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Apple's Leopard arrives in San Francisco

While it doesn't match the hysteria of iPhone Day, hundreds of people still turn out to wait hours in line for the newest version of Mac OS X--even though they could have preordered a copy weeks ago.

As Yogi might say, it was deja vu all over again on Stockton Street as Apple released Mac OS X Leopard to the general public.
Tom Krazit/CNET Networks

It wasn't exactly iPhone Day, but hundreds of people lined up on Stockton Street on Friday outside the San Francisco Apple store to get their hands on Mac OS X Leopard, the newest version of Apple's operating system.

Tyler Howarth (middle) is psyched to be first in line in downtown San Francisco for Leopard. Tom Krazit/CNET Networks

About 30 minutes before the doors of the store opened at 6 p.m., the line stretched up Stockton and around the corner onto O'Farrell Street, maybe two-thirds as long as the iPhone line at its longest on June 29. Still, prospective customers waited hours in line to buy Leopard, even though they could have preordered a copy from Apple or and have spent that time installing their new OS.

"That's kind of lame," said Tyler Howarth, first in line, referring to those who took the preorder route. Howarth, a student at San Francisco State University, arrived at 2 p.m. to start waiting in line, although the actual formal queue wasn't set up until 3 p.m. He planned to use the $100 store credit he received after the iPhone pricing snafu to defray the cost of the Leopard upgrade (click for CNET's review) for his Macbook Pro.

Granted, standing in line on a cool autumn evening in San Francisco isn't exactly as demanding as dodging raindrops on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. And it's really, really hard to run out of software; I'm pretty sure you'll be able to walk into any Apple store later tonight or tomorrow and pick up a copy without a wait. But line-waiters seem determined to be part of something, to have an actual experience associated with their upgrades that's a little more interesting than signing for the package.

Apple's retail employees do everything they can to deliver that experience, cheering the early adopters like they just completed a 14-point comeback with 2 minutes left on the clock. The free coffee went quickly, but the first 500 people in line were given T-shirts to mark the occasion.

Apple retail employees welcome Leopard customers with a standing ovation and T-shirts. Tom Krazit/CNET

Several of those in line cited Time Machine as the single most important reason they're rushing out to get Leopard, sheepishly admitting they don't regularly back up their system. Not many people do so on a regular basis, even if they've taken the step of purchasing an external hard drive or going as far as to set up a home server.

Amadeus DeMarzi, about halfway back in the line, was relatively new to the Mac, having purchased his first Mac about a year ago. He was also planning to use his iPhone credit on the purchase of Leopard, and cited Time Machine and Spaces, a feature that lets you switch between four separate work areas to help organize your thoughts when working with multiple applications.

Passersby gawked at the crowd as things backed up in the area in front of the Apple store, which is adjacent to entrances for the Powell Street transit stop. "Ooh, I think they're giving out free iPhones!" one woman exclaimed as she passed by with several shopping bags. At around 6:30 p.m., the line was still around the corner onto O'Farrell, but things were moving in an orderly fashion.

It was probably a pretty good night for Apple's retail operation, but we'll get a better sense of the pace of Leopard adoption over the next few weeks and months. I'll check back over the weekend to see how the installation process is going for the early adopters. If you run into any problems, let me know in the comments below.

iPhone Day it wasn't, but foot traffic still backed up in front of Apple's downtown San Francisco store around 6 p.m. as commuters tried to figure out what was going on. Tom Krazit/CNET