Apple's Leopard Launch: Halloween Trick Or Mac-toberfest?


Apple is typically keeping the market guessing on the launch date for its next-generation Mac OS X, code-named "Leopard" -- software that is still being beta tested even though it has now reached the month, October, when executives in Cupertino have said it will go public.

After a delay from the Spring launch that was initially promised by CEO Steve Jobs, the company is holding fast to its policy for not commenting on any aspect of its forthcoming product. But Apple rumor Web sites have begun discussing bugs that still remain in the Leopard OS as the clock counts down to the end of the month. None of the remaining issues are described as showstoppers, but Apple hasn't formally said that the operating system has reached "Gold Master" status -- meaning it would be shipped to ODMs and Apple channel partners in advance of the launch.

Calls to Apple yielded no new information, either.

A two-to-three week lag in Apple's ability to launch Leopard after Gold Master status could put the much-awaited date perilously close to Oct. 31 -- Halloween -- when the slightest bug, security hole, or marketing flaw could set the stage for a cascade of "trick or treat" jokes. The Cupertino, Calif.-based computer and smart-phone maker surely would like to avoid that prospect.

Here are features Apple is set to unveil with Leopard:

* Time Machine. This backup and auto-backup feature provides what is described as a seamless way to preserve data, and maintain regular "restore points" that will allow a visit to a piece of data on a specific date;
* Spaces. Leopard will provide this feature to enable creation of up to 16 different "work spaces" on the client;
* iChat. This video-enabled chat interface is aimed at providing a smoother videoconferencing capability;
* Finder. An "iTunes"-like interface, Finder's functionality is supposed to let users sift through data files the way iTunes allows users to sift through song and video titles.

And while Apple has shared development resources between its iPhone and Leopard product efforts, neither the company nor developers working on the beta version have mentioned the Maci-ization of iPhone features like multi-touch capability, a function that has made the iPhone stand out.

"The Time Machine feature looks pretty nice," said David Smith, manager of Capital Macintosh, a Lansing, Mich.-based Apple specialist. "A lot of people come in with data that's been corrupted, they've not backed up their data." The feature could spark sales of peripherals including external hard drives, Smith said.

Despite Apple's strong growth in Mac sales this year, Smith said he believes Leopard's timing could have been better.

"I have customers who want to buy Macintosh, but they're waiting for Leopard to come out," Smith said. "There's pent-up demand."

Apple has kept Smith, like other Apple solution providers, in the dark about the launch date for Leopard, and the final feature set that will be available.

"I'm just as blind about this as everyone else," said one Apple specialist. "They don't tell us anything."

But solution providers say that sales of Macintosh-based systems have continued briskly all year long, even without a Leopard version of the OS; Apple told Wall Street that in its most recent quarter its sales of Mac-based systems grew at a 33 percent clip, which compares with a 12.6 percent growth rate projected for 2007 for the PC industry as a whole, as calculated by IDC, Framingham, Mass.

One bit of information that Apple has let out -- which some may consider a Halloween-like trick -- is that the license for Boot Camp, the technology that allows a Mac "Tiger" user to create a partition that can also run a Windows operating system, will expire with Leopard's release. But the software maker Parallels, which makes a virtualization product that allows a user to deploy both Windows and Mac operating systems on Mac hardware and switch back and forth between the two, says those who use its product will continue their ability to run a dual-OS system even without upgrading to Leopard.

"When Boot Camp's license expires, you can still access your hard drive partition without using Boot Camp by booting the partition into a virtual machine," Parallels spokesman Ben Rudolph wrote on the company's blog. "You won't have to reinstall anything or worry about losing any of your critical Windows files."