Apple’s newest big cat, Snow Leopard, is now available for pre-order in Apple’s online store and will hit shelves Aug. 28. The long feature list includes mail that loads twice as fast and built-in support for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007.

Apple’s much anticipated Mac OS X v10.6, also known as Snow Leopard, is now available for pre-order at Apple’s online store and will go sale Friday, Aug. 28, Apple announced on Aug. 24.

Mac OS X Leopard users will be able to upgrade to Snow Leopard for $29. In addition, anyone who purchased a new Mac between June 8 of this year and Dec. 26 can purchase a Snow Leopard upgrade package for $9.95, which includes shipping and handling.

The feature list on this new beast is long, with Apple saying that its engineers have refined 90 percent of the more than 1,000 projects that make up Mac OS X. Improvements are said to include a more responsive Finder; Mail that loads messages twice as fast as Leopard Version 10.4.8; a Dock with Exposé integration; 80 percent faster initial backup to Time Machine; a redesigned QuickTime X player that enables easier viewing, recording, trimming and sharing of video; and a 64-bit, very crash-resistant version of Safari 4 that’s additionally 50 percent faster than the 32-bit version.

Like Safari, Finder, Mail, iCal and iChat are now also 64-bit, which is said to make them quicker and more secure, though still compatible with 32-bit applications.

Additionally, Snow Leopard is half the size of the previous version, freeing up 7GB of space on users’ hard drives. It requires a minimum of 1GB of RAM and will run on any Mac with an Intel processor.

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