Apple launches Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, its newest operating system, on Friday - and analysts project that it will sell between 2.5 and 3 million copies of Snow Leopard in the quarter that ends September 30, although the impact to Apple's bottom line will be markedly less than 2007's Leopard, which was priced at £85 for a single licence.

The company plans to start selling Snow Leopard in its retail stores August 28, and is now taking pre-orders on its Web site. The upgrade to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard costs just £25 - although even this is too high for some UK Mac users.

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"Snow Leopard builds on our most successful operating system ever and we're happy to get it to users earlier than expected," Bertrand Serlet, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, said in a statement Monday.


In June, Craig Federighi, the vice president of Mac OS engineering, said Apple had reduced the price for Snow Leopard because it wanted all its users to move up to the new OS.

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 percent faster.

Snow Leopard adds support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 to allow synchronization 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 £7.95 shipping and handling fee. That deal is good until December 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.

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"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."

Snow Leopard requires an Intel-based Mac, and sells for £25 in a single-licence edition, £39 for a five-licence Family Pack when upgrading from Mac OS X 10.5. Users running Mac OS X 10.4, aka Tiger, must instead purchase the more expensive Box Set, which costs £129 for a single licence and £179 for a five-licence pack. The Box Set also includes the iLife ‘09 creativity bundle and the iWork ‘09 productivity suite.