Since Snow Leopard, aka OS X 10.6, was previewed at last year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) Mac users have been waiting patiently for release details. Now, courtesy of this year’s WWDC, they have them. The upgrade for Mac OS Leopard users will be available from September at the Global Financial Crisis friendly price of USD$29.

The budget price of Snow Leopard reflects the fact that most of the improvements are of the under-the-hood variety. Therefore Apple won’t be able to tempt shoppers with a massive list of new features that previous OS X upgrades have been able to call on. Instead performance focused improvements will include Grand Central Dispatch (GCD), which allows software to take advantage of multi-core processors and OpenCL, which lets Snow Leopard tap the graphics processing unit for general computing tasks.

The 64-bit versions of standard applications such as Finder, Mail, iCal, iChat and Safari will achieve boosts by taking advantage of Snow Leopard’s support for 64-bit processors - making use of large amounts of RAM, increasing performance, and improving security while remaining compatible with 32-bit applications. Apple claims that Mail loads messages 85 percent faster and conducts searches up to 90 percent faster and the 64-bit version of Safari 4 boosts the performance of the Nitro JavaScript engine by up to 50 percent.

Business Mac users will be happy to learn Snow Leopard also builds support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 right into Mac OS X Mail, Address Book and iCal. This enables Exchange information to work seamlessly within Snow Leopard so users can take advantage of OS X only features such as fast Spotlight searches and Quick Look previews.

Not all the improvements are under-the–hood, however, with Snow Leopard adding built-in support for wireless Bluetooth braille displays and support for the connection of multiple braille displays simultaneously to one Mac. Apple’s Multi-Touch trackpad is now also integrated with the VoiceOver screen reader so users can hear and navigate different parts of a window or the desktop by moving a single finger around the trackpad as if it were the screen.

Snow Leopard Server

Also to released alongside Snow Leopard is Snow Leopard Server. It is a full 64-bit UNIX server operating system based on open standards that is designed to take advantage of multi-core processors and address massive amounts of memory, while remaining fully compatible with 32-bit applications. Apple claims it is up to twice as fast as its predecessor with new features including Podcast Producer 2, for automating the creation and publishing of podcasts, and Mobile Access Server with secure access to firewall-protected network services for iPhone and Mac.

Other Snow Leopard Server features include Wiki Server 2, which provides the ability to view wiki content on an iPhone and preview attachments with Quick Look on any modern browser, the new Address Book Server, based on the CardDAV open standard, which provides a central location for users to store and access personal contacts across multiple Macs and synchronized iPhones, and iCal Server 2, based on the CalDAV open standard, which includes web-based calendar access and the ability to view meeting invitations and details on an iPhone using iPhone OS 3.0.

A new Mail Server engine supporting push email, QuickTime X HTTP Live Streaming, which allows dynamic adjustment of movie playback quality to suit the available network speed, and an iPhone Configuration Utility, which simplifies the setup of multiple iPhones.

Mac OS X version 10.6 Snow Leopard will only work on Intel-based Macs and will be available as an upgrade from Leopard for USD$29 or as the Snow Leopard Family Pack, a single household, five-user license, which will go for $49. Tiger users can opt for the Mac Box Set, which includes Mac OS X Snow Leopard, iLife ’09 and iWork ’09 and will be available for a suggested price of $169 or the Family Pack for US$229. Meanwhile Mac OS X Server version 10.6 Snow Leopard will be priced at US$499 and includes unlimited licenses for Mac, Windows and Linux clients.

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