Do Tiger updates go to 11?

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In this time of minimal Apple news—hurry along now, Apple TV —you’re bound to see a great deal of speculation about what the company has in the works. Even when the company does have some news to announce.

OK, so a maintenance update for OS X 10.4 doesn’t exactly pack the same wallop as a set-top box that streams movies from your computer to your TV or an Apple-branded cell phone, but it’s still a tangible product that people can download and install and put through its paces. But alongside the talk about OS X 10.4.9’ss improved raw camera file support, enhanced .Mac sync performance, iCal reminder fixes, and whatever else the update delivers, some Mac users are opting to focus on another element of the update—namely, the “.9” portion of the update.

The way the numerologists see it, Tiger hitting its ninth update since the 2005 release of OS X 10.4 must mean that Leopard is just around the corner. And if you look at the timing around the last couple of OS X 10.4 updates— 10.4.6 came out last April, 10.4.7 followed in June , and 10.4.8 appeared in September—you get… well, no discernible pattern, really. A fairly steady drumbeat of about three months between incremental updates followed by the six-month stretch between 10.4.8 and 10.4.9. Most people seem to think that puts OS X 10.5 in the May/June timeframe which would certainly be within the Spring 2007 window Apple mentioned when previewing Leopard last summer.

That, of course, assumes, two things—1) that Apple isn’t perfectly capable of slapping on a .10 or a .9b or even a .May2007 at the end of any additional OS X 10.4 update; and 2) that Apple’s going to hit its self-imposed Spring 2007 deadline for Leopard. I don’t think there’s anything precluding Apple from doing No. 1. As for No. 2, all public signs seem to suggest that OS X 10.5 is on schedule; indeed, this very Web site ran a story last week in which Apple chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer seemingly confirmed the Spring ship date for Leopard.

I certainly don’t mean to raise any red flags, but someone could listen to the Webcast of that presentation —the relevant portion is around the 19, 20 minute mark—and come to the conclusion that wasn’t what he said at all. Here’s my transcript of the comment, with some non-germane stuff about Leopard’s impact on Apple’s sales excised from the question and answer.

Q: You mentioned the OS launch. Can you update us, is the Leopard OS launch on time?

A: Our next release of Mac OS X is called Leopard, and we’ve previously announced that it will ship this spring.

Someone who likes to parse answers—and really, isn’t that why the Internet exists?—might point that Oppenheimer merely repeated a previously announced ship date, and that any confirmation of a spring release is inferred rather than implied. But that’s a minor point. The issue before us today: Does the arrival of OS X 10.4.9 mean that Leopard is lurking just over the horizon? And if it does, when will Leopard leap?

I’ll say that yes—this is the last update of Tiger that we’ll see prior to OS X 10.5’s release. As to when that will happen, I’m already on the record as picking June, so I’ll stick with that. I have no information to support that guess other than the belief that if I turn out to be wrong at least I can argue that I was consistent.

I welcome your guesses—consistent or otherwise—in the forum thread below.

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