A glimpse at the new Snow Leopard from Apple

Snow Leopard, the new version of Mac OS X, was announced at the 2008 WWDC in San Francisco. It’s an important release for the following reasons:

  • Builds upon existing technologies and perfects them. It introduces few new features, but will allow Apple to really focus on delivering a very good OS by developing further the technologies introduced with Leopard. I for one am glad to see Apple slow down their frantic development cycle. That sort of rhythm can’t be sustained and leads to burned-out employees.
  • Optimized for multi-core processors. Truth is, most applications and operating systems aren’t optimized for multi-core processors. They’re not even multi-core aware. So while multi-core technology is here to stay and has already made it into all processor makes and models, applications are still hobbling along, relying on built-in chip technology for a sort of multi-core experience, not the real thing. I’m glad to see Apple pursue this seriously and make it easy for developers to build their apps for multi-core systems.
  • OpenCL programming. You know about OpenGL, right? Well, OpenCL will let developers take advantage of the amazing processing power of graphics cards (measured in gigaflops) to do computations previously reserved only for graphics applications. To get an idea of how powerful graphic card processing has become, have a look at FASTRA, a supercomputer built with 8 GPUs.
  • RAM limit raised to 16TB. I did a double take when I read that. I first thought they were talking of 16GB, which would have been impressive, but also a misprint. The Mac Pro can do up to 32GB right now if I’m not mistaken. But 16TB, wow! That’s amazingly high for RAM. Most machines don’t even have that much hard disk space, much less memory. That’s going to be very useful when building supercomputers with Macs. Keep in mind that 32-bit Windows operating systems (the prevalent ones on the market) STILL have a 4GB limit on RAM. Microsoft’s 64-bit OS versions (XP and Vista) are not usable yet, because there are plenty of compatibility issues with drivers and applications. For a clarification of this point, make sure to read my comment below.
  • Quicktime X. Apple’s venerable Quicktime will get an overhaul which will make it much more efficient, and will allow it to support more audio and video formats. Perhaps now we can look forward to Quicktime movie exports taking less than 24 hours? 🙂 Joking aside, I like Quicktime, and I hope it sticks around for a long time.
  • Faster Safari. It will use a new webkit that will make it 53% faster. Nice! I should mention that all the JavaScript used on AJAX-heavy pages like Google’s Gmail or Apple’s new MobileMe is what’s slowing down our browsers. The new Safari webkit is supposed to be able to render JavaScript a whole lot faster.
  • Native support for Microsoft Exchange. In spite of grumblings from various Apple fans, this is a biggie, and it will finally ensure that Macs play nice in Microsoft Shops. In addition to being able to network properly on Windows domains, which they could already do, now they’ll do exactly what Outlook is able to do on PCs, without having to bother with the kludgey Entourage. Mail, Address Book and iCal will communicate directly with Exchange, making it a whole lot easier for corporations to use Macs instead of PCs.
  • Faster OS, smaller footprint. Apple promises the new OS will work faster overall, and will also take up less space on our hard drives. Amen to that. OS bloat is not a welcome thing (just look at Vista), and a faster OS is always a good thing.
  • No support for PowerPC processors (source). According to documentation handed out to developers at WWDC, Apple will indeed break with the PowerPC line on this Leopard upgrade, as rumored. That means my iMac G5 won’t be able to use it. By that time, it’ll be outside its projected 3-year lifespan, but still, it would have been nice…

Image used courtesy of Apple, Inc. More information about Snow Leopard can be found in Apple’s original press release, and on the Snow Leopard website.


  1. In response to raoul’s comment that the mac is playing catch-up to windows.

    That’s not true, the theoretical limit to 64-bit hardware is indeed 16Eb, however vista ultimate is currently only able to harness a maximum of 128Gb. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa366778(VS.85).aspx

    In fact if you own Vista ultimate on a 32-bit chip you will only actually get 4Gb.

    Presumably Snow Leopard’s RAM capabilities will be used for supercomputers and stuff :-/.


  2. aha! Virtual memory makes lots of sense now. Especially with terabyte storage coming to the desktop.

    Thanks Raoul


  3. You won’t believe it, but Microsoft has a handy explanation for this. Turns out their 64-bit OS-es also have a 16TB limit on RAM, which means OS X is now playing catchup in that arena.

    The actual limit on RAM in 64-bit systems, according to Wikipedia, is 16 Exabytes (or 16.8 million Terabytes). What Apple will do with OS X is to raise its artificial limit on the amount of memory it can recognize to 16TB (still nowhere near the 16EB limit). Although one can’t put that much physical RAM in a computer, 64-bit operating systems multiply the physical RAM by virtualizing it, and you can end up with a lot more than you really have.


  4. Hi Raoul

    I also have to believe that the 16 tb limit is a typo. Are there any terrabyte ram chips to be had? Muli tb chips? Someday I suppose but what apps would need that much? Conde Nast could lay out all their magazines in November in real time with that kind of memory. Imagine app sizes? Office for the mac will come on a lot of DVD’s


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