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Apple's Snow Leopard to cut the bloat from Mac OS X

Separating out PowerPC and Intel code at last?

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Apple's next major Mac OS X released, yesterday confirmed as Snow Leopard, will focus solely on under-the-bonnet changes, the Mac maker has revealed. But will owners of PowerPC-based machines be left in the cold?

Apple is promising a version of Mac OS X that "dramatically" reduces the amount of storage space the operating system requires. Undoubtedly, some of that will come from the re-engineered core technologies, but it's hard to conclude that Snow Leopard's release will come not as a "universal" binary capable of running on both Intel and PowerPC processors, but as a single-platform product.

Universality has been handy in ensuring users can run the same installed code on both Intel- and PowerPC-based Macs without resorting to emulation. But just as Leopard lacks the ability to run Mac OS 9 apps - a feature present in previous Mac OS X releases - there will come a time when Apple drops Rosetta, its PowerPC emulation mechanism.

Early rumours concerning Snow Leopard suggested PowerPC support was to be dropped, though that was subsequently denied by Apple insiders.

How can these two claims be reconciled? Only by Apple shipping native-only versions of Snow Leopard. Owners of Intel-based Macs will finally be free of all that redundant PowerPC code in the system software, freeing up space for, as Apple puts it, "their music and photos".

With any luck, Apple will finally allow users to readily remove unwanted languages from their system software, a process that can free up a fair bit of hard drive space too.

Apple won't be ditching support for universal binaries, or PowerPC Macs, because there, for now, too many of them out there. But if Snow Leopard's Grand Central technology does as promised and improves the OS' ability to work with multi-core CPUs, Intel-based Macs are going to shoot even further ahead of old G5 and G4 models.

Apple is also promising that Snow Leopard will offer more pervasive support for 64-bit computing, leading to the ability to support up to 16TB of memory, though the motherboard hardware to do this isn't there yet. In any case, limits to CPU memory controllers mean they don't physically support the full range of 64-bit memory addresses, only a subset.

Snow Leopard will also feature QuickTime X, a "streamlined" revamp of Apple's multimedia foundation, and OpenCL (Open Compute Library), a non-proprietary programming system for running complex code on a machine's graphic chip(s).

Oh, and it'll get Microsoft Exchange support too, in a bid to make Macs more business-friendly.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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