Apple plans to ship Snow Leopard in Sept. for $29; execs tout new laptops

New OS will beat Microsoft's Windows 7 to market

Apple today announced that it will launch its next operating system, dubbed Snow Leopard, in September, and charge just $29 for the upgrade.

A Family Pack, which includes five licenses to the new OS, will cost $49.

If Apple makes its September ship date, it will beat rival Microsoft to market. Last week, Microsoft announced that it would have Windows 7 on sale Oct. 22. Microsoft has not yet revealed prices for Windows 7, but recent analysis by Computerworld noted that if the company cuts prices by the same percentages it did for Vista more than a year ago, some editions of Windows 7 could run about $100.

That made the price for Leopard stand out even more. "Leopard was $129 but we want all Leopard users to upgrade to Snow Leopard, so we're pricing it at $29," said Craig Federighi, the vice president of Mac OS engineering, during the WWDC keynote presentation Monday.

Snow Leopard, also known as Mac OS X 10.6, was introduced a year ago at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the same locale for today's announcement. In 2008, Apple touted Snow Leopard as a performance and stability update that would "take a break" from major new features.

The company continued that line today. "We love Leopard, we're so proud of it [that] we decided to build upon Leopard," said Bertrand Serlet, senior vice president of software engineering. "We want to build a better Leopard, hence Snow Leopard."

Even so, Serlet bragged that company engineers refined more than 90% of Leopard's core code to create Snow Leopard, rewrote the Finder and added new features such as Expose integration with the Dock.

He touted Snow Leopard's improved performance, as well as faster speeds in some of the Apple-provide applications, such as Mail. Snow Leopard also adds in-box support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, and synchronization support to Mail, Calendar and Address Book on the Mac from Exchange.

As expected, Snow Leopard requires an Intel-based Mac, the first time that Apple has crafted an operating system that drops support for the older PowerPC-based Macs.

Apple also launched an upgrade program for people who buy new Macs between today and Dec. 26, 2009. Dubbed "Mac OS X Snow Leopard Up-To-Date," the program provides customers who bought a qualifying Leopard-powered Mac with a copy of Snow Leopard for a shipping and handling fee of $9.95.

On the hardware front, Apple unveiled an updated 15-in. MacBook Pro. The new laptop, which starts at $1,699 and can be configured up to a 3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, has an integrated battery that Apple said will last seven hours.

The $1,699 model has a 2.53GHz chip; the pricier one, at $2,299, uses a 2.8GHz processor. Both models are $200 less than their predecessors.

And in something of a surprise, Apple also made numerous changes to its other laptops, moving the unibody aluminum MacBooks into the MacBook Pro line, leaving just the white Polycarbonate MacBook to soldier on under the old moniker.

The new 13.3-in. MacBook Pros start at $1,199 and also get an integrated battery that can last up to seven hours, a new display and an SD card slot. (The latest 15-in. MacBook Pro sports the same new slot.)

The now-renamed 13-in. MacBook Pro also gets a backlit keyboard across both models and Firewire 800. The entry-level model sports a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo.

Apple also dropped the prices on its ultra-thin MacBook Air, reducing the price of the 1.8Ghz model to $1,499 and offering it with a solid-state drive for $1,799, $700 less than before.

Officials were expected to wrap up today's keynote with information about iPhone OS 3.0 and new iPhone hardware.

In other software announcements, Apple said that it had wrapped up work on Safari 4 and was launching the final version today for both Mac and Windows.

Computerworld's Ken Mingis contributed to this report.

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