Apple today unveiled a 'near final version' of Mac OS X Leopard, the sixth major release of its OS.

Scheduled to ship in October, Leopard introduces over 300 new features, including a new Desktop and Dock with Stacks, an intuitive new way to organise files; an updated Finder featuring Cover Flow and a new way to easily browse and share files between multiple Macs; Quick Look, a new way to rapidly preview most files without opening an application; Time Machine, a new way to easily and automatically back-up and restore lost files or a complete Mac; Spaces, a feature to create groups of applications and instantly switch between them; and enhanced iChat and Mail applications.

“Leopard is the best release of Mac OS X to date, surpassing even Tiger, and will further extend Mac OS X’s leadership as the most advanced and innovative operating system in the world,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think current and prospective customers are going to love Leopard, and that it will help make the Mac even more popular.”

Leopard includes a completely new Dock featuring Stacks, which can help manage a user’s desktop clutter caused by browser and email downloads. Users can instantly fan out the contents of a stack to easily see each item.

The Finder has also been completely redesigned, adding Cover Flow as a way to quickly browse and locate files and applications.

Finder’s new Sidebar simplifies the organisation of files on a Mac, and adds easy access to shared Macs and PCs on a home network.

Subscribers to .Mac can also use the new “Back to my Mac" feature to browse and access files on their remote Macs over the internet. Another new feature, Quick Look, lets users preview almost any file, and even play media files without opening an application.

The company also offered more information on Time Machine, software which automatically maintains an up-to-date copy of everything on the Mac. Users can search their Time Machine archive using Spotlight to find lost files. The feature will back data up to external connected drives, to a server, or to an AirPort Extreme base station's attached hard drive.

The company also confirmed full native 64-bit support; multi-core optimization; and Core Animation, "helping developers easily create animated user experiences as amazing as Leopard’s Spaces and Time Machine in their own applications," the company said.

Additional features

- Leopard Mail will offer 30 stationery designs and layouts; Notes - as easy to organise and write as it is to compose and read emails; To Dos, for creating lists viewed directly in Mail and automatically sync them with iCal; and data detectors that automatically sense phone numbers, addresses and events so they can be easily added to Address Book or iCal.

- Leopard iChat with iChat Theater lets users present photos, presentations, videos and files in a video conference; Photo Booth effects will allow them to transform their iChat video in real time with distortion and colour effects; and video backdrops let users choose any photo or video.

- iCal in Leopard will offer group calendaring features based on the open CalDAV standard.

- Spaces are being described as a clutter-free way to create customised spaces on the desktop with only the applications or files needed for each project. Mac users will be able to switch between these with one click of a mouse or keystroke.

- The new Web Clip feature will alsow users to grab anything from a web page to drop into Dashboard as a live widget.

The company also confirmed the final version of Boot Camp will be made available within Leopard, and told developers that Xcode 3 will offer a new editor; an improved Interface Builder; simpler debugging; and support for Objective-C 2.0.

Apple also urged developers to use DashCode in order to build Dashboard widgets without writing code; and revealed a new application for optimising application performance, called Xray.

Mac OS X version 10.5 Leopard is scheduled to ship in October and will cost £89 (including VAT) for a single user license. The Mac OS X Leopard Family Pack is a single-residence, five-user license that will be available for a suggested retail price of £139 (including VAT).