There’s a rumor making the rounds this morning that Apple will unveil its next OS X upgrade at the upcoming developer conference which kicks off June 9. According to The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), the next version of OS X is likely named Snow Leopard and will focus mainly on speed enhancements and stability improvements.
Also part of the rumor is that Apple is planning to drop support for PowerPC machines and move to a true 64-bit, Intel-only operating system.
If TUAW’s source is to be believed, Snow Leopard will focus on making many of Leopard’s existing features work better and, according to John Gruber of Daring Fireball, will work on “unifying the various branches of OS X at Apple: Mac OS X, iPhone OS, Apple TV, etc.”
It wouldn’t be the first time a major OS X update skipped on features — OS X 10.1 was a primarily a stability update, with most improvements in the underlying system rather than flashy new features. OS X 10.1 was also a free upgrade.
The more controversial part of the rumor is the possibility that Apple might abandon PowerPC Macs. Many argue that PowerPC G5 machines are still perfectly capable and it would be too soon to abandon them. However, Apple killed off OS 9 pretty quickly and does not have the best track record when it comes to supporting older hardware (Leopard already requires at least an 867MHz or faster G4 chip).
It seems likely that moving to a pure 64 bit system would be more appealing than continuing to support the increasingly long-in-the-tooth PowerPC architecture.
One element of the rumors we definitely aren’t buying is Ars Technica’s suggestion that Snow Leopard might be “Cocoa only.” While Apple’s WWDC is the perfect place to unveil some new Cocoa programming features, abandoning Carbon makes no sense — plenty of Apple’s own apps, like Finder, use Carbon. It’s true that Apple previously scrapped plans to add 64-bit support to Carbon, but don’t expect them to drop it altogether.
Assuming you accept the rumors, the interesting question becomes, how much is this going to cost? Apple would have a tough time justifying its traditional $129 update price tag for something that doesn’t offer compelling new features, but at the same time free sounds a bit too good to be true.
I’ll follow Gruber’s lead and suggest that perhaps Snow Leopard, if the rumors turn out to be true, will be a mere $29 for Leopard users, with those still on older systems paying the usual $129.
Keep mind of course that all this is just a rumor. We’ll find out for sure next week.