Will Snow Leopard change the world?

Apple has been making the next OS lean and mean and it should kick off a whole new season of Apple goodness for us Mac lovers, giving us an estimated 6GB of storage back as well as making all sorts of operations faster, particularly in video, I have heard.

The system also boasts a whole slew of refinements that developers are well aware of - we have to wait till September.

Not only that, Snow Leopard will make it even easier to lever Macs into existing IT structures, making it less of a pain when executives demand they have Macs and, not only that, they should be integrated into existing networks.

Ars Technica has detailed some of the 'refinements', like shut down and wake from sleep being 75 per cent faster. This chimes perfectly with my own law of computing; that 'Too much speed is always enough.'

Another one that will be appreciated by laptop owners more information on the condition of your laptop battery will be available than in Leopard. In other words, you'll know when your battery is due for replacement which, in the latest MacBook line, should be three times later than with last year's models.

I have posited before that once Apple got the OS onto the iPhone/iPod touch, it meant Apple engineers could really make the code a lot leaner for the general computer OS. It was only a matter of time before some other small-platform features went the other way.

One of these is so-called 'web spots', to be part of Universal Access, Apple's technology aimed at making Macs usable by the hearing and/or visually-impaired. (All Macs have Universal Access already in OS X - it's just getting expanded a bit).

Web spots will allow homing in on particular sections of a webpage so users can jump from one section to another. This is the feature that allows iPhone users to zoom in on particular sections of webpages by double-tapping them.

But Snow Leopard will be faster, too - it will have a sped-up Java processor and a new parallel-processing architecture called Grand Central, for multicore-enabled applications. The ability to steal processing capability from graphics cards when available is also a Snow Leopard feature, and the revamped QuickTime X engine means web, video and animation should all run faster.

Scotty to Enterprise

Infoworld detailed more of what enterprise users can expect from Snow Leopard. There are plenty of people using Macs in enterprise already - and iPhone has made further inroads. A current user of a Mac in a Windows world is Mark Crump, who wrote about his experience in the AppleBlog.

Two major Snow Leopard changes are aimed directly at business users - and to the benefit of the IT staff members who support them.

A year ago, the iPhone added native Exchange support via Microsoft's ActiveSync, including remote kill capabilities and other management features via Exchange.

Mac OS X Snow Leopard will come with native Exchange support via ActiveSync as well, so you can use Apple's Mail client or Microsoft's Entourage client with Exchange 2007 Server natively. In other words, no longer are you restricted to using IMAP. Users will need to use Exchange 2007 for native access, though there should be no need for an Exchange client license on the Mac. Connected to an Exchange 2007 Server, Apple Mail just acts like Entourage - it will be persistently synced.

Snow Leopard is supposed to add native Exchange 2007 support to Apple's Address Book and iCal (scheduler) too - both will be able to be set to sync directly with Exchange 2007. You will be able to select which services you want Snow Leopard to sync, enabling business users to maintain personal calendars in iCal and/or personal contacts in Address Book, while keeping their business information in Exchange. (Read the Infoworld article linked above for more detail on this.)

What this means to IT staff is that Mac users will be interacting with Exchange pretty much like Windows users do already, silencing yet another IT moan about letting Macs get a foothold in their precious environments.

Apparently, Mac OS X Snow Leopard will also delete a technology IT has long hated: AppleTalk. Ever since it introduced Mac OS X nearly ten years ago, Apple has methodically shifted more and more of the Mac's networking to IP. Mac OS X Snow Leopard will complete the transition, removing the AppleTalk protocol completely. The Infoworld story reckons Mac OS X Snow Leopard will be totally IP-based.

For those security conscious people, there will be a new option to set a delay between when the screen saver begins and a password is required to access your Mac. The Firewall settings in the System Preference>Security pane have been simplified.

There are lots of other little changes coming, but the fact that Mac applications, for the most part, will require no revision to work under a leaner, faster Mac OS is pretty cool, as is the fact that the new OS will look and work pretty much how the current one does. So Mac users will need little, if any, training to adapt to it.

This article originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.

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