Apple's Snow Leopard Ships Friday

Apple's new OS, Snow Leopard, goes on sale Friday and can be pre-ordered online starting today.

It's a pretty inexpensive upgrade - $29 for folks who work on OS X 10.5 Leopard. Snow Leopard, OS X 10.6, is said to refine "90 percent of the more than 1,000 projects that make up Mac OS X.

The main refinements, according to Apple, appear to be in the speed department. Mail is supposed to load up to twice as fast, Time Machine to to its initial backup up to 80 percent faster, and a 64-bit version of Safari 4 that's supposed to be up to 50 percent faster and not be susceptible to crashes caused by plug-ins.

The whole OS is half as large as Leopard was and should free up as much as 7 GB of drive space.

It also has built-in support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, allowing users to make Mail, Address Book and iCal work together to send and receive mail, create and respond to meeting invitations and search and manage contacts across the three applications. And because Exchange has built-in support, Spotlight searches and Quick Look previews will work in it, too.

As previously reported, the single-user upgrade license for users on OSX 10.5 Leopard is $29 and a five-user license - the Snow Leopard Family Pack - should run $49. For folks still using Tiger on Intel-based Macs, the Mac Box Set will include Snow Leopard, iLife '09 and iWork '09 and cost $169 for a single license and $229 for the five-user family pack. Anyone who's bought a Mac since June 8 also can get an upgrade for $9.95 if they apply for it within 90 days of purchase.

That's all a lot cheaper than the Windows 7 upgrade is going to be for Microsoft users. While it's true that the basic upgrade to Windows 7 Starter was free to most users, anyone who wants to move up from Starter to Home Premium will have to pay $79.99. To move from Home Premium to Home Professional, it'll be $89.99 and from Home Premium to Ultimate, it's $139.99. And their family packs are good for licenses on three computers. And it all doesn't come out until Oct. 22.