Mac OS X gets the cold shoulder.
Right up until the day it was published, I had a square on my WWDC keynote bingo board that read, “Mac OS X 10.6 ignored.” I should have stuck with my first instinct, it seems. Mac OS X got the Heisman this morning in San Francisco. The few words that Steve Jobs dedicated to “the world’s most advanced operating system” were spent telling the audience that the next version is called Snow Leopard, and that it would be discussed during the Mac OS X State of the Union session in the afternoon—a session that, like all of WWDC except the keynote, is subject to a non-disclosure agreement.
Apple was kind enough to provide a press release, however. It flits from point to point with the detached equity that is the hallmark of the form. The introduction confirms what was previously reported:
Rather than focusing primarily on new features, Snow Leopard will enhance the performance of OS X, set a new standard for quality and lay the foundation for future OS X innovation.
But if the handful of paragraphs that follow are meant to support this statement, they only get about half-way there. While it’s true that few end-user features are described, the list of internal changes seems grandiose for a release that’s supposed to “hit the pause button on new features to focus on perfecting” the OS.
Let’s start with QuickTime X, which appears to skip QuickTime versions 8 and 9 and go right for a name befitting a long-overdue (though amply telegraphed) reboot of one of Apple’s oldest continuously maintained APIs. Or maybe the name is just a marketing smoke-screen. It’s kind of hard to tell from a press release.
Speaking of marketing, Snow Leopard will include something called “Grand Central” which will supposedly "[make] it easy for developers to create programs that take full advantage of the power of multi-core Macs"—whatever that means. The press release moves on to the next topic right after that sentence.
Along the same lines, Snow Leopard will include Open Computing Language (OpenCL) which makes the GPU available for general computation through a uniform (and presumably “open”) interface. Googling for OpenCL turns up a lot of hits for the wrong things. It’ll be interesting to see how much Apple can increase the mindshare of this technology.
Oddly, support for Microsoft Exchange 2007 is among the handful of features described. It may be just one end-user feature, but it’s a big one for the people who need it. And really, it only takes one or two killer features to sell an upgrade.
It’s an odd mix of details, to be sure. But more importantly, it’s a bit at odds with the idea of Snow Leopard as the "anti-vista," eschewing radical change to focus on stabilizing and refining what’s already in Leopard. I mean, assuming we take the QuickTime X name at face value, overhauling such an integral part of the operating system hardly seems like a low-risk move. Similarly, OpenCL and Grand Central could be as significant to the internals of OS X as any user-facing feature in Leopard or Tiger.
Finally, there’s the new branding: “OS X,” sometimes with a suffix. So it’s “OS X Leopard” and “OS X iPhone,” just as the banners foretold. And yet the press release begins with “Apple® today previewed Mac OS® X Snow Leopard.” Maybe it’s just that Apple hasn’t yet registered the “OS X” trademark? Curiouser and curiouser.
Considering my enthusiasm for Mac OS X internals, it’s probably not surprising that I’m excited about Snow Leopard—and sorely disappointed with its eviction from the keynote. I can understand the need to down-play what could be a snoozer of a release from the consumer perspective, but this is supposed to be the world-wide developers conference.
Yeah, I guess the developers attending WWDC do get the details, under NDA. But I can’t help thinking this has been another keynote usurped by The Platform With The Most Growth Potential, which is how I imagine Apple’s executive team views the iPhone. I guess we’re all on the same team here (and the same kernel), but those two bridges still seem quite separate, and not quite equal.
[Update: Apple now has some more Snow Leopard information available on its web site, including confirmation that Mac OS X Server will include read/write support for ZFS. Also, the “Mac” is back in front of “OS X” on these pages.]
This article originally appeared at Ars Technica. It is reproduced here with permission.