What to expect from Monday's WWDC keynote

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Look for Steve Jobs to cover three topics in his keynote speech Monday that kicks off Apple’s week-long Worldwide Developers Conference: Leopard, Leopard, and some more Leopard.

The Apple CEO’s probable single-minded focus is understandable—his audience will be composed largely of Mac developers, eager to hear the latest details about the next major version of Mac OS X. And though Apple pushed back OS X 10.5’s ship date from spring to October, each day brings the company ever closer to Leopard’s long awaited debut.

That’s not to say other products won’t put in an appearance on Monday—Jobs has used his WWDC keynote to launch pro-targeted hardware such as last year’s Mac Pro unveiling. And, as the buzz surrounding the iPhone reminds us, there’s yet another Apple product with a ship date drawing even closer than Leopard’s. And yet, even the normally tight-lipped Apple has made little secret that OS X 10.5 is the headliner at this year’s conference.

The company has already announced on its WWDC page that it plans to show a feature-complete version of Leopard at the developers’ gathering. It’s also promising that developers in attendance will be able to take home a beta copy. The scheduled sessions also promise an OS X-themed week with talks on Leopard Server, iChat Theater, Core technologies, and other under-the-hood features.

Of course, the WWDC schedules also features several sessions labeled “TBD”—look for those to-be-determined areas to be more detailed after Jobs unveils the latest features added to Leopard since last year’s keynote.

What exactly those features will be likely will trigger the greatest amount of speculation in advance of Monday’s keynote. During his August 2006 talk to developers, Jobs previewed 10 of OS X 10.5’s marquee features. The Apple CEO kicked off that overview by alluding to “top secret” features in Leopard. “We don’t want our friends in Redmond to start their photocopiers just yet,” Jobs told WWDC attendees. Was that a bit of showmanship from a tech executive known for his deft stagecraft (and his love of zingers at Microsoft’s expense)? Or are there still top-secret features for Jobs to unveil? Monday’s speech will tell the tale.

One Leopard detail may have leaked out before Apple gets the chance to make the announcement itself. Earlier this week, Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz said his company’s open-source ZFS file system will replace HFS+ in OS X 10.5. (Subsequently, Sun seems to be backing off from such a definitive declaration.)

There’s another forthcoming Apple product developers attending WWDC are probably keen to know more about— the iPhone, which will hit retail shelves on June 29. Apple’s stance on third-party software development for the phone has undergone some clarification since its Macworld Expo preview. At the time, Jobs seemed to suggest that Apple would control every aspect of the phone, including software; however, at last month’s D: All Things Digital conference, he indicated that Apple was “working through a way” to support third-party development. “I think sometime later this year we will find a way to let third parties write apps and still preserve security,” he said. More details could be forthcoming at WWDC.

Hardware announcements are harder to predict. The most likely product to be unveiled at a developers’s conference—an update to the MacBook Pro line— already happened this week. Apple’s display offerings have gone awhile without an upgrade—the last one came three years ago during WWDC —and are in line for an overhaul. Apple has vowed to move to LED backlighting for all of its displays —indeed, the new 15-inch MacBook Pros are the first to use that technology—though the pace of that transition depends on how quickly the LCD industry can adopt LED backlighting for larger displays.

Consumer products—the iPod and consumer-friendly desktops like the iMac—seem unlikely candidates for any WWDC surprises, given the nature of the conference.

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