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Rain, wind don't deter NYC's Leopard hunters

Hello, kitty! When Mac OS X 10.5 launched at the Fifth Avenue flagship store, it was pouring rain--but that didn't stop fans from waiting in line for a few hours to get it.

Here, kitty kitty kitty! Rain-soaked Apple nerds wait for Leopard. Caroline McCarthy/CNET Networks

NEW YORK--On Friday afternoon at the hour that Apple launched its latest operating system, Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, it was pouring rain in Manhattan. It was also windy and chilly. That didn't stop several hundred people from lining up outside the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue to get their hands on the new software, huddled underneath Gore-Tex jackets and umbrellas.

"It's the cult," commented another reporter who had also been covering the water-saturated event.

The line for Leopard appeared to be divided fairly evenly between rabid Apple fans and shoppers who'd figured they could stop by and pick it up quickly--and indeed, come launch time, the line moved fast as customers were ushered into a gauntlet of Apple Store employees (much like the iPhone launch in June) and directed straight to the cash registers when the doors opened at 6 p.m.

"It's a happening," said first-in-liner Bob Greenlees, a twenty-something student at the nearby Cardozo School of Law, when I asked him why he'd bothered to wait amidst inclement weather for an operating system that could easily have been pre-ordered online and delivered to his front door. "It's one of those things. It's Apple, it's Fifth Avenue, it's a flagship store. And it's an opportunity to be in line for something without waiting for three days."

Greenlees, after posing for a photo with his new purchase, said that he was going to go straight home and install it. He'd been in line since about 2:30 p.m.

The line went to the corner and around the block to the intersection of 58th Street and Madison Avenue. Caroline McCarthy/CNET Networks

"I came for the free t-shirt," said Steven Miranda, a Manhattan College student who was ninth in line. The Apple Store was offering t-shirts to the first 500 people who showed up, and for hardcore Apple fans, those shirts were a coveted prize. I asked Miranda and his friends whether they agreed with Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg's assertion that Leopard was "evolutionary, not revolutionary."

"Compared to Vista, it's revolutionary!" chimed in one Apple fan who was just ahead of Miranda in line. Indeed, the Microsoft-taunting was hardly under the radar. One person in line was wearing a t-shirt that bore the Windows logo along with the caption "Hasta la Vista."

For the two hours prior to the Leopard launch, the normally 24/7 Fifth Avenue store had been closed in preparation--my personal theory is Apple closed the store for a longer span of time than it needed to, to assure that an adequate queue would form in anticipation, but I'm sure Apple's not about to confirm that to me.

In addition to Leopard t-shirts, buyers were also treated to free umbrellas as they were ushered into the store. Nice move, Apple. "Keep the Leopard dry!" an Apple Store employee shouted. "Cats don't like water!"

But that raises a very serious question. Now that Apple has let Leopard out of its cage, following in the tracks of Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, and Tiger, the big question is--which cat's next?

My money's on Ocelot.