When Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs takes the stage Monday for his Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, it'll be hard for him to top last year's performance.
At that time, Jobs captivated the computer industry with his announcement that Apple was switching to Intel processors--when he confirmed reports of the historic change, gasps filled San Francisco's Moscone Center. This year isn't shaping up to be quite so dramatic, but with Apple and Jobs, one never knows.
A few things are expected from most Apple watchers: a preview of the latest version of Mac OS X, which Apple itself said would be coming, and new hardware based on Intel's Core 2 Duo chips. Apple has yet to take its Power Mac desktop to the Intel processors, and it's expected to unveil those powerful systems.
Apple has not said much about Leopard, the next-generation release of Mac OS X. The company announced the name at last year's confab and said then that it would be available late this year or early next year.
Apple has been on a fairly rapid release cycle, producing four updates to Mac OS X since 2001. In that time, Microsoft has released just one major version of Windows--Windows XP, though the company did come out with its Tablet and Media Center flavors as well as the security-oriented Service Pack 2.
In May 2004, Avie Tevanian, who was then Apple Chief Software Technology Officer, said the company would slow its pace of OS releases. Apple last updated the OS with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in April 2005.
One feature that Apple has already said will be present in Leopard is a production version of its Boot Camp software, which lets users of Intel-based Macs boot Windows as well as Mac OS X. In addition to Boot Camp, some have also wondered whether Apple might build virtualization technology similar to Parallels into Leopard, enabling the Mac OS and Windows to run side-by-side or perhaps letting Windows programs run under the Mac OS itself. Apple has not commented specifically, but it has started touting Parallels software in some marketing for the Mac and also carries its software in Apple retail stores.
It's not clear what other features the new OS might have, but Jobs is expected to walk the audience through some of the highlights. Before the show's kickoff, banners were visible through the windows of Moscone Center, featuring Apple's slogan for this year's conference, "You've come to the right platform," and icons of various features within Mac OS X, such as Spotlight, Automator and the Quicktime media software, all of which could be due for an upgrade. A Flickr posting of one photo had helpful (and humorous) notes explaining the significance of the icons.
Apple developers may well get their hands on a preview version of the OS at the conference. Apple has done that with past Mac OS updates, and the company is said to have posted a page on its developer site that made reference to a "Leopard Preview," though that page is no longer on Apple's site.
On the hardware side, with Intel's Core 2 Duo desktop processors making their way out into the wild, it's likely Apple will complete the transition to Intel's chips in front of its developers. Apple was absent from Intel's Core 2 Duo launch event a few weeks ago, during which dozens of PC companies touted new systems based on the chips.
Many Apple watchers also think the company will announce plans to move the MacBook Pro to the notebook version of the Core 2 Duo, code-named Merom. The Merom chips will start appearing in August, with the first systems expected to ship toward the end of the month.
What's less certain is whether Jobs will use the stage to introduce new iPod models or announce new features related to iTunes. The WWDC conference tends to be more about the Mac than Apple's thriving music businesses, Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research, said in a note distributed last week. But with Apple, there's almost always "one more thing...."
One area Jobs probably won't address is the company's involvement in the stock-options backdating scandal sweeping Silicon Valley. On Thursday, Apple announced that it would probably have to restate several years worth of earnings after the results of an investigation into its option practices.