Apple has launched Snow Leopard, it's newest operating system.
"Snow Leopard builds on our most successful operating system ever and we're happy to get it to users earlier than expected," Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, Bertrand Serlet, said.
The operating system is available as an upgrade for Mac OS X Leopard users in Australia for $39. The Snow Leopard family pack, a single-household, five-user license, costs $69. Tiger users will have to buy the Mac Box Set, which includes Mac OS X Snow Leopard, iLife 09 and iWork 09, for $229.
When it flaunted Mac OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, in early June, Apple said the upgrade would go on sale sometime in September.
Recently, however, accumulating clues - including a glitch on Apple's own Web site - pointed to an early release.
Analysts have projected that Apple will sell between 2.5 and 3 million copies of Snow Leopard in the quarter that ends Sept. 30, although the impact to Apple's bottom line will be markedly less than 2007's Leopard, which was priced at $US129 for a single license.
In June, Apple said it reduced the price for Snow Leopard because it wanted all its users to move up to the new OS.
"Leopard was $US129 but we want all Leopard users to upgrade to Snow Leopard, so we're pricing it at $US29," said Craig Federighi, the vice president of Mac OS engineering, during a presentation at the company's annual developer's conference on June 8.
Apple has marketed Snow Leopard as a stability and performance upgrade, rather than an OS packed with easy-to-see changes.
Snow Leopard runs several Apple-provided applications faster, the company claimed, including Mail, which loads messages twice as fast, and Time Machine, the integrated backup and restore program, which does its initial backup 80 per cent faster.
Snow Leopard adds support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 to allow synchronisation from Exchange to Mail, Calendar and Address Book on the Mac.
The new OS also supports the OpenCL (Open Computing Language) standard, which will let developers "steal" computing power from a Mac's graphics processor and apply it to general, non-graphics tasks.
All laptop and consumer desktop Macs are now configured with graphics processors from Nvidia, which has been aggressively pushing its chips' ability to take some of the load off the CPU.
According to Apple, Snow Leopard has been squeezed to about half the size of its predecessor; users who upgrade from Leopard should reclaim about 7GB of disk space.
Customers who have purchased a new or Apple-refurbished Mac since June 8 are eligible for the company's Snow Leopard Up-to-Date Program, which provides a copy of new operating system for a $US9.95 shipping and handling fee. That deal is good through Dec. 26.
Although Snow Leopard is priced considerably less than Microsoft's Windows 7, and Apple beat its rival to market, analysts have said that the latter definitely doesn't matter and the former means little more than bragging rights.
"I don't envision that anyone is really saying to themselves: 'I need a new computer, and whoever ships first gets my business,'" said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, in early June.
"In the long term, [the price difference] has no impact," said Allen Krans of Technology Business Research at the time.
"The challenge of Windows 7 is reaching those usability and performance standards that weren't met with Vista."