Just one year ago, after a boring Keynote with a grand finale, the global launch of iPhone 3G, a piece of information about a new operating system appeared on the Apple website: Snow Leopard.
We were all surprised, not a single rumor, not a single capture, not a single piece of information we had heard about this supposed operating system until now. But apparently it was more than a reality. His intentions on Apple’s lips were clear:
During this year many builds or versions have appeared, none particularly revealing. But today the mantle that covered a great product such as Snow Leopard has been removed and under it we have seen the future operating system of Apple.
Snow Leopard starts from that simple principle, being the most efficient operating system in the world, to create a great operating system based on the visual interface we already know .
Optimized, not reinvented
Apple places great emphasis on this concept. Snow Leopard doesn’t offer anything particularly new to the user, that is, when you first put it on you won’t notice any difference with Leopard except for a new wallpaper. However internally any resemblance is pure coincidence.
Snow Leopard is Apple’s first step away from the PowerPC architecture, which means tremendous code reduction. Most of the system programs have been changed from PowerPC, Intel, Intel-64 to just Intel-64. This is directly reflected in a O.S. size reduction of about 6Gb . Now Snow Leopard takes up much less space and also installs much faster, up to 45% faster than Leopard.
In addition, slight improvements are included in areas already known as Exposé , the operation of the Dock and the Stacks . Time Machine backups are now much faster. The speed of the off, on and standby have also been improved. They ensure that idle is up to 1.5 times faster . Even more?
Also noteworthy is Safari 4, the fastest browser for any platform. What’s new in iChat and fewer requirements for it to work. Faster, safer disk ejection. Improved preview and overall system rendering services.
But these are all little touches compared to what’s really new in Snow Leopard. This system bases all its potential on 4 basic pillars: 64bits technology, Grand Central Dispatch, OpenCL and the new QuickTime X . Let’s see each one of them in depth.
Tiger was the first Mac OS X to incorporate some system services written in 64bits, it was a start but it wasn’t until the arrival of Leopard that all system services became 64bits. Now this support is further extended and spreads from the system kernel to the Finder itself .
Speaking of the Finder, besides being 64bits it’s 100% Cocoa which ensures a performance and speed of navigation never seen before in Mac OS X.
In addition to the critical parts of the system most of the applications built with it have also been rewritten in 64bits . Improving significantly the performance of all of them.
Grand Central Dispatch
Once the 64-bit barrier is crossed, there’s another technology in the inkwell that makes Snow Leopard very fast. Today, every Mac comes standard with processors with more than one core, and in the near future most are expected to reach 4 on average.
All this power is currently untapped. There are hardly any system services that can work with multiple wires . So all that power is wasted.
Grand Central Dispatch wants to break this barrier. To do this Apple has focused the multithreaded operations on the system itself and not on the programs . Until now, each program was responsible for managing the processors as it saw fit. From now on this does not work like that.
The operating system itself is responsible for allocating resources at any given time while Gran Central Dispatch is responsible for distributing each thread to a different processor core.
This is something we will hardly notice at first since it is the programmers who have to make use of it , but in a matter of months the speeds reached will make a fool of any program executed in Tiger.
Again, Apple didn’t invent the wheel, but it did make it incredibly efficient. OpenCL is something that has been around for a while and even some companies like Nvidia have already experimented with it although under the name “Cuda” .
The idea again is very simple. Graphics cards are really powerful devices but they are limited to generating graphics. Why? Simply because no one has thought otherwise.
OpenCL is a technology in charge of making available to developers all the power of a graphic card applicable to any program and at any time. In this way we decentralize the main processor of many tasks .
Why use the processor when applying a filter in Photoshop when a graphics card can do it much faster and leave the main processor for other tasks?
Again, it’s not something we notice as soon as we turn on Snow Leopard and only time and the developers will be able to put limits on this feature .
Many people think that Quicktime is simply a media player within Mac OS X. In reality Quicktime is simply an interface to unify Core Audio, Core Video and Core Animation services under one program.
So optimizing Quicktime isn’t just about improving a program, it’s about improving many of the services that play audio, video and ultimately any media under a Mac.
The new Quicktime takes a step forward in performance and does not just improve a program but the core that performs these tasks. Now all encoding and decoding is implemented by hardware, OpenCL is partly to blame for this.
So when playing a video the processor is not in charge of it but the graphics card. This way the encoding will also be much faster.
Availability and Price
But if there’s good news in addition to the speed improvements shown is that Snow Leopard is an update to Leopard and therefore only costs $29 for Leopard users and $129 for new users . Available in September of this year.