The details released by Apple are sparse at best, but we know that the next version of OS X (10.6) will be called Snow Leopard. The name is very fitting precisely because it’s so similar to the current OS name, Leopard. Snow Leopard won’t be wedged full of new end-user features like Leopard was, instead the big changes will be under the hood, with a strong focus on efficiency and stability. This release would appear to be about consolidating what’s in Leopard already as well as laying the foundations for future big cats from Apple.

[tags]OS X, Apple, Mac, Snow Leopard[/tags]

Developers at WWDC got to attend a session all about Snow Leopard presented by Bertrand Serlet, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, unfortunately that session is covered by an NDA. This means that all we have to go on are a few Apple press releases, a few leaks, and some rumors. What we know for sure is that Snow Leopard will contain a technology code-named GrandCentral to make it easier for developers to use all the cores in multi-core systems, as well as a technology to allow developers to run regular calculations on the GPU. With machines sprouting ever more cores and ever more powerful GPUs, this makes a lot of sense.

We also know we’ll be getting native MS Exchange support out of the box, a new and more efficient QuickTime, and Safari 4. These are small things compared to TimeMachine, QuickLook, and Spaces, but they’re still important. Exchange in particular will be a big thing for many people. Apple clearly have the enterprise firmly in their sights.

The most controversial rumour has neither been confirmed nor denied by Apple – a leaked screen shot seems to imply that Snow Leopard will be Intel only. I wouldn’t be even remotely surprised if this proved to be true. This will make a lot of people very grumpy, but I don’t think it’s a big deal. Leopard will be around and under active support for a quite a few years yet, remember, Tiger is still getting security fixes. Apple have said Snow Leopard is due out in about a year, so I expect we’ll get to hear a lot more about it at next January’s MacWorld. Should the rumour that PowerPC support is being dropped prove to be true Apple will have to let us know then, if not sooner.

What we have absolutely no idea about is the price. Will Apple expect us to pay full price for an OS with very few cosmetic improvements? The other question has to be whether it’s wise to put the breaks on new features like this? I think it is, it’s an idea that will sit well with a lot of people in a post-Vista world. Apple have the lead so it makes sense to capitalize on it to lay a foundation to allow the, leap even further ahead. It’s nice to be far enough ahead to have an opportunity to stop and re-group without fear of being left behind.