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WWDC Apple today released some intriguing details about the next version of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, including the surprise good news that it will cost a mere $29 and the expected bad news that it will run only on Intel-based Macs.

Snow Leopard's debut at Monday morning's Worldwide Developer Conference cotillion keynote broke little new ground - most everything major had either already been announced or leaked. What was interesting was the wealth - for Apple, at least - of detail.

Before launching into those details, however, Apple's SVP for software engineering, Bertrand Serlet, couldn't resisting kicking Microsoft a bit while it's down on its Vista luck. "Microsoft has dug quite a big hole for themselves with Vista," he gloated, "and they're trying to get out of it with Windows 7."

Having inserted the knife, he twisted it, saying, "But underlying Windows 7 you have the same old technologies: DLLs, the Registry, disk defragmentation - no end user should ever have to know about that." He also tossed a few barbs at Windows' security subsystems, saying that they'll be even more complex in Windows 7 to prevent a PC from being "infested" with malware.

"So that's Windows 7," he sniffed, "same old technology as Vista. Fundamentally it's just another version of Vista."

Needless to say, he prefers Mac OS X. "We love Leopard," he enthused, saying that Apple's goal for Snow Leopard was "to build a better Leopard." And if this next version of Mac OS X lives up to what Serlet and other Apple honchos went on to demonstrate, Apple may have pulled it off.

Applications

Safari: Safari 4 was released as a public beta in late February. Today, it graduated to shipping status for Leopard, Tiger, Windows XP, and Windows Vista and will ship with - and be enhanced for - Snow Leopard.

A full listing of Safari 4's new features can be found here, including the highly touted Top Sites and Full History Search with Cover Flow. In today's keynote, however, the focus was on speed. According to Serlet, Safari 4 performed 7.8 times faster than Internet Explorer when running the SunSpider JavaScript-engine test.

He didn't, however, quote any of Apple's other speed claims, which still show Safari 4 coming out on top, but not as dramatically.

Serlet also claimed that in what he called the "gold standard" of web standardization testing, ACID3, Safari scores a perfect 100 out of 100. IE8, he said, scores 21 per cent. Now, whether or not ACID is a true measure of a browser's ability to run anything that's thrown at it is debatable, a 100 per cent versus 21 percent compliance is good marketing copy at minimum.

In Snow Leopard, Serlet claimed, Safari 4 will have enhanced crash resistance based on the ability to isolate plug-in failures without crashing the entire browser - or, for that matter, the entire Mac OS X.

QuickTime X: QuickTime - now QuickTime X - will be given not only a face-lift but also powers formerly found only in the extra-cost QuickTime Pro.

Most obvious is its new interface. Gone is the aging brushed-chrome interface with its semi-retro transport and volume controls. In their stead is a floating, translucent transport dialog similar to that in DVD Player. Roll over it to make it appear. Roll away, and it fades from view.

QuickTime X also has simple video-trimming capabilities: just drag to select the section of a video you want to keep or export, then send it to iTunes to sync it with your iPhone, iPod, or Apple TV, or publish it on MobileMe or YouTube. It also now uses Apple's ancient-but-sturdy ColorSync technology for improved color accuracy.

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Next page: Interface

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