Apple's Mac OS X v10.6 -- aka Snow Leopard -- will go on sale this Friday, August 28. Mac fanatics and other interested parties can pre-order from today. Current Mac owners can upgrade to Mac OS X 10.6 for £21.74 plus VAT.

The Mac maker says that to create Snow Leopard, Apple engineers refined 90 per cent of the more than 1,000 elements that make up Mac OS X. The upgrade boasts improvements a more responsive Finder; Mail that loads messages up to twice as fast; Time Machine with an up to 80 percent faster initial backup; a Dock with Exposé integration; QuickTime X with a redesigned player that allows users to easily view, record, trim and share video; and a 64-bit version of Safari 4 that is up to 50 per cent faster and resistant to crashes caused by plug-ins, according to Apple.

Snow Leopard is half the size of the previous version and frees up to 7GB of drive space once installed.

For the first time, system applications including Finder, Mail, iCal®, iChat® and Safari are 64-bit and Snow Leopard’s support for 64-bit processors makes use of large amounts of RAM, increases performance and improves security while remaining compatible with 32-bit applications. Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) provides a new way for software developers to write applications that take advantage of multicore processors. OpenCL, a C-based open standard, allows developers to tap the power of the graphics card unit for tasks that go beyond graphics.

Apple is also shipping the Snow Leopard Family Pack, which is a five-user licence that costs £34, and the Snow Leopard Server for £347 plus VAT. This gains new features such as Podcast Producer 2 and Mobile Access Server.