"This is the release that everybody is going to end up using," Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said Tuesday morning at the Seybold Seminars publishing conference here.
As previously reported, Mac OS X 10.1 will be available free for OS X owners through Apple's stores and other Mac retailers. The update is free through Oct. 31 at the stores. If ordered from Apple, it costs $19.99. The boxed version, which costs $129, will also be available Saturday.
The key new capabilities are the ability to play DVD movies and burn files from the Finder onto DVD-rewritable discs. As for performance, Apple says that programs now launch two to three times faster, that menus display five times more quickly and that resizing of windows can be done five to 10 times faster.
Some of the improvements are also aimed at giving Mac users more control over the tweaks that OS X made to the familiar Mac interface. For example, the OS X toolbar known as the Dock can now be moved to the sides of the computer screen rather than being fixed at the bottom.
In addition, Apple introduced a faster option to go along with the "genie-in-a-bottle" effect that occurs when a file is sent to the Dock. With the new option, a graphic scales down as it heads to the Dock, which speeds up the process.
Despite calling OS X 10.1 "ready for prime time," OS X marketing director Ken Bereskin said in an interview after the presentation that new Macs will continue to ship with both OS 9 and OS X for now, with OS 9 as the default option. Bereskin did not say when Apple might make OS X the default operating system.
"We need the applications," Bereskin said. There are about 1,400 programs that have been written to take advantage of OS X, he noted, but several of the major programs have yet to be released.
On Tuesday, Apple did demonstrate several new software titles updated to take advantage of OS X?s features. They include Microsoft's Office v. X, which will come out in November, and Alias Wavefront?s Maya 3D graphics program, which is available now. Adobe Systems also previewed GoLive, a Web design program.
Jobs noted that Microsoft is making available a free trial version of Word that can take advantage of the update's new features.
Although the presentation lacked some of the oohs and aahs of a Macworld Expo keynote, Apple highlighted improvements it made to OS X that are of particular interest to graphics designers, such as improved handling of color and more powerful scripting features.
AppleScript, which allows Mac users to customize and link various applications, has been a part of the Macintosh OS for the better part of a decade. However, with OS X, such scripts can now be used to grab information off the Internet.
The company showed off an upcoming program, known as AppleScript Studio, that will allow such scripts to easily be turned into standalone programs. AppleScript Studio is slated to ship by the end of the year, Apple said.
Apple also said it will ship next month iDVD2, the OS X version of DVD creation program iDVD. Apple had previously indicated it would come out in September.
In addition, Apple introduced an upgrade to its server software, Mac OS X Server 10.1.
Apple dealers say they are hoping the new version of Mac OS X--along with third-party applications that take advantage of the operating system's new features--will help spur holiday sales and perhaps deflate some of the enthusiasm around Microsoft's Windows XP operating system.
Michelle Fernando, an editor at Ask Jeeves, said she uses a Mac at home and had not planned to upgrade to Mac OS X. But watching the demonstration Tuesday changed her mind.
"I wasn?t really pleased with the initial release of OS X. Since seeing this, I?m totally convinced I have to get a new computer. I have to get X," she said.
The showcase of OS X 10.1 was not without its problems. When Bereskin took the stage to show off some of the program's new features, the machine hiccupped, requiring him to force-quit several of the applications.
"We can fix a system. We can make it incredibly fast. But you can't control the Internet," he told the audience.