Apple's OS X 10.7 Could Be The Biggest Cat Of All

Apple's invitation for an Oct. 20 Mac-related event at its Cupertino, Calif.-based headquarters shows a lion peeking through its company logo, as well as the customary scarcity of detail about what's on tap. This is fueling speculation that Apple could officially name its forthcoming OS X 10.7 after the King of the Beasts.

The invitation's tagline, "Back to the Mac," and Apple's OS X release cadence over the past decade suggests that a new version is imminent. "This is about the timeframe when Apple likes to release a new OS, as Snow Leopard is over a year old," said Marc A. Wolfe, CEO of Proactive, an Apple specialist in Oakland, N.J.

The invitation for Apple's Oct. 23 event

But there's reason to believe this won't be an ordinary release: The current version, OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, was preceded by Leopard, Tiger and Panther. If Lion is the next version, Apple certainly wouldn't be able to follow with any other big cat.

Combine this with Apple's foreshadowing in July of a "revolutionary" new feature that's coming in OS X 10.7, and Apple resellers could be justified in anticipating a major turning point in the company's OS development roadmap.

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"Is this a message that OS X 10.7 could be the last release, and something is going to be changing after this in a more significant way?" said Nick Gold, director of business development at Chesapeake Systems, a Baltimore, Md.-based Apple partner. "Maybe this will represent the peak of what we've come to know as OS X, and the shift to the next level?"

Next: What Features Lion Might Include

Apple's focus on architectural upgrades in Snow Leopard suggests that consumer-oriented features will be upgraded in the next release.

Facetime on the iPhone and iPod Touch has laid Apple's video chat framework for the future, but the app doesn't work with Apple's iChat program, Gold notes. In the past, Apple has only released major iChat updates as part of new OS X releases, and Gold says it's possible that OS X 10.7 could add this functionality.

In addition to full 64-bit support, Snow Leopard included Grand Central, a set of technologies that adds support for multicore processors and parallel computing, and OpenCL, which lets applications tap into unused GPU computing power.

Apple is building a massive $1 billion data center in North Carolina, and it possible that OS X 10.7 will include elements geared toward cloud computing. In any event, we'll know for sure next week when Apple lets the biggest cat of them all out of the bag.