The latest iteration of Mac OS X is looking like a solid upgrade, but Microsoft's follow up to Vista constitutes a major competitive threat.
Snow Leopard, the latest release of Mac OS X, doesn't look like much of an upgrade at first. User-facing features are few, and minor. Even Apple seems to acknowledge that it isn't a major upgrade, charging only $29 rather than the $129 price of previous versions of Mac OS X.
But don't tell any of that to Ken Case, CEO of Mac software developers, the Omni Group. For Case, Snow Leopard is huge.
"We love Snow Leopard," said Case, whose company develops the cult Mac applications OmniFocus and OmniGraffle. "From the point of view of developers, it's the biggest thing since OS X itself." OS X shipped on the desktop in 2001.
Snow Leopard had better be big. Apple faces a big challenge ahead. Amid Snow Leopard's August 28 release, Microsoft has already begun rolling out Windows 7 to enterprise customers, and the consumer version is due to ship October 22.
What's In Snow Leopard?
User-facing features are few, and not huge. But they're interesting. Snow Leopard supports Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 in the built-in Mail, iCal, and Address Book apps. The Finder is now based on Cocoa, Apple's standard Objective C development environment for the Mac. Now Finder performs faster and has user interface enhancements such as enhanced Spotlight search and icons.
Exposé and Stacks get refinements to make it easier to navigate through running applications and saved documents from the desktop. Snow Leopard also has faster Time Machine backups, and a new version of QuickTime.
But the biggest improvement visible to the end-user is performance: It runs a lot faster.
"It's snappier, more responsive, and feels more well-put-together," said Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, which makes a cross-platform note-taking and document-management app that runs on Macs, Windows, popular mobile devices, and the Web. "Snow Leopard is almost like the first couple of days after getting a new Mac, when everything is fresh and snappy. It's a good feeling."