Apple is presently on track to release Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard as early as the end of March, sources report, as development of the next-generation operating system continues at a quicker-than-anticipated pace.
Apple has previously said only that the operating system would ship in "Spring 2007," placing a March release at the beginning of that three month window.
Still unknown are the "top secret" unannounced features that the Mac maker plans to deliver with Leopard. When first demonstrating Mac OS X 10.5 to third-party developers and the public alike at its Worldwide Developers Conference in August 2006, CEO Steve Jobs announced that Apple was working on several other major new features, but that the company would keep those under wraps to prevent the competition from emulating them ahead of Leopards release.
Apple last seeded a new build of Mac OS X 10.5 to third-party developers in mid-January. That build, labeled 9A343, contained only marginal new features that had not been seen in previous builds, such as five new screensavers that take advantage of Apples new Core Animation technology and improvements to the Terminal application, including support for tabbed windows.
Core Animation is one of the more substantial improvements that will be found in Leopard, enabling the operating system and applications to easily implement complex animations and other eye candy. The feature is especially important to Apple following Microsofts release of Windows Vista, which boasts a fresh, glossier user interface, dubbed Aero, that mimics much of the graphical flair Apple has been delivering for five years with Aqua, the Mac OS X user interface. Sparse rumors have suggested that one new feature not yet seen in Leopard may be a second user interface, but details and evidence of that have been nonexistent, lending little support to such speculation.
Apples new iLife 07 and iWork 07 consumer software suites are also expected to take advantage of Leopards Core Animation--so much so, in fact, that sources have reported that Apple postponed the release of both in order to take advantage of Leopard-dependent technologies.
In the past, Apple has announced new versions of the software suites in January, but to date has been mum on the 2007 editions. iLife 07 and iWork 07 are expected to be released alongside, or soon after, the release of Mac OS X 10.5. Sources have not said whether the popular suites will require Leopard—effectively using them to drive sales of the new operating system, and vice versa—or whether they will continue to run on older versions of Mac OS X, as Apple has previously done.