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Apple’s Leopard Raises OS Ante

By Salvatore Salamone

Sept. 18, 2006 | Apple CEO Steve Jobs kicked off the recent Apple Worldwide Developers Conference talking about some new hardware including a quad Intel Xeon-based Xserve due out in October. But the big news at the conference had to do with the tidbits of information that emerged about Leopard, Apple’s next major upgrade to the Mac OS X.

Most of the details about Leopard will not come out until the fall. However, from the information that is available now, at least two new features of the operating system should be of interest to life science IT professionals and researchers involved with high-performance computing (HPC).

First, the 64-bit operating system will allow for the mixing of 32-bit and 64-bit program code at the executable, object, and device driver levels. In the past, some operating systems have required special drivers in mixed 32-bit/64-bit environments. Industry experts say Leopard’s approach could offer improved performance of some applications.

The second feature is called Time Machine, which allows a user or systems administrator to take file system snapshots. Such snapshots can then be used to quickly recover a deleted file or would allow a user to go back to a previous version of a file. The Time Machine application will automatically track any file and directory changes between snapshots. Additionally, Time Machine allows users to save snapshots to a USB- or FireWire-attached external hard drive. The ability to save snapshots in this way could be useful if an internal drive failed. Additionally, Leopard will offer many improvements to existing Mac OS X applications including iChat, Finder, and Spotlight.

While talking about all of the new features in Leopard, Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing, said: “Leopard Server brings a new level of 64-bit power together with Apple’s legendary ease of use in one server operating system.”

Vista on the Horizon
The actual release of Leopard is not expected until late this year or early 2007. That is the same timeframe as Vista, Microsoft’s first major OS architectural upgrade since Windows XP was released in 2001 and Windows Server 2003 was released in 2003.

Microsoft claims Vista will offer a better user experience thanks to improved file management and a more tightly integrated search capability. For instance, Explorer will include a quick search box, a preview pane that displays metadata of certain files, and will support virtual folders that let users logically group all files associated with a project in one place.

Vista will include more system and data protection features including an enhanced version of System Restore and new backup features. There will also be security enhancements such as a “shields up” approach that puts a new system in a protected mode until any new security patches are installed.

Some features in both Leopard and Vista address HPC users’ needs. One area that both companies are working on is ease of use when it comes to HPC systems. Both are offering management features that help IT staffs quickly configure servers running their operating systems. But recently, other aspects that make these systems easier to use have gain attention. For example, last month, Microsoft officially released Windows Computer Cluster 2003, its HPC cluster edition of Windows Server.

“We want to make [HPC] a pervasive resource as easy to use and locate [on a network] as printers are today,” says Kyril Faenov, Microsoft’s director of Windows HPC. “Once you allow individual users to get quick access to HPC [resources] when needed, your work approach shifts from batch mode to interactive.”

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