Mac OS X Snow Leopard: Apple's secret business weapon?

The new OS's focus on processing promises faster apps and a more stable enterprise base

Judging from initial accounts, the next version of the Mac OS X, named Snow Leopard, will be aimed squarely at business and enterprise users, signaling a formal push by Apple to take Windows head on outside the consumer and education markets. "Apple is taking the Mac OS one step closer to the enterprise," says Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research.

Apple declined to comment on its plans for the new Mac OS, other than to reiterate the sketchy details it released at the recent Worldwide Developers Conference. Snow Leopard -- the numerical version is not yet set -- is slated to ship in the US summer of 2009, six months or so before Windows 7's scheduled debut.

Higher performance and Exchange support at the core

Apple's plans for Snow Leopard mainly involve improving application performance, as well as bringing Microsoft Exchange Synchronization into the OS itself, so Apple's iCal, Address Book, and Mail will be Exchange-enabled out of the box.

The performance changes include making the Mac OS 64-bit and providing an architecture called Grand Central that lets developers take better advantage of multiple-core processors. Mac OS X Snow Leopard will also add support for the Open Computing Language (OpenCL), which will let application developers directly tap graphics processors in the Macs. Apple also promises faster processing of dynamic media via QuickTime X and a 50 percent improvement in JavaScript performance to speed Web apps.

"We're excited about Snow Leopard from a reliability and performance perspective," says Pat Lee, group manager for consumer products at EMC's VMware subsidiary. "For us, it will make running Windows [via VMware Fusion on a Mac] better than ever." He cites the 64-bit OS and use of OpenCL as two key boosts to Fusion's future performance.

The performance improvements, if delivered as promised, will appeal to Mac users of every stripe, but the Exchange support is evidence that Apple is targeting the enterprise. A high-performance Mac OS X with built-in Exchange support that continues to be hardware-compatible with standard PC equipment and support Windows through products such as Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion should appeal strongly to business users, says analyst Gartenberg. "It could bring business users to the Mac," concurs VMware's Lee.

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