I have noticed news and rumours popping up, as well as some releases on Apple’s website about the next version of OS X, due out next year, Snow Leopard. Just going off the information directly from Apple, Snow Leopard is sounding like it is going to be a very interesting release and as an unashamed Mac fan, I am eagerly awaiting it’s release.
One of the first things that popped into my head when I saw what it was being called was that surely they could have picked a different cat since they used Leopard for 10.5, but upon thinking about it further, Snow Leopard is actually perfect for it, hopefully when I’m done, you will see why.
“Taking a break from adding new features, Snow Leopard — scheduled to ship in about a year — builds on Leopard’s enormous innovations by delivering a new generation of core software technologies that will streamline Mac OS X, enhance its performance, and set new standards for quality.”
So what’s the big fuss?
Microsoft Exchange Support
Well, one of the biggest things is full Microsoft Exchange support through Apple’s Mail, Address Book and iCal applications. As a user of Microsoft Exchange for my email, calendar and contacts on my desktop and Palm Treo 750, being able to sync my MacBook Pro with my Exchange Server would complete my work communications suite. I imagine there are plenty of other people in the same shoes as myself there, and I have no doubt that it is holding many people back that would otherwise be more interested in the Macintosh platform. Yes, there are other options available that I have talked about previously, such as using Kerio Mail Server instead of Microsoft Exchange Server. However, in a situation where Microsoft Exchange is already installed, this is not really a viable option.
I have noticed that Mail in Os X Leopard has an option to access an Exchange Server, but I have not tried this as of yet.
What else is there?
Open Compute Language
The other thing in Snow Leopard that is quite a big addition is what Apple is calling “OpenCL”, or Open Compute Language. I’m sure by now a lot of tech savvy people have come across the concept of using the processing power of graphics processing unit’s for general purpose processing as well as graphics processing. OpenCL is meant to allow development in this area. From the Apple website (server) (and personal), OpenCL is:
“Another powerful Snow Leopard technology, OpenCL (Open Computer Library), makes it possible for developers to efficiently tap the vast gigaflops of computing power currently locked up in the graphics processing unit (GPU). With GPUs approaching processing speeds of a trillion operations a second, they’re capable of considerably more than just drawing pictures. OpenCL takes that power and redirects it for use in high-performance computing applications like genomics, video encoding, signal processing, and simulations of physical and financial models.”
Grand Central and 64 Bit
Now, the other things listed on the personal, or client usage OS X site are not necessarily spectacular, such as mentioning 64 bit and multi-core support through Grand Central, seeing as how OS X has been 64 bit and with options running on multiple cores for years, but with all the confusion surrounding Vista and it’s 32 and 64 bit versions, it doesn’t hurt to re-establish that OS X is 64 bit and every computer is now running a multi-core CPU. What is interesting about these things though is the improvements Apple are making in the 64 bit field. With up to 16 terrabytes of RAM supported in Snow Leopard, is this paving the way for a new breed of Mac that could potentially run entirely from RAM rather than the slower hard drives? The MacBook Air has a solid state drive as an option, it would make sense to start offering them in other computers if the capacity can be brought to a sufficient level. With the vast amounts of power available in graphics processors and multi-core CPU’s (currently up to 8 cores and 4 GPU’s in Mac Pro’s), it makes sense that the biggest bottleneck is going to be the 7,200 rpm or 10,000 rpm hard drives.
Grand Central is meant to make the entirety of the operating system “multicore aware”, which I assume means that every part of OS X will be capable of efficient multi-threading, allowing them to run faster. I have seen it indicated and theorised in a few places, that Grand Central will be, or should be, providing a more efficient way of controlling multiple threads. This is particularly important as the more cores and threads you have running, the more overheads there are. So you can only add so many more cores before there is so much overhead that multiple cores simply won’t help. There is a good read about this over on ZDNet by Robin Harris. Providing a solution to this problem that is easily accessible by developers would be an excellent advance, regardless of what your preferred operating system is. If Apple hit it with Snow Leopard, it will have to push Microsoft to come up with a solution as well in time for Windows 7, if they don’t then there needs to be something else that can provide a significant performance boost on similar hardware.
I expect that in Snow Leopard, with the addition of OpenCL, that multi-core functionality on Mac’s will natively include GPU’s as well as CPU’s and processing across the two+ units as well as improving the 64 bit performance to potentially allow RAM to be used in place of hard drives. There are already solutions available that allow you to add RAM to riser cards that can be used as a small boot drive or swap drive, though they are very limited. It makes sense to extend this to allow maximum data access speeds for the processors.
What else is there?
A reduced footprint is meant to be coming along. This is marketed as a reduction in the hard drive space used by the operating system, which grew in Leopard. This is always a nice thing seeing as how I like to have as much hard drive space as I can get my hands on, and I’m sure others will agree. However, the system footprint or a program footprint generally refers to how much RAM it utilises in order to run. Given the hints dropped in the 64 bit section relating to more free RAM, I hope that the reduced footprint will also reduce the amount of RAM used by the operating system, both when idling and under load. Though as it is, the RAM usage is nothing compared to Vista.
Unfortunately for those still using Mac’s based on the old IBM CPU’s, I have seen it mentioned in a few places that Snow Leopard will not be a universal release and the system requirements list an Intel-based Mac.
However, these system requirements are thus far only for the developers preview, so it may yet be available as a universal release.
No doubt there will be more than just what is being marketed at this stage, but thus far this is looking to be a very exciting release. What do you think?