Apple on Friday released a "gold master" build of Lion to developers, providing a clue that it will ship the new operating system shortly.
"Gold master" (GM) is a label some developers use -- Microsoft calls it "release to manufacturing," or RTM -- for software that has been completed and presumably is ready to send to duplicators and distributors.
In Apple's case, however, Mac OS X 10.7, aka Lion, will not need to be burned onto DVDs, packaged in boxes and shipped to retail stores because it will be available only as a download from the Mac App Store.
The appearance of the Lion GM, which was reported Friday by several Apple-specific blogs, including 9to5Mac, and confirmed later in the day by Computerworld, sparked renewed speculation that the operating system will be released within days.
Apple has said only that it will ship Lion this month.
Several prospective release dates have been forecast by blogs -- all quoting unnamed sources -- including next Wednesday, July 6, and the Thursday of the following week, July 14.
Past practice may give hints as to the release date: In 2009, Apple delivered a gold master of Snow Leopard on Aug. 12, a little over two weeks before the Aug. 28 on-sale date. On the other hand, Lion may move faster from GM to release because of its download-only distribution channel, which doesn't require time for physical duplication or shipping.
If the company follows its Snow Leopard practices, it will announce Lion's availability date several days before the upgrade hits the Mac App Store.
Apple will sell Lion for $29.99. For that price, consumers can upgrade Snow Leopard to Lion on all their personally-owned Mac systems.
The operating system will weigh in at about 4GB, a size that prevents users with dial-up connections from grabbing it, and makes it difficult for those whose Internet providers meter their bandwidth. Apple has said customers can bring their Mac laptops to any Apple retail store and use the free Wi-Fi network there to download Lion.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.