In October of 2007 Apple released their fifth revision of Mac OS X; tilted Leopard, it became Apple’s biggest update to OS X since its initial release in 2001. Leopard boasted over 300 new features for both developers and consumers.

Time Machine’s automated backups, Spaces’ virtual desktops, and the ability to run Windows operating systems were only some of the new features introduced in Leopard and have since become staples of the Macintosh platform. In keeping with their biannual system upgrade, Apple is poised to release their next revision of OS X this September.

Snow Leopard marks a bit of a departure from previous upgrades in both features and price. After five revisions of OS X, Apple seems fairly satisfied with the operating system they have built; instead of completely revamping the OS for Snow Leopard, they’ve decided to “finely tune” what they already have. This may make Snow Leopard seem a bit more like a service pack than a new operating system, but however small some of the graphical changes may be, the core of the OS will be greatly improved.

The first thing Snow Leopard will give you is speed. If you’ve purchased a Mac within the last three to four years, Snow Leopard should increase your machine’s performance and decrease its overall footprint. Apple boasts saving up to six gigabytes off the current Leopard installation. Snow Leopard will also introduce full 64-bit support for all Intel Core 2 Duo and newer processors, making professional applications run faster and providing room for future enhancements.

Along with these speed improvements, Apple is also introducing two new technologies to the core of the OS to make even older Macs run smoother. Grand Central and OpenCL are both huge improvements to the way your Mac processes lots of data. Grand Central is essentially traffic control for your processor, monitoring and pushing processing tasks to the multiple cores on newer Intel processors. OpenCL will take better advantage of the graphics processing unit (GPU) when computing scientific or mathematical operations, or when the CPU becomes overloaded.

Besides all the refinements in the underpinnings of OS X, Apple has also made slight changes to the user interface to make using your Mac a little easier. Stacks can now be navigated, instead of opening a finder window, QuickTime has been significantly overhauled, and Microsoft Exchange support has been implemented. This means using a Mac on a corporate Windows network will be much easier. Mail, Address Book and iCal will all be able to talk to Microsoft Exchange servers for meeting requests, email and contact lists. This should give Mac users even greater integration with the Windows world.

Snow Leopard is shaping up to be one of the best upgrades Apple has ever produced. It will be faster, smaller, and even easier to use than before. In addition, it’s also cheaper than ever before; forgoing their traditional $129 OS upgrade cost, Snow Leopard will only cost $29. If you purchase a new Mac any time before September, the upgrade cost will only be $10.

The biggest requirement for Snow Leopard is that it only runs on Intel-based Macs, which have been standard since 2006. If you’re running a Leopard-based Intel Mac the upgrade is really a no-brainer. If you’re still using Apple’s G4 or G5 machines, it may be time to look at upgrade options because with all these improvements just on the horizon, I can assure you, you’ll be glad you did.

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