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Apple freezes Snow Leopard APIs as software nears final stretch

Apple this past weekend distributed a new beta of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard that altered the programming methods used to optimize code for multi-core Macs, telling developers they were the last programming-oriented changes planned ahead of the software's release.

More specifically, Apple is said to have informed recipients of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard build 10A354 that it has simplified the application programming interfaces (APIs) for working with Grand Central, a new architecture that makes it easier for developers to take advantage of Macs with multiple processing cores.

This technology works by breaking complex tasks into smaller blocks, which are then routed — or dispatched — efficiently to a Mac's available cores for faster processing. This allows third-party developers to leverage more of a Mac's hardware resources without having to be well-versed in multithreaded programming.

People familiar with the latest Snow Leopard build say it was these Grand Central "dispatch" methods that were tweaked, or simplified, alongside build 10A354. Going forward, Apple reportedly told developers that "no further API changes are planned for Snow Leopard."

This means developers can now press forward with Snow Leopard versions of their applications with confidence that further Apple-instated changes won't force them to make significant alterations to their code between now and the time the software hits the market. It can also be seen as a sign that the the operating system upgrade is one step closer to reaching a final developmental stretch that will focus on stability and optimization.

With the private release of build 10A354, Apple also reportedly informed developers about a couple of other recent changes to the software, namely the addition of Chinese handwriting recognition support for Macs that include a multi-touch trackpad. Similar software was added to iPhone Software 2.0 a year ago, allowing users to draw Chinese symbols on their handset's touchscreen and then select matching symbols suggested by the iPhone Software.

In support of the handwriting recognition software in Snow Leopard, Apple also reportedly tweaked the system's Language & Text Preference Pane to include support for bidirectional text.

Also drawn to developers attention in build 10A354 is a new codec due to debut with Snow Leopard called MPEG-4 High Efficiency AAC (or HE-AAC). Apple said the codec is an extension of the Low Complexity AAC (or AAC-LC) codec that's optimized for low-bitrate steaming of audio and podcasts.

Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard is expected to hit the market sometime this summer with a near finalized version likely to make a public appearance at Apple's annual developers conference in about a month.

Meanwhile, Apple this weekend also equipped developers with Mac OS X 10.5.7 build 9J61, which corrected one more minor issue with the impending Leopard update.