Apple to narrow OS X Mountain Lion's release date, unveil price today

Past practice is to refine release date, set price and announce free upgrades during WWDC keynote

Although speculation that Apple would wrap up its new Mountain Lion Mac operating system early has flopped, later today the company will likely narrow the launch date to a specific month this summer.

In 2009 and again in 2011, Apple used its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote presentation to announce the upcoming month of availability for its OS X Snow Leopard and Lion operating systems.

If the company follows its own protocol, someone from the executive circle -- CEO Tim Cook is expected to play a part in the keynote, which starts at 10 a.m. PT today -- will give customers a month-long window for the release of OS X 10.8, aka Mountain Lion.

In February, Apple surprised most experts by seeding developers with the first preview of Mountain Lion. At the time it said it would ship the upgrade "late summer 2012."

Four weeks ago, a report by the popular AppleInsider blog, as well as clues in the release cadence of the Mountain Lion developer previews, hinted at an earlier delivery, perhaps as soon as June 25.

That speculation most likely will be confirmed as off-base later today.

Although as of May 9 Mountain Lion's tempo was several weeks ahead of the schedule set the year before with Lion, the lack of a follow-up to the April 18 release of the third OS X 10.8 preview suggests that the new operating system won't appear until July at the earliest.

In 2011, Apple used WWDC to debut the fourth developer preview of Lion. Following that, it issued a "gold master," the tag Apple applies to completed software, on July 2 and then added OS X 10.7 to the Mac App Store on July 20.

But while Mac owners probably won't hear a specific Mountain Lion launch date today, they will almost certainly learn what they'll pay for the upgrade.

At 2009's and 2011's WWDCs, Apple used the conference keynote and same-day press releases to unveil the prices of Snow Leopard and Lion, respectively.

Analysts expect Apple to price Mountain Lion in the same $29-30 ballpark as the two previous iterations of OS X.

Also probably on today's agenda, or if not during the WWDC keynote, then later today, is an announcement of what Apple has called the "Up-To-Date" program for Mountain Lion.

On the opening days of both the 2009 and 2011 WWDCs, Apple revealed details of Up-To-Date, a free upgrade program for buyers of new Macs equipped with soon-to-be-surpassed editions of OS X. In both cases, Apple kicked off the program on the opening day of WWDC.

This year's Up-To-Date deal will likely offer a no-charge upgrade from Lion to Mountain Lion to mimic what it did last year. Mountain Lion will be distributed through Apple's Mac App Store.

Although much of what's new in Mountain Lion has already leaked from developers trying out OS X 10.8's previews, some aspects of the operating system may be described for the first time today. Tops on most pundits' lists: Support for a higher-resolution display that Apple will probably tout as "Retina"-quality on some models of the long-anticipated refresh of the MacBook Pro line of laptops.

For a detailed summary of the major announcements Apple is likely to make at this year's WWDC keynote, check out Michael deAgonia's "WWDC 2012: What to expect" opinion piece on Computerworld's website.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about mac os in Computerworld's Mac OS Topic Center.

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