Apple's Snow Leopard: Same great UI, refinements under the hood

Most of what's new in Mac OS X 10.6 won't be obvious to users

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One thing missing in Snow Leopard: support for pre-Intel Macs. Come on, you knew it was going to happen sometime, and it's been more than three and a half years since Apple made the CPU switch. Still, I'm sad that the perfectly capable Power Mac G5 I've used for years won't be joining this bright, shining future. And I know there are many such workhorses in graphic design studios, video production houses and other businesses still happily chugging along. That's progress, I guess.

What does it mean?

There's a lot packed into Serlet's statement about Snow Leopard being a base for future development.

Certainly Grand Central and OpenCL could help bust open performance benchmarks down the road. Various developers who have talked obliquely about the changes have said that Grand Central-specific changes in Apple's Xcode have made the onerous task of programming for multiple cores much easier. That bodes well for speed bumps on current Intel-based Macs (at least, all but the earliest ones) and huge boosts on future hardware.

OpenCL's recruitment of GPUs for general computing tasks is a popular idea for both Macs and PCs; we'll see how that plays out. Perhaps this could finally give Apple the poke it needs to get state-of-the-art GPUs on Macs. (Historically, gaming has driven this, and Apple has lagged far behind the Windows world in that area.)

It's worth noting that Adobe has said that the next versions of its Creative Suite and Lightroom will be Intel-only, also. John Nack, who follows Adobe, puts it succinctly: "By the time the next version of the Suite ships, the very youngest PPC-based Macs will be roughly four years old. They're still great systems, but if you haven't upgraded your workstation in four years, you're probably not in a rush to upgrade your software, either."

As always, if every picosecond counts, you have to weigh your own cost-benefit ratio before buying Apple's latest and greatest.

And how great the latest will be remains unknown for now. A lot of implementation has to take place before performance gains appear. But it's good to see these technologies going into consumer systems, along with the developer tools for them.

Exchange support

I can't say much about what to expect in terms of Exchange support and what that could mean, since I don't use it and have never had to deal with it in an enterprise/corporate environment. It should be a boon to Mac users in Exchange-centric companies, but whether it helps Apple penetrate further into that market will depend a lot on the implementation. Macs gained built-in support for Active Directory a while back, but I know IT managers who have had serious problems with it. Then again, many IT managers have also had problems getting individual Windows boxes well integrated into their networks.

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