Leopard spotting

As I type this sentence, October 15 is nearly in the books, meaning that it won’t be long until we can say that the month of October—a time of postseason baseball, belated recreations of Bavarian festivals, and tiresome FM-radio “Rock-tober” promotions—is halfway finished. Normally, I wouldn’t pay that much attention to the tearing away of a daily desk calendar, even as much as I like postseason baseball and Bavarian festivals. Of course, October 2007 is a little bit different than most Octobers—this is the month when Apple, after a modest delay, is scheduled to release its next major OS X update.

There are several reasons that OS X 10.5, code-named Leopard, figures to be the most anticipated operating system release to come out of Cupertino since the debut of OS X: Original Flavor back in March 2001. Those are:

  1. It’s been a looooooooooong time between updates: The longest wait ever for an OS X update, in fact. OS X 10.1 shipped just six months after OS X’s initial release. Jaguar (OS X 10.2) followed a little less than a year after that. Panther came out a little more than a year later, while the current version—that’d be OS X 10.4, if you’re scoring along at home—followed some 18 months after OS X 10.3. We’re on Month 30 of Life with Tiger, and I’m sure the natives are getting plenty restless.
  2. It’s been delayed: Of course, if everything had gone according to plan, we’d be on Month 6 or So of Leopard’s glorious reign. The operating system update was to have rolled out this past spring, until Apple announced a delay, ostensibly to focus its development efforts on getting the iPhone out the door. And that leads us to Reason No. 3…
  3. Apple’s focus seems to be elsewhere these days: Perhaps fitting for a year that began with Apple dropping the word “Computer” from its corporate moniker, the Mac has taken on an “Also Featuring” part in the company’s credit roll in 2007. Sure, you’ve had your laptop updates, Pro and otherwise, and your shinier iMacs, but the pomp and circumstance has been reserved for things like the iPhone, the revamped iPods, even the Apple TV.

It’s that last point, I think, which has raised the stakes beyond what you normally might see for a major OS update. An new edition of OS X is always big news, but with everything else Apple has going on, this particular version is going to garner extra scrutiny. Leopard represents Apple’s best opportunity to prove that it can have it all—that it can broaden its business beyond computers into connected areas like digital devices and mobile phones without spreading itself too thin. A stable, solid version of Leopard that delivers the features Apple has outlined would indicate that the company may be branching off into different areas, but it hasn’t lost sight of the thing that got it to this position in the first place.

Of course, before it can prove all that, Apple has to come up with a release date. And as of midnight, there are 15 fewer calendar pages in October from which it can choose.

  
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