Apple is taking orders for the next iteration of its operating system, OS X 10.5 Leopard, on the Apple Store.

The company will make its new OS available at its retail stores starting at 6pm on 26 October. Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard will cost £85 for a single user license and £129 for a Family Pack (five-users).

The company claims the new OS boasts 300 improvements, including a slew of Finder and desktop management enhancements: Stacks, Spaces, Time Machine and Quick Look, which lets you see files without opening an application.

Naturally, the release also features the final version of Boot Camp for Leopard, which has only been available in beta format (for Mac OS X 10.4) until now. The company offered no update on its plans to maintain Boot Camp support for OS 10.4 today.

Content on any computer on a local network can now be searched using Spotlight, browsed using Cover Flow or copied across the network using drag-&-drop. .Mac members can use the new Back to My Mac feature to browse and access files on their remote Macs over the internet.

Collaboration gains a significant boost with the addition of screen sharing within iChat. This feature lets users remotely view and operate another Mac. iChat also lets users show photos, presentations, videos or files in a video conference.

Cocking a snook at Microsoft's complex Vista licensing charges, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said: "“Leopard, the sixth major release of Mac OS X, is the best upgrade we’ve ever released. And everyone gets the ‘Ultimate’ version, packed with all the new innovative features, for just £85.”

Leopard offers a unified user interface which extends across its applications, Apple explained. Active windows are outlines by deeper shadows so they are easier to find, while the new 3D Dock's Stacks feature makes it easier to maintain a tidy desktop by automatically placing web, email and other downloads in a Dock-accesible Downlods stack. Users can also create their own Stacks.

Mail has been updated in Leopard and features more than 30 stationery designs and layouts . New Mail features include Notes and To Do lists, which act like emails and can be saved as drafts, synced across multiple Macs and stored in Smart Mailboxes. Data detectors automatically sense phone numbers, addresses and events so they can be added to Address Book or iCal.

Additional Leopard enhancements include:
- Improved Parental Controls, with the capacity to impose time limits and the facility to maintain and access activity logs;
- Web Clip, bringing anything a user wants from a web page to Dashboard as a live widget;
- Photo Booth lets users create animated iChat buddy icons and special effects using still or video images;
- A better Dictionary, now with Wikipedia built in;
- An updated version of Front Row.

Apple has also confirmed the minimum system requirements. They are:
- Mac computer with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4 (867MHz or faster) processor;
- 512MB of physical RAM;
- DVD drive for installation;