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On Fifth Avenue, no Leopard fans spotted yet

A fashion-forward Apple store in New York is a mob scene, of course--but that was because of tourists, not Apple fans anticipating the operating-system launch.

NEW YORK--At about 1 p.m. EDT in midtown Manhattan, I overheard a group of suit-clad thirtysomething men talking as they waited to cross Madison Avenue.

"You know, leopards are solitary animals," one of them said. The other three or four continued musing on the characteristics of the large exotic felines, and I figured that it was actually part of a conversation about Apple's latest operating system, which launches Friday at 6 p.m. I thought, wow, if fratty midtown office types are talking about Mac OS X 10.5, there must be a huge line of fanboys at the Apple store!

Wrong. There was almost no sign of a major product launch at the 24-hour Apple store on Fifth Avenue, besides a few signs and posters announcing Leopard's advent. The store was still a mob scene, of course--in that touristy shopping district just south of Central Park, it always is. But there was no buzz factor like there had been with the crazy iPhone launch in June.

Apple Store customers try out Leopard at the Fifth Avenue store in NYC. Caroline McCarthy/CNET Networks

Apple retail employees told reporters that the store would be closed from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for preparations, and that when the doors finally opened, there would be "demos all night long."

For an idea of what the scene might be like, they told the press to look up the Japanese launch of Leopard the previous night, which apparently had eager buyers lined up around the block. Then, clearly uncomfortable about saying too much, they said to contact company public-relations representatives instead and encouraged the press to test out the new operating system--it was already installed on all the demo computers at the store.

A few minutes later, reporters were informed that Apple retail employees had just been told not to speak to the press any more, until Leopard's launch at 6 p.m.