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Why Snow Leopard Matters

Snow Leopard

Just about as far back as I can remember, every new release of an operating system has brought new features, additional functionality, and, unfortunately, more bloat. This applies equally for OS X and Windows, and in recent years has become even more prominent.

Windows XP was bigger than both NT or 98, Vista was far bigger than XP, and Windows 7 is shaping up to be bigger still than Vista. Panther included 150 additional features, Tiger brought more than 200, and Leopard brought north of 300, as well as a visual refresh and more dependence on the 3D interface. We can see a steady trend of increasing size and complexity for operating systems.

But while Microsoft (s msft) is continuing that trend with Windows 7, Apple (s aapl) has opted to do something different. The company has taken a step back and started building a platform that is going to carry their operating system for the next 5-10 years. Snow Leopard includes “no new features.” Apple has decidedly spent the past year refining Leopard, stripping out old code, and building frameworks for developers to take advantage of the multicore, multiprocessor machines that it’s building.

But let’s be clear: To say that Snow Leopard includes absolutely no new features is kind of misleading. Snow Leopard does include new features, including some tweaks to the Dock and Exposé, a new Finder, and exchange support for iCal, Mail and Address Book.

That’s all well and good, but the real new features, the ones that matter, are all for developers. 64bit support, Grand Central Dispatch (GCD), and OpenCL will make applications developed for Snow Leopard faster, and able to take advantage of the power and capabilities of the new machines. Enabling 64-bit applications means that apps can now address more than 4GB of RAM (theoretically up to 16 billion gigabytes). The new GCD frameworks make it easier for developers to write code that executes on all of the available CPU cores simultaneously. OpenCL enables developers to tap the unused power of the graphics cards to speed up their applications even more. Snow Leopard is more than an OS, it’s a platform built for developers.

And yes, Apple is dropping support for PowerPC. I’m assuming that stripping out the Rosetta code and the PowerPC code from universal binaries is one of the ways Apple has saved so much disk space in Snow Leopard when compared to Leopard. Although, as awesome technologies go, Rosetta certainly ranked high.

To get Snow Leopard to as many Macs as possible, Apple is going to try very hard to push how much faster all the built-in applications run. However, the real benefit from Snow Leopard might not be seen until the developers catch up. Large, professional applications like Apple’s own Final Cut Pro and Adobe’s Photoshop might see the biggest benefit from taking advantage of the new technologies.

What Apple has done is shift away from adding more and more code and features into OS X, and instead concentrate on making what’s in Leopard lighter, faster, and stronger. It’s the right thing to do. Snow Leopard might be a hard sell at first, which I’m assuming is why it’s competitively priced at $29, but roughly a year after it comes out, when more developers have had a chance to build on it, I believe we are going to see a line drawn in the sand. There will be the apps before Snow Leopard, and then there will be everything that comes after it. Leopard is a transitional OS, the prequel, and Snow Leopard is the main event.

46 Responses to “Why Snow Leopard Matters”

  1. I make most of my income from preparing income taxes using a program I wrote in Excel. The program runs very fast on any PPC Mac or Intel Mac through Rosetta & Excel 2004. The program runs like a dog when run under Excel 2008. I’ve tried alternatives to Excel 2004 & non of them do a very good job. Many formulas are lost , formating is lost, & various other problems including print areas changing. For these reasons I can not operate without Rosetta on my Intel Mac. That means that Snow Leopard OS 10.6 can not be installed as a working OS.

    With the largest 2 groups of apps being universal, Office 2008 & CS3? & 4, Apple may assume that there is not enough need for Rosetta. They have a history of cutting out many technologies before the Mac Users are ready.

  2. @Kris I’m not quite as well informed as I’d like, but hopefully not misinformed either! I’m afraid that this entire conversation went in a completely different direction from what I intended. I did reply to your post earlier, I think this conversation is the result of a poor choice of words on my part.

    I expect Rosetta to be included in Snow Leopard, but of course we don’t know either way. The point I was making is that by stripping out the universal binary code out of the bulk of the operating system, Apple is saving a lot of disk space.

    I was referring to the universal binary code as “Rosetta code”.

  3. Kris Jones

    Earlier in this thread I asked if the author could confirm where he heard that Apple intended to removed Rosetta from Snow Leopard. It was the first I’d heard of it and I’ve seen no such information elsewhere. I’m sure if Apple had removed it then there would have been some feedback from the developers who’ve tested Snow Leopard (despite their NDAs). I remain very doubtful that Apple intends to remove it.

    Either Jon Buys is extremely well informed or woefully misinformed. It would assist if he could confirm which.

  4. mhenr18

    CS3 was universal or Intel-only for some apps. CS2 needed Rosetta on Intel Macs – CS3 is Universal.

    @lawson, I just realised that. Life will be great if we can just check the Windows box and compile for 99% of computers. Then Apple WILL rule the world.

  5. Shawn – Thanks very very much – great to know.

    The vector art is Freehand 5 – so I’ll save all old files as EPS. I don’t understand what the loss of Rosetta means? Perhaps it’s best that I buy my new iMac now before Snow L is installed and Rosetta disappears?

  6. @Dave, No worries. EPS or PS files are not inherit to the chip running. In fact, you can cross platform an EPS or PS all you want. Take an 8 year old EPS from Illustrator 5 and you will be able to open it in CS3 on an intel Mac. Clients have given me some really incredible old EPS files (mainly vector logos) and all went off without a hitch.
    I am however, VERY concerned about the possible loss of Rosetta. I still prefer CS3 in some of the apps in the Suite, and would really like to be able to run them.
    Apple and Adobe are kind of in bed together these days, and it does make sense to dangle a cool new OS over our heads while pushing us to upgrade to newer versions of apps as well. Makes sense, but not cool.

  7. Lawson English

    The killer technology to be released with Snow Leopard is actually QuickTime X for *Windows*, not Mac OS X.

    Why? Because unless Apple forks development, QuickTime X will include Cocoa libraries for Windows, which means that literally 10’s of millions of Windows users could become targets for Mac OS X application developers quite rapidly–anyone using QT or iTunes would receive automatic updates for this capability, making it a-no brainer for developers to simply check off another “target” in xcode.

    This may not happen any time soon, but once QTX is released for Windows, the possibility for a “Yellow Box” for Windows finally appears 10 years after it was first described.


  8. Henk – Thanks for your response and I hope you are right. My concern is EPS files made with a Power PC app – being able to run on an Intel app. I’ve heard yes and no arguments.

  9. Henk Poley

    @David, if it is really just Postscript (.ps/.eps), you should be able to import them in Illustrator. Or convert them for Inkscape for example.

  10. They can’t cull Rosetta yet. Macs have long been a platform for graphics designers. While this is by no way the complete share of Mac uses, it does represent a large portion.

    Photoshop runs in Rosetta.

    For that reason alone, Apple won’t kill Snow Leopard’s ability to run Photoshop, Illustrator, and other key Adobe applications in the graphic design department: it would keep the people who use them either in Leopard, on on to a PC.

    Photoshop IS being re-written without the PowerPC-specific machine code that will enable it to run unhindered on an Intel Mac… at roughly 3-4x the speeds we see today.

    A good number of folk have complained that Photoshop runs slower on Mac than Windows, but it has to be considered that Photoshop on a Mac is essentially emulated, whereas on a PC is not. Of course, you might be able to picture how well Mac-based Photoshop will blow the PC-side out of the water when native code is released.

    P.S.- This re-write of Adobe apps is in the timeline for CS5 release.

  11. But why should they axe Rosetta? it does not need extra PPC code to run and the OS can be installed even without it (I have seen in a screenshot of a developer’s build). Having it or not does not affect the overall OS X experience and does not imply changes in the kernel or other low level software. Why axe it??? It would be really nonsense or they would be something to do with, e.g. 64 bit support problems, to justify the removal of Rosetta altogether.

  12. Peter Garner

    Personally, Apple’s not including Rosetta would be a deal breaker. I still use Office:X (would have upgraded to 2008 except for the lack of macro support), and I suspect there are a lot of CS3 users out there who would be very upset if Rosetta were left out.

    That said, it would not surprise me in the least if Apple axed it.

  13. Installed system 10.5.7:
    System: 3.81GB
    Library: 3.21GB
    I passed both under Xslimmer and it finds nothing to slim. So I don’t know where JSK gets 19GB – JSK have you installed “everything” or did an ad-hoc installation (installing only english, only drivers for your printer vendor, etc.?).
    I do have only iPhoto 08, iMovie ’08 and nothing else from the Apple software, that might several GBs of clip art, images, sounds, etc…

    BTW: Safari slimmed is 12.8MB – Firefox 3.5b4 is 29.4MB… Clearly Safari code is optimised (and it shows in how fast it is compared to FF).

    But certainly HDD space savings are not the reasons I will move to Snow Leopard; already the profound architectural changes, full multi-core and 64 bit support (GPU support is not for me yet… :( , I still have an Intel GMA), considering the 29$ price (read 29€ for EU) is well worth the upgrade.

    I don’t understand instead how MS users cannot be upset of needing to pay $$$ to upgrade to Windows 7 which is nothing else a better Vista – that is, what Vista should have been when it came out in the first place…. And I still hear about the “Apple Tax” – nobody ever mentions the “Windows Tax” – nobody. I don’t see MS offering Windows 7 as a 29$ upgrade….

  14. Sid Farcus

    You forgot the hottest feature in Snow — the new Services architecture. It’s now contextual and you can turn individual Services off and on. And… you can make your own Services using Automator. For some reason, it wasn’t in the keynote but is on the website: . Also, Macworld picked up on it too:

  15. Tiger v10.4.11 on 1GHz PowerBook G4 after years of use:
    System: 2.44GB
    Library: 5.81GB
    I have CS3, Office 2004, iWork ’09, and many other apps installed, so I can’t give you a number for the Applications Folder.

    I have a clean install of Leopard on an external HD for this Mac and it weighs in at 19.65GB. (No, I don’t use Leopard for production work on this Mac, I still need access to engineering apps that only run in Classic – no OSX version was ever made, would have to switch to Windoze to update. After playing with Leopard, I can find no compelling reason to use it anyway.)

    • wagweb

      Be careful when using monolingual – if you strip languages out of Adobe Apps – they will stop functioning – of course all I had to do was go into time machine and restore that app folder to get up and running again.

  16. Paolo Vasta

    I have just run XSlimmer (which I have since several months) and yes, it does reduce dramatically apps in the Apps folder by removing non used code (i.e. in my case PPC code) and unused languages (e.g. anything except english). A few notable examples:
    Safari 4.0.1 79.3MB –> 12.8MB
    iTunes 8.2 136MB –> 35.3MB
    Quick Time 7.6.2 30.4MB –> 7.40MB

    Similar reductions can be obtained from other apps. Broadly speaking the reduction XSlimmer achieves is about 30 to 60% (or more) – depending on the apps.

    But Apps are distributed as Universal Binaries, while I don’t know if the Base System of Leopard is installed with both architectures or not. Why install PPC code on an Intel Machine during OS installation? Apps have to be dual architecture to make it transparent to the user when they install it, but the OS, why?

    So I think, and hope, that there are true savings from code optimisation – but still, reduce code by the GBs??? then the question is – how bad is the code today in comparison to Snow Leopard? how can it be that the code was so bloated to keep several GBs of HDD space occupied? And what is Apple comparing – an installation with support for all languages to one where only english and the printer driver of *only* your printer gets installed?

    Surely moving from PPC to Intel required bigger executables and more memory to do the same thing (I could compare 1-to-1 a mini with PPC and one with Intel using the same version of Tiger and check RAM and HDD usage after a fresh boot after a new clean install) – this is, I believe, due to the basic difference of each architecture (PPC are RISC based, so less complex instruction set to execute faster; Intels are CISC based, more complex instruction set that can do more, but requires more “effort” to execute; this difference has become less meaningful with today’s current microprocessors technology, I read in Wikipedia). But saving GBs of space, at this point, seems to me more marketing blah blah than anything else, since people have “forgot” what was it like on their HDD a few years back and what it does get installed this time (see my comment above).
    BTW: How big was a PPC installation of Tiger?

    If they have space decrease due to other things, like filesystem compression, all the better. But code improvement – I doubt. Otherwise we have been running quite some OS X junk until now – several GBs of it.

  17. moeman

    Don’t forget to mention QuickTime X, an important rebuild of QT, aka road pizza;

    Innovative Technologies
    Each and every new version of QuickTime has included breakthrough technologies that have pushed the digital media industry forward. QuickTime 1 pioneered the digital media industry by playing back digital video smoothly on a personal computer for the first time via the video compression format “Road Pizza.” QuickTime 6 led the way for ISO-compliant MPEG-4, 3GPP and 3GPP2. And now QuickTime 7 with H.264 video once again leads the industry.

  18. Switch 101er

    I just recently started working with a Power Mac G4 with Dual 1ghz procs in it. I really wish Apple would rethink what they are doing, unless that means I can install snow leopard on my custom setup with MSI SLI motherboard sporting AMD64x2 3800+, in which case I would probably ditch Vista and 7 for it.

    • I doubt they’d allow a simple installation for custom computers, but I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to install it with a little work. You’d just have to find the kexts/drivers that meet the criteria for your computer, right? I was able to get my versions of Leopard 10.5 to work on my PC’s. I don’t think 10.6 should be too much more difficult.

  19. It is my understanding that Snow Leopard will still be able to execute PowerPC applications via Rosetta. Snow Leopard simply won’t install or boot on PowerPC-based Macs.

    Apple is using other technologies in order to make the OS use less disk space (such as filesystem compression).

  20. Milk the Macintosh

    “PowerPC code from universal binaries is one of the ways Apple has saved so much disk space”

    You are kidding, right? PowerPC binaries are smaller than x86-binaries, dude!

  21. Kris Jones

    It’s the first I’ve heard of Apple stripping out Rosetta. Personally I doubt it as there will be many, like me, who still have some PPC applications. It would be helpful if the author to clarify where that information came from.

    • I expect Rosetta to be included in Snow Leopard, but of course we don’t know either way. The point I was making is that by stripping out the universal binary code out of the bulk of the operating system, Apple is saving a lot of disk space.

      I was referring to the universal binary code as “Rosetta code”.

    • George

      Rosetta is still there an does work just fine. It’s an optional install but if you forget to install it the first time you try to start a PowerPC app the OS will ask you if you want to download and install it. It’s quite simple and straight forward. It is also included on the install disk.

  22. joecab

    Wait … they’re dropping Rosetta, too? Are you sure? I know Snow Leopard’s all Intel-only but I assumed Rosetta’s emulation was gonna stay.

    Are you sure about this?

    • redwall_hp

      As of yet, we don’t know officially. (Apple hasn’t said either way yet, as far as I know.) Personally I would expect Rosetta to still be in Snow Leopard. This move is about moving the finder to Cocoa instead of Carbon, and dropping support for legacy hardware. I would assume Rosetta would still be included…

    • That sounds like a logical step. Apple did away with classic in Leopard, and so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rosetta axed. Although this is certainly not the development I like to see.

  23. Adam Jackson

    This is why Apple pisses me off.

    The move to Intel was great but Leopard or maybe it was Tiger that first supported Intel Macs was TWICE AS LARGE of an installation.

    I think it was around 6 Gbs or used space by Mac OS X and when I upgrade to the Intel compatible OS, it bumped to 12 Gigabytes of an install.

    Apple ditched PowerPC support and all of the sudden it’s half the size. of course! Apple didn’t magically make things slimmer, they took out all of the old code to support older Macs.

    I recommend every Mac user buy a copy of Xslimmer. After you install all of your apps, run it and watch 50% of the application folder size go away. It’s amazing and it was then that I realized this was the case for the whole OS and I wished Apple had developed and released different versions of The OS depending on what kind of Mac you had.

    In my opinion, Leopard has always been an orphan child due to the fact it’s supporting all kinds of hardware dating back to the 800Mhz PowerMac G4.