With Snow Leopard, Apple Faces New Challenges


With OS X 10.5 Leopard, Apple simply highlighted the hundreds of new features it bundled into the OS and customers busted out their wallets. But Apple has said that Snow Leopard won't include a raft of new features, but will instead represent more of an architectural shift.

Getting customers excited about architectural shifts isn't easy; customers generally don't react well to major changes to software with which they've grown familiar. Just ask Microsoft, which overhauled the Windows security architecture when it moved from XP to Vista and is still hearing complaints resulting from these changes.

The difficulty of marketing under-the-hood changes could make Snow Leopard a difficult sell initially, said Michael Oh, founder and president of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple reseller.

"I think Apple is aware that they won't be able to sell Snow Leopard as well as they did Leopard. Instead of features, I'm betting they'll focus on performance and stability," Oh said.

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With Grand Central, a set of technologies that add support for multicore processors and parallel computing, and OpenCL, which let applications tap into unused GPU computing power, Apple has focused on improvements that'll prepare Snow Leopard for the rigors of next-generation computing.

To developers, of course, these technologies need no explanation. Quite simply, Grand Central and OpenCL will put more power in the hands of Apple developers than they've ever had, said Nick Gold, senior account executive at Chesapeake Systems, a Baltimore-based Apple specialist.

"I don't think Apple intends to heavily market Snow Leopard to your average consumer. These are features that sell themselves to developers," Gold said.

At its Worldwide Developers Conference next month, Apple will give attendees a final Developer Preview release of Snow Leopard. Apple earlier this week informed developers that it has completed the APIs for Snow Leopard, which gives developers the green light to start writing applications for it.

Given the architectural nature of the changes Apple has made in Snow Leopard, it's likely that more of these applications will be business-related, and that's a direction that Oh said he would like to see Apple continue to head.

"Apple needs to focus more on features that perhaps aren't as glitzy but are relevant to businesses and enterprises," said Oh, who cited Apple's decision to add support in OS X for Microsoft Exchange and open standards as evidence of this shift.

So with Snow Leopard, it's likely that Apple will send a different message than it did with Leopard, one that differs greatly from the one it has sent with other products.

"I don't think Apple has ever had the challenge of selling an OS like this based on architectural changes, but businesses will take notice and they will listen," Oh said.