updated 8/24/2009 5:23:24 PM ET 2009-08-24T21:23:24

Apple Inc.'s latest operating system software, Snow Leopard, will go on sale this Friday.

The Mac OS X version 10.6 software will debut at Apple's retail stores and authorized resellers nationwide. Apple's online store is now taking pre-orders.

Snow Leopard's release comes days before its promised September launch. It precedes by two months the launch of Microsoft Corp.'s next operating system, Windows 7.

(Msnbc.com is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Among Snow Leopard's improvements is built-in support for Microsoft's Exchange Server software, so Apple programs for e-mail, calendars and contacts could become more useful in corporate settings.

Apple said Snow Leopard is half the size of the previous version, freeing up to 7 gigabytes of storage space when installed. It requires a minimum of 1 gigabyte of RAM and runs on Macs using an Intel processor.

Users of Mac OS X Leopard, or version 10.5, can upgrade to the latest version for $29 for single users and $49 for a family pack of five users. For Apple owners using the Tiger operating system, or version 10.4, on an Intel-based Mac, switching to Snow Leopard costs $169 for single users and $229 for a family pack.

Consumers who buy a qualifying Mac from June 8 to Dec. 26 can purchase the Snow Leopard upgrade for $9.95. Users must request an upgrade within 90 days of purchase or Dec. 26, whichever comes first.

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