Up close: Apple's Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

Leopard proves again that Apple has the most sophisticated user interface (UI) for an operating system out there -- and at the same time is always looking for ways to make computing even more practical, simple and fun

Earlier this month, Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs unveiled new hardware at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) -- and more importantly, offered an early look at Mac OS X 10.5, code-named Leopard. Although Jobs noted that some features of the company's next operating system, which is due out sometime early in 2007, would remain secret for now, he did take developers through a tour of some of the software's new features.

Last week, Apple officials offered guided tours of the company's new Xeon-based Mac Pro desktop computers, conveniently offering a closer look at Leopard for those lucky few on hand to check it out. The software has been released to select developers so they can begin working on making their applications compatible, but it has not been released for public use. Nor is that likely to happen -- Apple, unlike Microsoft, keeps its operating systems tightly veiled in secrecy until they are formally launched. That means real hands-on experiences are far and few between.

Lucky me: I got a chance to see it up close and personal. What I saw proved again that Apple has the most sophisticated user interface (UI) for an operating system out there -- and at the same time is always looking for ways to make computing even more practical, simple and fun. Technically, what Apple announced at WWDC is a core system with some incredibly useful application programming interface (API) hooks for developers to write to over the next six months so. That way, when Leopard is officially released in 2007, all of the major applications will be able to exploit these new features. It's a symbiotic relationship, and Apple is wise to care and feed for their developers in this fashion.

Geek stuff

With OS X 10.4, a.k.a. Tiger, the command-line interface applications are 64-bit, as is the core operating system. However, there are two versions of the current Mac OS: the PowerPC iteration for older Macintoshes, and a different version for newer Intel-based Macs. There is no universal installation for an IT pro to use.

In Leopard, the operating system, command-line interface and even the application interface are 64-bit. This means all applications will have access to the full amount of installed RAM and will not be limited to 4GB. Imagine 16GB of RAM allocated to image rendering or genome sequencing. This should have the science, technology and creative folks salivating. Moreover, unlike some other operating systems, the 64-bit version is fully 32-bit compatible. So there is only a single flavor of Apple's next Mac OS, which is fully native on Intel and PowerPC machines and offers one master install. In other words, all users experience the same applications and interface.

In addition to the Core Audio, Core Video and Core Image features that professional apps can leverage for incredible performance, Leopard introduces a fourth core framework, Core Animation. Core Animation is an API that enables developers to create stunning UIs with very little code. For example, the album art screen saver required more then 4,000 lines of code in open GL -- and only 400 lines when using Core Animation. Developers, rejoice.

One thing still notably missing from the Leopard -- Apple engineers, are you listening? -- is a way to assign an application to a particular processor and set the level of resource use that app can have. As a creative pro, ideally I'd like to be able to assign high processor usage to the processors and RAM for something like Final Cut Pro. This would allow end users to maximize their processor and RAM use depending on their needs.

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