Perhaps the clearest sign of the Steve Jobs’ recent illness and attendant absence from day-to-day decisions over to One Infinite Loop is the Snow Leopard packaging:
When I originally saw the leak of this, I assumed it must, must be a fake. And a bad one. But here it is.
Anywho, it marks an odd signpost in the evolution of Mac operating system naming… The first instance I can recall of Apple talking openly about future operating systems by code name (as opposed to simply saying “well, in System 7 we’ll have…” and so forth), came during the lead-up to System 8, then referred to by its public codename Copland. The follow-on (which, presumably, would have been System 9, but it never really got off the ground) was openly referred to as Gershwin. Internally, I believe Copland went by “Pink,” an outgrowth of the same project naming schema from the Taligent days, but that’s neither here nor there.
With the debut of MacOS X (initially called Rhapsody, but ultimately (and thankfully) re-branded as simply MacOS X, there began a new, cat-based public codename schema that Wikipedia does a very fine job of keeping track of: Cheetah/Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, and (now) Snow Leopard.
With all of that came a steady evolution in packaging design, also courtesy of Wikipedia:
As you can see, only Jaguar (better known as Jag-wire to one Steve Jobs) makes any reference whatsoever to the public codename, with its spotted X and box side. And this made inherent sense with what was going on under the hood: Jaguar was the first fully polished release of MacOS (to the original Cheetah/Puma first wide-release version which still had various usability or driver issues for certain users). So it seemed quite natural to echo the Aqua-themed original OS X box with a lightly updated, speed-oriented branding.
With the arrival of Panther, apple adopted the minimalistic metallic X, adding a spotlight effect to Tiger (highlighting, you guessed it, the debut of Spotlight searching technology in the OS). This notion was extended with the galaxy effect on Leopard; it kept the basic X design but highlighted and referenced Time Machine, the most notable addition to that OS.
Now we have, uh, a snowy cat. No X, and the codename is referenced directly on the packaging. Yikes. We also gain the subhead:
The world’s most advanced operating system. Finely tuned.
I understand that labelling it Mac OS X 10.6 is probably a non-starter for the marketing class, and is seen as insufficiently differentiated from whatever it is exactly that 10.5 might be. But I can’t be the only one that has difficulty recalling the order of these damned cats when named in isolation. Tiger was, er, a while ago…but was that 10.4? This seemingly benign issue gets all the more painful when you’re tracking down, say, a compatibility issue: will Google find more results referencing “Tiger” or “10.4” or “Mac” or “Macintosh” or “MacIntosh” or God knows what else? If we’re now going to actually call these operating systems by these names “officially” as opposed to “casually during a keynote when it doesn’t really matter” I can see some serious problems on the horizon, especially when they replace the actually informative 10.5.8 that “About this Mac” reports with “Lesser Plains Leopard” or some-such. However, it should be noted that this is the same company that differentiates a $3500 computer as “(Early 2008) Mac Pro” and assumes you can still easily sort out what you’ve got come 2010…
This is where I’m supposed to roll out my own, vastly better mockup, but you’re going to have to use your imagination caps to see it. The true precedent is with Jag-wire. It was the most conceptually similar release to the current iteration: essentially a big cleanup, with not that many Earth-shattering innovations. While it certainly held more fundamental fixes and so forth than Snow Leopard, the basic idea was very similar: make what we already have put together as good, as fast, and as functional as we possibly can. So, for 10.6 you keep the essential box of the immediate predecessor, Leopard. Perhaps you fade the galaxy a bit, but it’s still back there in its vaguely holographic form. Then you fill the big X with tasteful snow-leopard spots. And the title text? It’s relegated to the side, where it reads simply “Mac OS X Version 10.6.”
Is that so hard? Apparently without Steve Jobs around, it is.