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So… Where’s Leopard?

March 23rd, 2007

The Apple TV is shipping, and we know most there is to know about the iPhone, which should ship in mid-June. Aside from new releases of Mac systems (including 8-core Mac Pros and perhaps-redesigned iMacs), the only big mystery expected from Apple is Leopard, OS X 10.5. The mystery contains two elements: when will it be released, and what are those “top secret” parts of the OS that Steve Jobs teased about last year?

Unless Apple is going to seriously undermine everyone’s confidence in them by announcing a delay in the release of Leopard, especially this late in the game, Leopard will come out no later than June 20th. Apple is still now promising a “Spring” release of the OS, and has given no indication that it will miss that range. Speculation is rife over when the release will be, and all bets are off on Apple following established patterns because this OS has a very different paradigm–those aforementioned “secret” features.

Some are saying that a release is imminent because Apple just released OS X version 10.4.9, and in the past two versions of the OS, the big upgrade came within six weeks of the last incremental upgrade.

Others, however, point to the fact the developer’s releases of OS X (the versions that software makers get so they can prepare their applications to work with the new OS as soon as possible after its release) are still way too buggy, and that these problems could not possibly be ironed out before June. Some have even suggested that Apple will miss spring altogether and won’t release until July or later.

But the “secret” features throw a wrench into this speculation. Apple is definitely keeping this very hush-hush, and there is almost certainly something significant going on that we haven’t heard about yet. Apple proved they could keep stuff quiet with the iPhone–no one predicted that one correctly before Jobs unveiled it–and if Jobs was exaggerating and the “secret” features are just a minor bell and whistle here and there, there will be massive disappointment.

So assume that there are fairly substantial features about Leopard yet to be revealed, secrets Apple wants to keep as quiet as they kept the iPhone before January. That means they could not send these features out in the standard developer’s builds. Despite NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), anything that comes out in developer’s builds almost instantly gets leaked to rumor sites.

What does that mean? It means that Apple is building the OS along two lines: the secret-feature-free standard developer’s builds, and the internal build at Apple which has all the secret features built into it. This is not a new idea; after all, Apple had Intel-compatible builds of OS X running for years and developers never got wind of those.

Such an internal build would explain why developer’s builds are still so buggy: as the secret features become more and more integrated into the final version of the OS, the developers get less and less of that part of the OS, leaving them with outdated chunks of the OS which will still be buggy. So buggy developer releases don’t reflect the status of the actual OS, and Apple could still release Leopard at any time.

Some have argued that this is not possible because Apple would get pummeled with criticism if they suddenly released the OS in such a different form that it would ‘break’ current versions of developers’ applications. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. After all, most new OS releases will work fine with past software; while many programs do need to be updated with new OS releases, Apple’s secret features do not need to be program-breakers. Apple is, hopefully, releasing enough in the developer’s builds to allow software makers to make their apps work with Leopard.

Of course, like everything else, the above is pure speculation. Apple will release Leopard when it will release Leopard. We just have to wait, is all.

One note: Ars Technica reports that Leopard will not allow “InputManager plugins” anymore. What are those? For me, the main significance is that they’re the things which allow browser plugins such as PithHelmet and SafariStand to work. Why is Apple (maybe) doing this? Security. Apparently, those InputManager plugins are how many of the attempted security breaches are exploited.

If this is true, that will be a major disappointment for me. Yes, the new Safari features will be cool, and I’ll want them… but the price will be high: PithHelmet blocks ads and Flash animations in Safari, something I have become very enamored of; SafariStand brings back all the windows you had open when Safari last quit or crashed, and though I’ve had that for only a short time, I will miss it very much. The new Safari will be cool, but it will also be ad-ridden and annoyingly animated. Argh.

Hopefully, these mods will be redesigned so they can still do the same thing in some other way, but even if that happens, it may take a long time for that to come.

Update: New rumor says that Leopard will be delayed until October. The source has been known to get some rumors right, but this one sounds so utterly fake that one would have to be the most naive person on the planet to accept it. Why? Because the stated reason is:
Apple is expected to launch its next generation Leopard operating system (OS) in April, but according to industry sources, the release of the new OS will be postponed to October to allow Apple to make Leopard support Windows Vista through an integrated version of its Boot Camp software.

And that’s got to be the dumbest rumor I’ve ever heard. Apple holding up its latest and greatest OS, the OS that will support the iPhone and multiple other apps and hardware, push all of them back at least four months… just so 1% of the user base can install Vista on their Macs? Please.

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