‘Snow Leopard’ at WWDC

Cory Bohon at TUAW breaks the news:

TUAW has received some information that suggests Apple may be working to seed developers with an early build of Mac OS X 10.6 at this year’s WWDC. 10.6 will not include any new significant features from 10.5; instead, Apple is focusing solely on “stability and security.”

We have also learned that OS X 10.6 may go gold master by December 2008 in an effort to start shipping it in January ‘09 at Macworld Expo. Mac OS X 10.6 will be a milestone release for Apple, as it will leave the PowerPC behind: a fully 64-bit clean, Intel-only Mac OS X.

I’ve seen a lot of initial skepticism regarding this report, for obvious reasons: it seems too soon since Leopard shipped for another major Mac OS X release, and too soon to drop support for PowerPC. But after poking around this morning, I think Bohon’s report is correct. Update: And that includes Apple putting a seed in developers’ hands next week at WWDC. Update 2: I should also add that I’ve heard nothing about a projected ship date; TUAW’s on their own with that January release date. Given Leopard’s scheduling slip, I don’t expect Apple to announce a date publicly at WWDC.

In short, if you’ve ever wished that Apple would spend more time focusing on making existing parts of the OS work better rather than adding new features, this is going to be the release for you. Sounds great to me. A big part of the effort, from what I’m hearing, is unifying the various branches of OS X at Apple: Mac OS X, iPhone OS, Apple TV, etc.

There’s no good version number to describe a release like this. Based on previous Mac OS X version numbers, “10.5.5” would mean “the next minor bug-fix update after 10.5.4”, but “10.6” would mean “major new feature update”. This release is neither of those things. Mac OS X 10.1 is the most analogous fit, historically.1

But the name of this new release, which I’ve heard from several sources, fits perfectly: Snow Leopard. Like Leopard, but cooler, and adapted for a specific environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if Steve Jobs doesn’t even mention the number 10.6, and refers to the OS only by name.

I still think it seems too soon by at least a year to drop PowerPC support — especially for G5s, which are still extremely capable machines by today’s standards — but that’s the word on the street.

The big unknown is price. It doesn’t sound right to charge $129 for an update whose changes are mostly (completely?) architectural. But it sounds too good to be true that it might be a free update, like 10.1 was. My gut feeling says something like $29 for 10.5 users, but that’s just my hunch.

  1. Classic Mac OS version numbers followed different, and at times, more arbitrary rules. Mac OS 8.5 was a much more impressive release than 8.0, which (8.0) was originally slated to be 7.7 but was upped to 8.0 to end “System 7” cloning licenses. And Mac OS 9.0 was developed as 8.7, etc. ↩︎