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Why developers love Apple's Snow Leopard

September 10, 2009 |  3:37 pm

Now that many Mac users have had a couple of weeks to install the new Apple Inc. operating system, Snow Leopard, and explore its new features, some aren't so enthused with the update.

Snow-leopardThere just aren't that many new features.

The additions are a far cry from the usual operating system updates that add new toys, like Spaces and Dashboards and new designs. The running joke is to call Snow Leopard a "service pack" -- the incremental Windows updates that Microsoft distributes as a free download.

To find just a handful of new gizmos, you'll need to dig through settings menus and really know what to look for. (For example, did you know the new operating system is HDTV-ready?)

Apple marketed the software that way from the start, quipping during its unveiling that it adds "zero new features." The goal, it seems, is to get Snow Leopard deployed on as many machines as possible with its affordable $29 price tag.

Why is Snow Leopard so important? To quote a sweaty, excited Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, "developers, developers, developers." (We're quoting him out of context, but he makes our point: developers!)

"Snow Leopard's developer tools in particular have improved tremendously," wrote Steven Frank, whose company Panic builds software for website designers. "All Mac software, from Apple or otherwise, will improve as a direct result."

A lot of the additions, developers say, sit "under the hood" and provide the potential to build ...

... more powerful software. "Apple has laid a foundation in Snow Leopard that's going to serve them for years," Frank wrote in an e-mail. "You can't frost until you have the cupcakes, right?"

As The Times sat patiently in San Francisco's Moscone Center in June while Apple executives trotted out the new developer-friendly aspects of the operating system to much fanfare, we scratched our heads. (That was at Apple's annual Worldwide Developer Conference, and we were outnumbered by code crunchers.)

After repeated discussions with developers, the importance of technologies like Grand Central Dispatch (or GCD, as software makers affectionately call it) start to make sense. GCD, for example, spreads out the computing work required to run an application evenly among its many muscles. For us, that means less waiting for complicated tasks.

Snow Leopard's major benefits probably won't start showing themselves for weeks or months until developers can fine-tune their apps to take advantage of all of the bells and whistles. "It's not the operation system that makes it worth upgrading, it's the new and updated apps," Sophia Teutschler, lead developer of Sophiestication, wrote in an e-mail.

Almost two weeks after Snow Leopard's release, software makers are still digesting the new stuff. "It's hard to pinpoint a specific new technology that has me most excited because I have yet to explore them all," Austin Sarner, developer of App Zapper, wrote in an e-mail.

Frank welcomes the break from tacking on new levers and switches that has been distracting users every year or so.

"I'm not completely sure why we all tend to look upon refinement and improvement as the ugly stepsister of wow new features," Frank wrote, "but perhaps computing in general would be a lot less painful if we stopped doing so. At least once every few releases."

-- Mark Milian

Follow my commentary on technology and social media on Twitter @markmilian.

Image credit: Apple

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