Apple details Mac OS X 'Snow Leopard' at WWDC

Don't expect the next version of Cupertino's operating system to be anything new. However, it will focus on performance and quality, to "lay the foundation" for the future.

Apple's popular "I'm a Mac; I'm a PC" commercials have recently made light of the perceived stability and unreliability of Vista. So the coming release of Mac OS X 10.6, code-named "Snow Leopard," could theoretically put Apple at risk for the same brand of criticism.

One common point of argument among its naysayers is that Apple charges a premium -- traditionally $129 -- for what some see as nothing more than an incremental release. This time -- that is exactly what Mac OS X 10.6 will be -- much like the first update to OS X (10.1) fixed many of the initial issues with the completely redesigned operating system.

"We hit the pause button on new features to focus on perfecting the world's most advanced operating system," software engineering head Bertrand Serlet said.

Most of the new features will go unrecognized by most, but will certainly provide the needed functionality for Apple to launch further developments down the road. Native support for multi-core processing, code-named "Grand Central," could be considered the cornerstone of Snow Leopard.

The technology allows developers to take advantage of the extra computing power provided by such systems much more easily, and according to Apple, support for OpenCL, which Apple says will allow developers to tap into the power of hybrid GPU functionality.

Exactly what OpenCL is, or what Apple may have meant by referring to OpenCL, is unclear. Prior to yesterday, there were two possibilities: Open Cryptographic Library (which has nothing whatsoever to do with GPUs), and Open Communications Language (an informally proposed extension to the OpenGL language set, that would deal with in-application, cross-network messaging like in gaming -- again, having nothing to do with GPUs).

As of this morning, an entry was added to Wikipedia defining OpenCL as, essentially, something Apple has come up with; and developers' forums have actively begun asking the question, just what does Apple think it's talking about?

There is a possibility that Apple meant to refer to OpenGL, the long-standing graphics language developed by the Khronos Group, of which Apple, Sony, and Nvidia are principal members. Of course, OpenGL is not at all a new technology; but it has been actively engaged in GPGPU projects since 2005. Khronos is not known to be developing anything called "Open Compute Language," and Khronos has not been known to develop projects in secret. Nvidia unveiled OpenGL's first contributions to GPGPU research at a game developers' conference in March 2006.

Since WWDC is a developers' conference, we can hope that any unveiling of an "Open Computing Language" will take place there.

Among the Snow Leopard features we can presume were spelled correctly, QuickTime X will allow for more efficient media playback, and JavaScript execution speed has been increased by 53 percent.

Something that could certainly be considered a new feature is native Microsoft Exchange support. OS X applications Mail, iCal, and Address Book will all now be able to connect directly to the system, allowing for easier integration into enterprise. While details may yet be revealed, what we can hope to see are Mac-based e-mail clients such as Entourage that are treated as valid clients for scheduling and collaboration data, without the sort of manual synchronization methods that have to take place today.

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