Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is no Mac pep rally. It's a gathering of geeks ready for a deep dive into a pool of technologies. But WWDC also has a tradition of new product intros, and last week was no exception, with two major hardware offerings and a tantalising look at Mac OS X 10.5, code-named Leopard.

Steve Jobs' keynote highlighted two new 64-bit Intel Xeon-based systems, Xserve and Mac Pro. Both are based on Intel's just-released Core Microarchitecture Xeon and are offered at price points well below the PowerPC-based systems they replace.

The pair's baseline models share some breathtaking specs: two dual-core Xeon 5100 Series CPUs with 4MB of shared Level 2 cache; dual 1.33GHz front-side buses; 1GB of 667MHz, ECC DDR2 memory; two Gigabit Ethernet ports; one 300Gbps SATA hard drive; and PCI Express expansion slots. The key differences: the standard-issue Xserve comes with 2GHz CPUs, three FireWire ports, and two USB 2.0 ports; the standard Mac Pro has 2.66GHz CPUs, a 256MB NVidia GeForce 7300 GT graphics card, and a 16x SuperDrive DVD burner.

Xserve's new Internet Protocol Management Interface 2.0-compliant coprocessor responds to administrators even when Xserve is powered down or the OS fails to boot. A rack server, Xserve is scheduled to ship in October, with initial deliveries bundling OS X 10.4 with an unlimited client licence. The standard retail price competes with any Intel-based rack server - plus, Apple's server software is a bargain compared with commercial Linux and Windows Servers.

Much of the forthcoming Leopard OS remains secret, but Apple did offer intriguing details. Leopard, a 64-bit operating system, will permit the blending of 32-bit and 64-bit code at the executable, object code, and device driver levels. By contrast, Microsoft's 64-bit Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server both require 64-bit drivers.

Another Leopard standout is Time Machine, a smart approach to file system snapshots for rapid file recovery that sports a visually stunning and extraordinarily functional UI. Other enhancements include an improved iChat, a new API for animated 3D graphics, and a stunningly natural text-to-speech feature. And admins will love the new Server Assistant, which will allow them to deploy Leopard servers as easily as desktops.

Clearly, Apple has been busy. It's hard to believe that Leopard will ship next spring, but Apple aims to ruin Vista's chances of early traction. During the keynote, an Apple exec cleverly demonstrated how much Vista has borrowed from the current OS X. The message is clear: by the time Vista and Longhorn Server catch OS X 10.4, Apple will have pushed the goalposts all the way out to the parking lot.