Mac OS X 10.6? Reports say Apple to tout new OS next week

If that's the case, WWDC is the right place to do it, says analyst

Reports circulated Wednesday that Apple Inc. may demo the next iteration of Mac OS X next week or even release code to developers in preparation for an early-2009 launch.

According to an account on Mac enthusiast site TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog), Apple may provide early copies of Mac OS X 10.6 at next week's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), which opens Monday and runs through next Friday in San Francisco.

Mac OS X 10.6 will run on Intel-based hardware only, said TUAW, and so will mark the ditching of support for the older PowerPC processor-equipped Macs. Apple announced it would shift to Intel processors three years ago, and unveiled the first systems in January 2006; most analysts have said that move is largely behind the reason for Apple's renewed success selling personal computers. It has never disclosed how long it would support the PowerPC with OS upgrades, however.

Technology site Ars Technica also weighed in Wednesday on Mac OS X 10.6; its sources pegged the OS with the code name Snow Leopard.

Both TUAW and Ars Technica said that Mac OS X 10.6 could launch as early as January 2009, with less focus on dramatic new features and more emphasis on better stability and performance.

One analyst said that next week's WWDC would be the right time for Apple to talk up or release an early build of Mac OS 10.6. "It's always important to remember the venue Apple uses," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterResearch LLC and a Computerworld columnist. Apple, he went on, typically saves the WWDC spotlight for developer-related news.

"They may mention a new Mac OS X next week," said Gartenberg, "but Apple's never been compelled to tell the entire story at one sitting." Instead, the company often parcels out information over time. That's exactly what it did in June 2005 when Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that the company would transition to Intel processors. "They also said, 'We're going to be working on Leopard,' and then showed a slide," Gartenberg said.

In fact, Apple delayed its WWDC event in 2006 until August so Apple CEO Steve Jobs could unveil Leopard to the developers in attendance. The OS was not released to the public for another 14 months.

"They can be more selective in telling their story over time" than, for example, Microsoft Corp., said Gartenberg. That's because Apple only has to worry about one hardware maker -- itself -- while its rival has to contend with scores of hardware partners, he said.

When asked if Apple was accelerating its release schedule, Gartenberg noted that Apple has never stuck with a set time span between operating system upgrades. "Some cycles have been short, others have been longer," he said.

Leopard, which Apple originally said would be released at the end of 2006 or early 2007, was delayed until October 2007, debuting 30 months -- an Apple record -- after its predecessor, Mac OS X 10.4, or Tiger. That version, however, launched just 18 months after the previous OS, dubbed Panther. The average time between Mac OS X upgrades has been close to 16 months, but the trend has been toward longer stretches between new versions.

Jobs will kick off WWDC next Monday with a keynote address, where most analysts expect he will spend the bulk of his time talking up a new 3G-capable iPhone and that platform's major software upgrade, iPhone 2.0.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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