Apple Preps Early Release for Jaguar

Apple is working overtime to beat its publicized release date for the next major upgrade to Mac OS X.

Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Computer Inc. is working overtime to beat its publicized release date for the next major upgrade to Mac OS X, according to sources.

The company in May broke its tradition of secrecy by publicly previewing the update, code-named Jaguar, at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., and at the unveiling of Apples Xserve rack-mounted server in Cupertino, Calif.; at these events Apple also committed to a "late summer" ship date.

According to sources, Apple now seems poised to break another precedent by delivering the release early -- by early August, say sources.

Though some online reports have speculated that Jaguar will be at "golden master" by July 15 -- only days before Jobs scheduled keynote at this years Macworld Expo / New York trade show -- sources have confirmed that Apple management has approved a slip of a week or two if a few ongoing quality concerns are not resolved. Still, at worst, Jaguar would be let out of the bag ahead of the companys deadline.

The last time Apple predicted a "late summer" OS ship date (for the public beta of Mac OS X), it didnt arrive until Jobs Sept. 13, 2000, kickoff of Apple Expo in Paris.

Though Apple has not publicly commented on Jaguar upgrade pricing, Jobs has said that Xserve owners will not receive a free upgrade. This makes the timing for the relative release dates for the two products odd; Apple just shipped their first orders of more than 4,000 Xserves this week, meaning that the proud new owners will have to purchase the OS upgrade about a month after receiving their hardware.

The Jaguar upgrade is all the more crucial for Xserve owners because of major new networking features promised for the new OS.

Though the existing server-specific version of Mac OS X 10.1.5 that shipped with initial Xserve units includes GUI administrative software, such as Server Admin and Server Monitor, for setting up and managing networks, Jaguar will include new support for cross-platform standards such as ActiveDirectory, SMB, Bluetooth, LDAP and Kerberos, making Xserves much more transparent and compatible within heterogeneous network environments. Additionally, Jaguar will sport support for IPV6 and IPSec; the CUPS print engine; LDAP (Open Directory), SMB browsing and sharing; Virtual Private Network (PPTP); and will include GCC 3.0 for full compliance with the C++ language.

Jaguar has been promoted in previews as the most significant update to the still-young operating system, which was built on the FreeBSD and Mach foundations Apple acquired when it purchased Jobs own Next Computing Inc. in the late 1990s.

During Jaguars "sneak peek" at the WWDC keynote, Jobs also outlined various new features targeted at consumers.

There Jobs demonstrated enhancements to Jaguars "Aqua" user interface, including the return of spring-loaded folders, a feature many users said they missed from Mac OS 9. Also, Jobs unveiled iChat, an integrated Instant Messaging program that is the first to be compatible with AOLs system, and a new Sherlock 3 search application.

More significantly, and perhaps pointing towards future paradigm shifts in Apples hardware directions, are Rendezvous and Inkwell.

The former is a new wireless networking technology -- one Apple is proposing as an industry standard -- that allows users to share files and printers as well as to stream various media over AirPort wireless networks. Rendezvous also offers automatic recognition and configuration of multiple devices; Jobs mentioned that this could make networking as simple as walking into a room. The technology, he said, would be an available API for developers to include in all computers and devices.

Inkwell is a carry-over from the handwriting recognition technologies first pioneered in Apples defunct Newton PDA products; the Ink APIs are integrated into Jaguars text system, allowing any Mac OS X-native application to accept handwritten input.

Jaguar also will include QuickTime 6.0, which adds support for MPEG-4 and Quartz Extreme, an enhancement to Mac OS Xs imaging layer that will combine 2D, 3D and video graphics with hardware acceleration, all based on the OpenGL standard. This feature will require at least an AGP 2x video card with 16MB of video RAM (32MB preferred).

So, although Quartz Extreme will not be available to owners of Apple hardware that is more than a year old, all preliminary reports point to significant speed gains in Jaguar for all users -- even the ones on outdated machines.