Snow Leopard’s coming (oh wait, it’s here!)

Get Snow Leopard from

Get Snow Leopard from

The latest installment of Apple’s big cat OS is on its way (literally, at the time of starting this post it was leaving the sorting hub and on its way to a delivery truck). At first I was skeptical about buying a (.0) OS release, but rumors are rampant that 10.6.1 is in the pipeline and preparing for seeding to developer community for Beta (in fact this was confirmed by 9to5mac on September 3, 2009).

SPOILER ALERT: Apple is apparently addressing the Flash vulnerability it re-exposed in the outdated Flash player rolled out in Snow Leopard 10.6.0.

UPDATE: Apple finally released 10.6.1 on September 10, 2009.

My reasons for wanting to upgrade are simple:

  1. Smaller footprint
  2. Grand Central Dispatch
  3. Dock Exposé
  4. Access to 64 bit mode
  5. New Quicktime

Now I agree that many, if not all, of these features could have been released as progressive upgrades, and amount to nothing more than a glorified Service Pack. The only difference is that Apple needed to create a definitive line in the sand in order to cut the cord with PPC and the associated need to retain the Rosetta interface. This process is not possible as a simple Software Update, it has to be a voluntary opt in.

Apple needs to keep moving forward and they have traditionally sunset legacy technologies in favor of new features and technological evolutions. Leopard (or more generally the big cat line OS X in general) needed to address this eventually, and Apple needed to either wait for OS XI or find a line in the sand in OS X. One of the big advantages of Apple’s approach to legacy retirement (as opposed to Microsoft’s inability to escape the concept of backwards compatibility) is that it allows them to migrate to new technologies and adopt paradigm shifts that keep their user experience and software at the forefront of design and functionality.

Why get rid of Rosetta?

Actually Rosetta is still alive and well, just not a default part of the installation. The actual divorce is with the Power PC line of processors that necessitate the Rosetta abstraction layer. Now I’m sure there are plenty of PPC machines still in service, but with Apple’s recent popularity surge, the PPC population now represents the short tail of the Mac population curve. With Leopard at a highly stable state, there is now a version of OS X for all flavors of processors. Apple can afford to shift gears, deprecate certain API calls, and close certain programming practices that don’t fall within the developer guidelines they want their application based to be built against. In doing so they surely broke many applications (see Adobe CS2). However the new applications that will come out that are compliant with the new APIs will be able to leverage all the tweaks and improvements in Snow Leopard and its descendants (Grand Central Dispatch, Open CL,  …).

I’ve often wondered why I have a software abstraction layer sitting on my Mac, just waiting for the day it will be used. I bought a new MacBook Pro in February, and can’t imagine investing in software that was built and designed for PPC hardware. I would much rather use or write something myself that is runs natively and is optimized for my hardware and OS. If lines are not drawn in the sand, then you end up with situations where you have code written for Intel based hardware, but relies on a Rosetta dependent installer (Microsoft Office I’m talking to you). As a company, or even as a Product Manager, I would want to know that the developer world is offering the best experience to the users, and if you already control the hardware integration, then its incumbent on you to set the standard for establishing guidelines and best practices on that hardware grouping.

The Last Word

If these new features had been rolled out as a service pack, and Apple decided to have a 10.6 release that was a “Full Release”, let’s call it PPC sunset, deprecated Rosetta, with ZFS, a smattering of iLife/iWork updates, and a killer app (a la Time Machine), what really are you getting more. The operating system is mature, and when you get to this point, most changes amount to adding fins to a car: largely cosmetic and of little impact. 

I think I’ll take my $29 upgrade and play with the under-the-hood rewrites for a while. Let me know when Apple releases Cougar/Puma/Cheetah, and we’ll discuss the orbit altering changes and decide whether or not they’re worth the $129.