Apple released the gold master of its latest and greatest operating system, Mac OS X Lion, this Friday, in a move that positions the company for a July roll-out.

A gold master is computer parlance indicating that Apple is done making changes to the software, and the final version has been minted, which is then destined for retail and virtual shelves.

Current MacBooks from Apple are powered by Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), which was released in June 2009. The new OS X Lion represents a quantum leap forward in terms of OS advancement.

While product refreshes are generally a standard practice (faster, better, same cost), we believe the MacBook Airs could eventually replace the traditional white MacBook that remains in the line currently, said Ben Reitzes, an analyst at Barclays Capital.

Reitzes also note that Apple is preparing to ship its next MacBook Air, and retail checks are already showing slimming inventories of the current model.

This means there is a pending MacBook Air refresh, and that would be coupled with the new operating system. He believes this could happen within a matter of week.

Apple has also said that it will ship Lion this month, though it did not give a concrete date.

Historically the company has moved form a gold master to a bon-a-fide release within two weeks.

The Cupertino Calif-based company introduced the new operating system on June 6 at its annual World Wide Developer Conference.

Apple's VP of Product Marketing Phil Schiller explained that there was 250 new features in the software, including some features pulled from innovations from adapted from the iPhone and the iPad.

In addition to the new touchpad capabilities and the apps and services that can run in full screen mode, there is a revamped Mission Control, the service that allows users to see all the applications that are running on their desktop at a given time.

Lion includes a simpler way to find applications. With a pinch gesture on the trackpad, all the applications show up on the screen.

The software is not just a welcome development for users. Analysts are expecting the new software to boost Apple's margins as well.

BMO Capital's Keith Bachman projects Apple's gross profit margin will grow by 1 percentage point, leading to an incremental 40 cents per share in profit in the September-ending fiscal fourth quarter.

The new software will be available in July, the company said. Upgrades will be $29.99


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