The Snow Leopard Report: Ready for Greatness or Boredom?

June 30th, 2009

I find it interesting that so few of you are complaining because Snow Leopard pretty much signals the end of the PowerPC. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, because that venerable processor family seldom realized its full potential, particularly in the latter days.

Take the G4. Do you recall when Steve Jobs boasted that you’d have a “supercomputer on your desktop”? The original version was supposed to sport 400MHz, but got downgraded to 350MHz because of production issues with the faster chips. The G5 was supposed to hit the magic 3GHz barrier a year after its release, but that day came and went with only modest speed boosts. The hoped for PowerBook G5 was a dream, unless you craved something that would double as a broiler.

But even in 1994, when the PowerPC was first launched, it took a while to realize its promised speed improvements. For one thing, most of the Mac OS was still coded for 68K Macs, and thus had to operate in emulation. The same held true for many of your favorite apps, so for a year or two it all seemed like a step backwards.

The transition to Intel took a whole lot faster with fewer teething pains. Apple made it easier for developers to code their products as Universal, which would allow them to operate in both PowerPC and Intel format. Of course, not everything was super smooth. The upgraded apps still had to be optimized for both processor families, and it did seem as if the Intel version got better treatment. An example would be Office 2008, which is widely regarded as performing less efficiently on the PowerPC than its predecessor. Let’s not forget some of Adobe’s Creative Suite software that was designed to be Intel only.

You could see the handwriting on the wall.

Now, some three and a half years after the first Intel-based Mac appeared, Apple is on the verge of releasing the first version of Mac OS X designed solely for that platform. However, PowerPC users of Leopard shouldn’t feel completely abandoned, as it does appear Apple will release necessary updates for a while yet, particularly security fixes. But the prospects for more updates to Tiger are slim to none.

Sporting over 100 “refinements,” Snow Leopard does appear to be a sensible upgrade, particularly when you factor in the $29 upgrade fee. Apple isn’t adding new capabilities strictly to play the numbers game as they seem to have done with previous system upgrades. Most of the changes seem to make sense, even the Put Back command that lets you return an item from the Trash to its former location without playing the guessing game. Or putting your brain cells to the task when you have better uses for them.

I expect the business community will appreciate the enhanced native support for Microsoft Exchange software, but I wonder whether this means that Microsoft will now have less incentive to upgrade Entourage, since Apple is providing much of its functionality. Besides, Entourage, despite its excellent handling of IMAP email, can be a temperamental beast in some respects, as most of you no doubt realize.

In any case, having fewer visible changes might make for a more stable initial 10.6 release. As many of you recall, Apple is notorious for having to rush out maintenance updates to recent versions of Mac OS X to serious address bugs that appeared early on. While there’s no guarantee of anything, I do wonder if that’s the result of marketing making too much of a push to get the thing out as quickly as possible, figuring the rest of the stuff would be fixed later on.

Since Snow Leopard is supposed to be the ultimate clean up release, though, that puts the onus on Apple’s development team to clear out the sludge and deliver a more reliable release this time. Since we don’t have the actual date when it’ll show up on the retail shelves, other than an amorphous September timeframe, you’d think there’s sufficient wiggle room to delay the release a few weeks should problems arise.

Certainly I could selfishly hope Snow Leopard will have its coming out party on Wednesday, September 9th, my birthday, but I sort of suspect it’ll arrive later in the month. Prior to the WWDC, I was thinking in terms of the last Friday of August. My new projected release date is Friday, September 25th.

That choice would give Apple its usual weekend window for initial sales, and also plenty of time to meet its promised release date and yet allow what you hope would be sufficient time to address critical defects before millions of Mac users install 10.6.

The other consideration is where Apple should go from here. I have not seen much in the way of 10.7 wish lists yet. I would presume, based on Apple’s current release schedule, that it probably won’t debut until the first part of 2011 at the earliest. That’s plenty of time to hope for that marble theme, if anyone cares, or some really substantial improvements.

| Print This Article Print This Article

16 Responses to “The Snow Leopard Report: Ready for Greatness or Boredom?”

  1. DaveD says:

    Been there, done that. From 68K to PPC, from OS 9 to OS X or in another way, from 8-track tape to cassette, from vinyl records to CD, from floppy disk to USB thumb drive, from CRT to LCD, an ongoing a series of transitions as technologies advance for our benefit.

    I don’t think that we will ever see a Blu-ray disc drive in the Mac. If fact, I believe that the PC in the current desktop/notebook form will morph into another “smaller form.” We will get a good portion of our news, information, and entertainment from the ‘Net. Snow Leopard represents this new sea change and I am seeing the handwriting on the wall. Smartphone sales are soaring and traditional print media is dying, slowly fading away.

    The PowerPC has carried the Mac a long, long way. President Obama did say in the presidential campaign that “change was coming.”

  2. Dave Barnes says:

    Boring because there is no new “flash”.
    Great because of the foundation being laid.
    I am happy to give Apple my $49 + tax as I am sure that there will at least one feature that more than justifies spending $10/machine.

  3. Louis Wheeler says:

    It’s hard to know what the implications of Snow Leopard are. Apple hasn’t told us much. We have seen the leaked reports from the developers who are testing it, so we can say some things with certainty. But, Apple’s grander plans are shrouded in mystery. Apple tends to have very long term goals which it lets us know about only a bit at a time.

    It’s a guess on my part, but it feels to me as though Snow Leopard will turn out to be a much bigger deal than anyone is expecting. It is the foundations on which later developments will build.

    Certainly, Apple is pricing Snow Leopard to sell; it evidently wants the Intel Mac user base to move to it quickly.

    There are enough advantages to entice people, but let us start with something that Snow Leopard is not. Snow Leopard is not a reply to Windows Seven; it has been too long in the making for that.

    Microsoft is almost irrelevant to Apple, now. Apple is competing against itself. It is pushing the computing envelope. It is shedding the last remnants of the compromises that Steve Jobs had to make back in 1997 to bring NeXTstep to the Mac. It is positioning itself to take advantage of coming technological events.

    What will induce people to upgrade?

    Snow Leopard will be fast. It will grow even faster as applications are recompiled for 64 bit. The x64 code can take advantage of the extra registers built into the Intel core 2 processors for a 25 to 50% boost. Developers will, then, rewrite their code to take advantage of Grand Central Dispatch and OpenCL.

    The majority of Applications will migrate to 64 bit in the next year. This migration will be very smooth. Microsoft’s migration to 64 bit processing will be painful, long and expensive.

    Snow Leopard will be secure. Apple is going through its code line by line, so there will be fewer vulnerabilities. The 64 bit kernel will give many security advantages. Buffer over runs will be a thing of the past. This is not simply a matter of copying Microsoft’s desperate attempt to secure the Windows periphery, either. Snow Leopard will beef up the Mac’s internal security beyond its current UNIX foundations.

    The Mac will be more compartmentalized than it is now — sandboxed. Eventually, it will have a hypervisor. This is necessary, because the move to Intel hardware has opened the Mac to hackers as never before.

    I suspect that Apple will eventually shut down the possibility of Hacintoshes and clones. This will be necessary to gain acceptance for the Mac in the Enterprise and government markets. Apple isn’t conforming to this market’s demands; Microsoft has already sewed up this market.

    Apple cannot espouse an enterprise strategy without sabotaging its current consumer marketing plans. So, it will force the Enterprise and government markets to conform to Apple’s ways. This will happen anyway, because the Computer hardware will become a commodity as more parts of a computer are folded into the processor chip. Building computers, especially, for large enterprise orders will make no sense. Turning off sections of a chip, which the customer didn’t pay for, will. Economies of scale will force this.

    One way of appealing to the Enterprise and government markets is to have a bullet proof Operating System. No longer will laptops go missing with the private data on tens of thousands of people. Apple will close this security loophole in a variety of ways. It will make it much more difficult to break into a stolen laptop. Eventually, the recently announced “find my phone” technology will get in to the Macintoshes. Expect, GPS and compasses to be included in laptops. The iPhone will drive down the price of the parts.

    Snow Leopard will be flexible. The Cocoa API’s, Objective C and the runtime codes, like Ruby, that compile in them will give a very rapid and powerful development of applications. The Application store will make them affordable.

    Snow Leopard will be modern. Apple used the move to Intel to force developers to abandon old code and to use the Xcode development system. The Carbon API’s will be relegated to 32 bit applications and they will be gone in five years. The Mac will rapidly move to 64 bit this year.

    The Cocoa API’s will be mature. Apple is going through Snow leopard line by line to shed its vulnerabilities and flaws. This means that Apple does not need to reinvent the wheel to add new capabilities. Snow Leopard will be lean code with plenty of muscle.

    Snow Leopard will be impressive to Microsoft Windows users. It easily does things, now, which leaves them gasping. Snow leopard will leave Windows Seven in the dust. We Mac users will take it all for granted, just as we do now.

  4. SteveP says:

    … it will even prevent cavities!

    Riiight! 🙂

    Let’s not get too carried away. Though I do think there is more in this last comment than in the original article which appears to have been rushed to market and in need of a few ‘bug fixes’. 🙂

    Great speculations. Let the fun begin – soon! I’m in the market but not in a rush.

  5. Louis Wheeler says:

    Steven p said:

    “… it will even prevent cavities!

    Riiight! ”

    Not for Microsoft windows users.

    Snow Leopard is being not rushed to the market. Nor is it merely bug fixes. It is totally being rewritten for a 64 bit kernel.

    You clearly have no understanding of the ramifications of a 64 bit REAL, UNIX Operating System. It’s like having your own mainframe. Having worked on them, I know enough about mainframes to see the possibilities.

    Even so, I’m having difficulty taking it all in. That is why I wrote about it.

  6. MichaelT says:

    Louis, I think Steven was talking about Gene’s articl, not Snow Leopard, being rushed and in need of bug fixes.

    Gene, don’t worry about Snow Leopard not being available on your birthday! The Beatles edition of Rock Band is going to be released that day! Sheesh—don’t be greedy!


  7. Louis Wheeler says:

    Michael T said:
    “Louis, I think Steven was talking about Gene’s article, not Snow Leopard, being rushed and in need of bug fixes.”

    How could anyone tell? Steven was imprecise. He remarked on “the last comment” which was mine.

    I will agree that both Gene’s and my comments are speculative. But, they are speculation based on long experience. It will be interesting to see what happens in September. I could be wrong.

    I’m just going with my gut instinct that Apple has more hidden than that it is showing. It is holding its cards close to its vest. Partly, this is a practice learned from long experience with Microsoft’s deceit. Also, it is that not all the pieces of the puzzle are in place, yet. Mostly, it is that the developers have to do their part next by building applications which take advantage of the new capabilities in Snow Leopard.

  8. MichaelT says:

    I agree, Louis. I think Snow Leopard is a huge step away from the past and toward the future for Apple. And I think its implications will only be revealed in Apple’s time.

  9. SteveP says:

    Not to carry on an ‘argument’, Louis, but my comment was not imprecise, your reading of it was.

    “…there is more in this last comment (yours!) than in the ORIGINAL ARTICLE which appears…”.

    Now unless you can somehow think the ‘which appears’ somehow does not apply to the words that immediately preceded it and somehow make more sense being applied (illogically I would think) to the first part of the sentence – which was giving a positive acknowledgment of your post – I think the fault was in thine own eyes!

    And, while you did make good points, I think they’re just a tad bit overenthusiastic. Thus my ‘prevents cavities’ HUMOR!!! (You apparently didn’t see the smiley!)

    Bottom line – in case you are still missing it – is that I was saying YOU provided interesting CONTENT in YOUR post that I felt was missing in Gene’s article. And the ‘bugs’ comment was a reference to a few writing errors in the article.

    As Gene would say… “peace”!
    No offense to anyone was intended.


  10. dfs says:

    I’m not sure we are going to have to wait until 2011 for 10.7. Normally the release of a new OS version is very profitable, but since Apple is only charging $29 for the upgrade from Leopard (which applies to most of us, and people still using G-5’s and other old Macs won’t be buying it), I wonder if they will even make enough to cover their development costs. So they have a strong economic incentive to get out 10.7 sooner than that. My own guess would be Spring/Summer 2010. What new features could be in it (beyond the Finder overhaul we’ve all been waiting for)? Well, take a look at your favorite utilities. We’ve already been given replacements for whatever backup, screen sharing, and virtual desktop software we used to run. Apple can easily do the same for others. For example, one of my favorite utilities is Keyboard Maestro, which handles F-key assignments, macro recording/playback, text expansion (which can also be used to reassign keys), and multiple clipboards. Very very handy, and I keep discovering new uses for it. Apple could add some or all of these functions to 10.7 (the first two, after all, have appeared in various versions of the Classic OS). Look at your own favorite utilities and let your imagination run wild. I’d also imagine that it will be considerably more Cloud-oriented and designed for tighter integration with mobile devices, present and future, that run their own versions of OSX.

  11. Perry Lund says:

    @ Dave Barnes:

    I would agree with this assessment. Good foundation for future things that are yet to come and an improvement over Leopard in stability and functionality. And for my family of Mac users, a very reasonable price.

  12. jake says:

    Dave Barnes wrote:

    Boring because there is no new “flash”.
    Great because of the foundation being laid.
    I am happy to give Apple my $49 + tax as I am sure that there will at least one feature that more than justifies spending $10/machine.

    Dock Expose and a bunch of enhancements throughout the UI really make it worthwhile. But more than anything the instant speedup for 64bit Core 2 Duo iMacs and up plus using the GPU and most apps now Cocoa and 64 bit such as the Finder, Mail, etc and the current developer beta has already replaced leopard. I can’t look back… Feels like I bought a new 50% faster system…

  13. Louis Wheeler says:

    Sorry, SteveP, I interpreted the stretched out riiight and the smiley face as sarcasm, not humor.

    Gene’s article seemed to invite pipe dreams–that is, taking what little as we know and examining the possibilities.

    Too often with Apple I’ve had to do this, in retrospect. Quicktime is a good example. I could see that Apple was doing something with Quicktime for a decade. Smart people would say that that something was in the works, but what? Apple was putting down its markers bit by bit — Webkit, Safari, Webdev, the iPod, so on. Despite the fact that I knew something was going on, the iTunes Music store caught me by surprise. It never hit me how big a development it would be.

    I wasn’t reading the tea leaves well, then. Perhaps, I am reading them erroneously and too enthusiastically now.

    Microsoft has placed a deadening hand on the computer market. It feels as though Apple is coolly and quietly starting to shake things up. Of course, it will take years bear fruit. In the meantime, it will confuse many people.

  14. I’m impressed with just the little bit of Snow Leopard demoed at WWDC.

  15. Dave says:

    Well, Gene, I’m not complaining about Snow Leopard leaving my G5 iMac behind because it wouldn’t do any good, but I do wish it wasn’t the case. Snow Leopard sounds like a great enhancement, especially when you factor in the $29 cost. But, there’s no way I can justify a new Mac at this point, so I’ll be content with Leopard for the foreseeable future.

  16. Louis Wheeler says:

    Ah, Dave, you get to let other people do your experimenting.

    It’s going to take about a year for most of this to shake out. Your iMac G5 will probably be fine for another year or two. What will drive you off the dime is the great applications coming next year.

    There are going to be some big shakeups in market share. Adobe Photoshop will not be ready in xCode 3.0 for some time. And there is no application that needs 64 bit processing more.

    But, if you snooze, you lose. There were big losers when Apple moved from Motorola 680×0 chips to PowerPC.

Leave Your Comment