Can Mac OS X ‘Leopard’ Features Compete with Vista?

Little is known for sure what Steve Jobs will reveal to the throng of coders at Apple Computer’s Worldwide Developers Conference on Aug. 7.

However, it’s a good bet that the current more-general debate between Macs and Windows platforms—the longtime battleground for PC and Mac partisans—will quickly move to a specific fight between Mac OS X Leopard and Windows Vista. And that may, or may not, be a good turn for Apple.

So, what do we know of Apple’s plans?

For sure the company will provide developers with detailed information about the new features and foundations in Mac OS X 10.5, aka Leopard.

According to the conference schedule, Leopard Server will also be introduced, bringing a “giant step forward in capabilities and performance for deploying and managing Apple’s industrial-strength server operating system.”

On the Windows compatibility front, we know that Mac OS X Leopard will feature the release version of the Boot Camp Assistant that lets Intel-based Macs boot into Windows.

But this is really about everything that is known for a certainty. Of course, there are plenty of other theories to be found around the Web.

Rumor sites have spoken of Apple making some deal for the Parallels virtualization software, which was released in June.

However, VMware looks to announce its Mac version at WWDC (we’ve received launch party invitations already). Will either product make it onto the keynote stage for demonstration?

Some other likely candidates are Finder upgrades, the release of a new version of the iPod nano and movie rentals through the iTunes online store.

The Finder is due for help and Phill Ryu’s contest for fake Leopard screenshots drew a bunch of thoughtful and useful entries. Apple may pick up on some of the suggestions.

Others suggest that we will see a flatter, tabbed look to the Leopard interface, replacing the standard bubbly-blue popup control, for example.

Perhaps this grayer look and feel will make switchers from Windows XP feel more comfortable.

Whatever surfaces on Aug. 7, the selection process for Leopard features must have been tough for Apple. Which market segment should it target? Perhaps the current installed base of Mac OS X users? Or the growing group of “switchers,” who are defectors from Windows? Or the platform’s strong group of professional content developers? Or perhaps target new audiences in small business and even the enterprise?

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