It's not due until this summer, but the Web is already full of reports about new features in Apple's Snow Leopard operating-system upgrade, Mac OS X 10.6.
The reports are attributed to insiders with knowledge of the company's plans. An updated build of 10.6 was released to selected third-party developers last week.
Spelling Correction, Substitutions
Automatic spelling correction from the OS level is one expanded feature expected to be found in Snow Leopard, where the system fixes the most obvious errors. The correction can be overridden or turned off by the user.
According to reports, the automatic correction would be made when the user hit the space bar, an action similar to the way Microsoft Word works now, but extended to other applications by the OS.
Several other expected new features are similarly available now within existing applications, or buried within menus, and Snow Leopard will make them available system-wide and often in contextual menus. The features will be available in any app that supports the Core Text framework.
Another expected feature is Substitutions, also similar to what is now available in Word. A user can define a word or phrase in various apps, so the word or phrase is inserted when a designated abbreviation is typed, similar to how (c) now becomes © in Word.
Services now available within menus in the current OS will be streamlined and made available at the system level so that use is obvious within a contextual menu. With Services, a user can send a designated selection of text to another application, such as text to a mail program.
Transformations, Data Detectors
Transformations will enable an operation to be performed on a selection of text, such as all capitalization, from the system level.
Data Detectors will recognize actionable text, such as phone numbers or dates in any application supporting the Core Text framework. Next to the actionable data would be a menu enabling a user, for instance, to add the phone number in that application to an address book.
As reports of the upcoming Snow Leopard update and Microsoft Windows 7 percolate across the Web, one question is whether either of the competing operating systems will offer a competitive advantage.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with Information Technology Intelligence Corps, said the Windows and Mac operating systems are becoming more alike from the user's point of view. But, she added, this could be an advantage for Apple, because the less support needed to teach users a new OS, the more Macs might continue to make inroads into enterprises.
"If I were Apple," she said, "I'd be looking at doing some very aggressive pricing on computers when Snow Leopard comes out."
Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, agreed that "at a gut level, there are some differences, but basically they're not very far apart." Apple has the luxury of differentiating on its own platform, he pointed out, while Windows has to spend a lot of effort on compatibility across the many kinds of computers in its "ecosystem."