Apple on Wednesday afternoon set the blogosphere ablaze on news the company will next week invite media to a special event it is only calling, "Back to the Mac" -- I told you the Mac still matters to Apple.

The invitation -- which you can see here -- depicts a grey, touchpad-like shape with an Apple logo set at the center, this logo opens like a window, behind which, peeking through, you see a colorful lion.

Given Apple's penchant for maintaining feline-based names for its operating system, Mac OS X, this suggests Apple's going to tell us a little about Mac OS 10.7. The event is scheduled to take place on October 20.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

We already know that Mac OS X 10.7 has been in development for many months, and the company's continued focus on implementing multi-touch within its operating system continues to drive much speculation, including some expectation of a touchscreen iMac of some kind.

The months prior to the introduction of the iPad also saw speculation the company planned to also offer a professional version of its tablet, equipped with the capacity to run full-scale Mac OS X applications.

Critics of this proposition point out that 'normal' Mac applications are, like Adobe Flash, not enabled to receive touch-based commands. This is true -- could Mac OS X 10.7 change this?

There has been much speculation Apple is developing an infrastructure to support touch within Mac OS X 10.7. Could the phrase 'Back to the Mac' reflect a move to implement at least some of the company's new touch-based technologies within Mac OS X?

Colleague Seth Weintraub recalls Steve Jobs who told the New York Times in 2007:

"People don't understand that we've invented a new class of interface," he said. He contrasted it with stylus interfaces, like the approach Microsoft took with its tablet computer. That interface is not so different from what most computers have been using since the mid-1980s.
In contrast, Mr. Jobs said that multitouch drastically simplified the process of controlling a computer.

What is clear is that Apple seems set to use its October 20 event to whet interest in its new OS.

After all, it needs to begin to publicize some of the features of the NeXT iteration of its OS in advance of next year's WWDC, when, theoretically, it will be seeding developers with a mature -- though likely still pre-launch -- operating system.

I'm very excited at what we might see. It is also quite possible Apple will begin a move toward cloud-based computing with this release.

Some out there may recall this summer's Apple recruitment ad which asked for a software engineer prepared to help create an operating system that had "never been seen before". Here's the job description:

Are you looking to help create something totally new? Something that has never been done before and will truly amaze everyone? Are you excited by the prospect that what you helped create would be used every day by millions of Apple customers? Then come and work on with the Mac OS X software engineering team to help build a new and revolutionary feature for Mac OS X

We are looking for a senior software engineer to help us create a revolutionary new feature in the very foundations of Mac OS X. We have something truly revolutionary and really exciting in progress and it is going to require your most creative and focused efforts ever.

An ideal candidate will have a degree in Computer Science (or equivalent), five years of professional experience developing C / C++ / Objective-C libraries or frameworks for use on end user systems, experience with developing for Internet technologies and services, and a passion for doing "really hard" things that have never been done before.

An exceptional candidate will also have up close and personal experience with the HTTP protocol as well as other protocols layered atop it, have participated in or lead the architecture of large web scale systems, have shipped multiple "platforms" for use by millions of users.

That list of requirements goes some way toward suggesting Mac OS X 10.7 will be more integrated in the Web and networking.

Given Apple's move within Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) to harness the processing power of the GPU for central tasks and the move to extinguish all legacy PowerPC code from the OS, then we have a lean beast ready for deployment -- perhaps on a wider range of devices than ever before?

Bear in mind that "Revolutionary is Apple's buzzword for its most advanced and important products. At present, touch and iOS are the most revolutionary of these. This is not to say the revolution will not be mobilized -- there could be another circulation waiting in the wings -- but its a fairly good bet we're looking at the mythical iOS integration (do it as a dashboard widget and work from there)."

Daring Fireball's John Gruber earlier this year made a claim Mac OS X 10.7 had been scheduled to make a brief appearance at WWDC this year, but this was then delayed. Development of the OS was then maintained by a smaller team.

Recent reports have claimed Apple has diverted some key engineers from its video teams to focus on iOS. Could there focus have also included work on some of the features of the new cloud-based, touchy-feely Mac OS X 10.7?

At present we're all speculation and questions. But I'm looking forward to finding out more during Apple's event next week.

In related news, iLife and iWork are reportedly now sold out at some Apple retail stores, with the current versions available at steep discounts on Amazon in the US.