Although Apple haven't given an official release date, Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is widely expected to be unveiled this summer. As Jon wrote a few weeks ago, Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference takes place in early June where the unveiling will almost certainly take place. However, this doesn't mean it will necessarily be released in stores at the same time and Apple may well wait until after the summer to launch it.
So what can we expect? The first thing Mac users should be aware of is that there's nothing eye-popping in Snow Leopard that's going to have you scrambling to upgrade. The focus of OS X 10.6 is simply to improve overall efficiency and reduce it's footprint. However, there are a few interesting new features that will certainly interest some users. Here are some of the most notable:
Slimmer QuickTime Player
Maybe inspired by the success of VLC Player, "QuickTime X" will feature a simplified GUI with a greater focus on codec support
Cocoa Based Finder
Finder is expected to include a glossy new Cocoa Desktop Window and Contextual Menu
Safari Beta 4 Default Browser
In an unusual (and some might say slightly desperate move) Apple will include a beta version of Safari 4 with Snow Leopard presumably in a bid to give it a leg-up against Firefox.
Microsoft Exchange Server Support
A smart business move that will surely attract more corporate users. Mac users will now be able to connect to Microsoft Exchange 2007 servers via Mail, Address Book, and iCal
Faster Installation Time
May not be of much interest to single users but network administrators installing Snow Leopard on multiple machines can expect to install it in around 15 minutes compared to around an hour for Leopard. Testmac.net completed an install in an incredible 13 minutes.
More Stacks Control
Stacks will be improved to allow users to drill-down the contents of sub-folder
In view of all these relatively minor revelations and for the expected cost of around $130, it's unlikely Mac users will be flocking to upgrade. However, if you're finding your Mac is operating increasingly slowly, then for speed alone it might be worth the upgrade. Those that have tested Snow Leopard confirm that its the under the hood improvements that you'll really notice when trying Snow Leopard. Testmac.net reports:
Snow Leopard is fast. Very fast. Like, surprisingly fast. From boot times to general application usage, Snow Leopard was noticeably quicker than Leopard when using the same system. Apple and 3rd party applications alike, they all launched faster and performed smoother. I’m sure this can be attributed to the new 64-bit architecture, but its amazing how much of a difference it really is.
In addition, its also fair to say that developers will find much to be happy about about in Snow Leopard. The integration of Grand Central, OpenCL and a 64 bit kernel will finally allow them to take full advantage of the dual processing power of Intel Macs and produce some stunning applications.
So there you have it, we've already got a pretty good fully formed picture of what Snow Leopard will look like. Now the only question that remains is when will Apple run out of cat names for their operating systems?