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Snow Leopard and Windows 7 aim for a leaner, meaner OS

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Apple announced some time back that its next operating system would not be a radical departure from the current one, but rather a rewrite of the current OS, Leopard.

When OX 10.5 Leopard shipped, there were over 300 new features. But with Snow Leopard, Apple is rewriting existing Leopard code to make it leaner and faster. Considering Apple has leveraged a lot out of the OS to the point where a version can run an iPhone or iPod touch, a lot of efficiency can be gained by judicious rewrites.

One substantial upgrade involves rewriting the Finder, the first application you get when OS X boots, in the native object-oriented application program environment dubbed 'Cocoa'. This partly addresses the criticism that Leopard isn't fully 64-bit yet (unlike Vista).

Apple's second build of Snow Leopard was released to developers a few days ago, bringing a number of changes to the next version of the Mac OS X. A rewritten Cocoa-based Finder will speed up the entire system.

Currently, the Finder is still written in legacy code called Carbon, representing a performance bottleneck. The latest build contains other multi-core enhancements and low-level kernel operating system changes, enabling 64-bit kernel support on some Macs.

Early 2008 models of the Mac Pro, 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro and Xserve can be used for 64-bit kernel development. Apple noted that in Snow Leopard, the 64-bit kernel will be used by default on the Xserve and the Mac Pro and MacBook Pro systems (developers have been given both start-up key options and terminal commands for booting into the 64-bit kernel).

Audio and AirPort support have now been enabled for testing purposes, and other introductions include a simplified installation system, preliminary support for HFS+ file system compression and a new default gamma colour-viewing setting. The pre-release software is the second version developers can test - the initial preview release was at WWDC in June. Snow Leopard (OS 10.6) will be for Intel-based Macs only, and is expected to ship as Mac OS X 10.6 in the middle of next year.

Basic reading and editing support for Microsoft Exchange in Mail, iCal and Address Book have also been added, apparently, bringing our attention to what Microsoft is up to in the OS field.

Like Apple's Snow Leopard, Windows 7 (yes, the controversial Vista name is being dropped) is being designed to make the most out of the current generation of PCs rather than aiming at the next. Microsoft says Windows 7 should largely have the same system requirements as Windows Vista, while Apple's OS 10.6 should work on any Intel Mac (but not the older G4s and G5s).

Windows 7, just revealed at the annual Professional Developers' Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles, is designed to replace Vista as the main operating system for Windows-based PC users. Microsoft's Ian Moulster, whose position is recorded as 'Windows Live Commercial Lead', said on Macworld: "This is less about fixing things and more about building on the good stuff. This is about where we go from here".

Despite that, as with Snow Leopard, there are some new features. There will be more support for touch screen technology, with the same kind of multi-touch gestures applied to desktops as to laptop computers. While Apple has added multi-gesture support to the latest MacBooks, it doesn't look set to integrate the technology into desktops. As Steve Jobs said at the launch of the iPhone in England, "multi-touch makes a lot of sense on the iPhone, but not so much sense on an iMac." But Apple is obviously looking into it - as Jobs added, "Consider it a research project".

One feature Windows 7 looks set to introduce may equal OS X's system-wide Spotlight search function: W7 will have a vastly improved search function enhanced to include corporate networks. There is more about Windows 7 at PC Advisor.

For the record, neither Snow Leopard or Windows 7 appear designed to scale down to work effectively on any new generation of Netbooks. Apple's current position on the increasingly popular subcategory is that it's watching developments, but for now the iPhone and iPod touch are considered to successfully fill the space for Apple.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has revealed a new SaaS computing service that allows companies to use its data centres to run their web applications. This is being perceived as a bid to become a bigger player (like Google) in the 'cloud computing' trend, the phenomenon used by Apple's iPhone and iPod touch and many other devices to sync wirelessly.

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, said Microsoft will start previewing a platform that allows third-party developers to host, manage, calculate and store data for applications running on the internet; it's called 'Windows Azure'. Also, the next upgrade of Office business software will include a version that lets you edit word processing and spreadsheet docs inside web browsers - as Reuters points out, the apps would most likely be lightweight compared to the 'real' ones, so they can be hosted online instead of installed on your computer.

The online version of Office will help prevent competitors such as Google Inc from pecking away at Microsoft's dominance in software used by office workers.

Adobe has been experimenting in this space too, with, notably, Photoshop Express, which lets anyone edit images from anywhere.

I'm not sure what I think about this trend. New Zealand's broadband is so limited, I can't imagine having to do the bulk of my work using online applications. But I'm looking forward to a leaner, meaner Leopard, and a leaner meaner Windows will be good for dual-boot Mac users too.


- Mark Webster 


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