separate the OS from the hardware. That is the only way that the OS would “dominate”. Apple is incapable of competing straight up in hardware sales. They have said so many times, though it is put somewhat more politely.

    All this is not to say that Apple will not win more sales. As the market is shifting more toward laptop sales Apple will probably experience somewhat greater growth because, I think, people are somewhat more inclined to buy a nice overall “package” in laptops because they are not expected to have the latest/greatest/upgradable graphics cards among other things.

    Your link, thanks for posting it, demonstrates this. What a great add campaign a short clip of a classroom like that would make and a closing question, “What do these journalism students know that you don’t.”

    I have contacts at a university which likely has a great many Mac sales for much the same reasons as the one in your link. Even the staff use a lot of laptops though quite a few have one in addition to Mac Pros which are used for some pretty heavy duty scientific calculations. In fact, a recent presentation dealt with syncing the laptops with the desktops so that everything was kept up-to-date (and once it gets onto the Map Pro, it gets backed up…even Macs experience hard drive failures or damage from water leaks).

    We might all be surprised at the X-Server sales at some major universities. They are very “below the radar” in many regards. I have even heard of “walls of Mac Minis” being used at off site data centers that are set up at “disaster proof centers”, the locations of which are not exactly publicized, but neither of these will ever represent the majority of server sales.

    You might be interested to note that Filemaker Pro is the standard database at this university because it is a powerful application and it is completely platform agnostic. People can pass data back and forth and not even be aware of the platform used to create it.


  8. Bill in NC says:

    So will Snow Leopard finally add back the “size” sort option to the “find” window that Leopard removed?

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