Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard has an image problem. It's largely scrimped on crowd-pleasing features in favour of a lie-down so its owners can pick over its fleas - where it will inevitably be crushed under the wheels of the mighty Windows 7 juggernaut.

Is this what us Mac users really want to happen?

The problem is largely one of Apple's own making. Even since Mac OS X made its debut, Apple's been serving up updates faster than a burger van after closing time - first with Cheetah (2001), then Puma (2001), Jaguar (2002), Panther (2003), Tiger (2005) and most recently Leopard (2007).

The result of all this is that Apple's has made operating systems sexy in a way you just couldn't have imagined 10 years ago - why else has Microsoft been scrabbling to come up with its own lickable features?

It's also why expectations for the next iteration of Mac OS X have risen with every new release - that is until Apple put the brakes on last year when it announced Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard - this one's all back-to-basics and under-the-hood improvements.

The sense of disappointment - rightly or wrongly - is palpable.

So far, so ho-hum

The atmosphere at WWDC 2009 was telling - a spot of Windows bashing by Bertrand Serlet - the man in charge of Mac OS X - was greeted sniffly, and when he started trying to wow the crowd with the 'amazing' new features of Snow Leopard you could smell the apathy.

A ground-up rewrite, Grand Central Dispatch, Open CL, full 64-bit and Microsoft Exchange support might be great for developers and enterprise, but it's hard to sell those benefits on to the likes of us ordinary folks who use Macs day in day out.

OS x snow leopard

SMALL CHANGE: "So this is the new Mac OS, eh? Looks exactly the same as the last one to me." "But, but... oh never mind"

Instead we were presented with a new version of QuickTime, some Finder tweaks and an improved version of Stacks - a feature that wasn't all that great to start with.

No wonder Snow Leopard will only cost £29.99 when it goes on sale in September. Apple would be hard pressed to charge anything more.

The biggest disappointment for many Mac users will be the news - long suspected - that Snow Leopard will be Intel-only. Fans who've splashed thousands on 64-bit PowerPC Power Macs will lose out, so too will owners of other legacy systems.

Apple's decision is understandable - it likes to focus on the where the ball is going, not where it is has been, remember? - but then...

Does Apple do service packs?

Despite all of the necessary 'under the hood' improvements in Snow Leopard, this release has the inescapable air of a service pack about it.

It's arguably what Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard would have been all along if Apple hadn't been distracted by the glittering prize of the iPhone.

Apple's enjoyed success with Leopard because it was 'good enough' when stacked up against Windows Vista rather being a great leap forward.

With Windows 7 looming, Mac OS X is unlikely to continue basking in its own light for long.

For now Snow Leopard will have to do - but we want to see tangible evidence of the real world benefits these changes will bring.

Let's hope they're a darn sight better than the lame Mail hyper-threading demo Apple showed us yesterday.

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Liked this? Then check out 5 Mac OS 9 features Apple should bring back

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