Apple’s Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Launches August 28

Apple Snow Leopard box with a MacBookMac fans have been rabid with speculations about when Apple would release the latest-and-greatest version of Mac OS X—version 10.6, dubbed “Snow Leopard”—and now they have an answer: Snow Leopard will go on sale Friday, August 28, at Apple retail stores and authorized dealers, and is now available for pre-order from Apple’s online store. And unlike previous Mac OS X releases, Apple is pushing Snow Leopard out the door for just $29.99 for a single user license, and $49.99 for a five-machine Family Pack.

Part of the reason that Apple is low-balling the price tag on Snow Leopard is that the OS is more of an under-the-hoods update to Apple’s operating system that includes many performance enhancements and new technologies, rather than a version that offers highly-visible blockbuster new features that consumers will see right off the bat.

For instance, all of Apple’s core applications like Mail, iChat, iCal, and the Safari Web browser are all 64-bit applications, and the Mac OS X Finder has been rewritten in Apple’s Cocoa API for some much-needed speed and performance books. The Snow Leopard update also includes technologies that let developers easily tap into the power of multicore processors, and rolls in support for the OpenCL graphics. Apple is also rolling in improvements to its Time Machine backup system, lets machines start up and shut down faster, and includes QuickTime X with a whole new media player (it’s about darn time)—and Snow Leopard also includes integrated support for Microsoft Exchange with its iCal, Mail, Address Book, and other core applications.

Unfortunately, not everyone is invited to the Snow Leopard party: Snow Leopard will only run on Macs with Intel processors, which orphans earlier Macintoshes based on PowerPC chips. Apple began shipping Intel-based Macs back in 2005, and converted its entire product line over to Intel CPUs by mid-2006.

Mac OS X Snow Leopard will ship standard on new Macs; existing Mac OS X 10.5 users can update to Snow Leopard for $29.99, or $49.99 for a five-license Family Pack. Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger users with an Intel Mac can get Snow Leopard plus iLife 09 and iWork 09 for a suggested price of $169, with a five-license Family Pack going for $229. Users who bought a new Mac with Mac OS X 10.5 pre-installed after June 8 can upgrade for just $9.95 within 90 days of purchase.