The next major version of Apple's Mac OS is one big step closer to being released.
Today Apple offered developers the gold master seed of the software. That's typically the same build users get when the software is released.
At its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June, Apple announced that it would be releasing Lion as a $29.99 update to users in July, though it did not specify a particular date. Today's GM seed suggests that the release will be much earlier in the month, possibly as soon as next week.
With Snow Leopard, Apple's previous Mac OS release, the time between going from gold master status to hitting store shelves was approximately two weeks. However that release required that Apple stamp and produce boxed discs to send out to retail stores. Lion will be the first by Apple to be released only through its Mac App Store as a digital download.
Because users first need to be Snow Leopard users, the update requires that users are running the latest version of Apple's Mac OS software. Apple released OS X 10.6.8 a few weeks ago, which included tweaks to the Mac App Store software to ease the transition to Lion.
Apple says Lion packs in "over 250 new features." The OS first made its debut at an event dubbed "Back to the Mac" in October, where the company also launched its second-generation MacBook Air and iLife '11 software. Among the headlining features are support for full-screen applications, more multitouch gestures, system resume, auto save for app data, AirDrop file transfer, and a feature called "Launchpad" that mimics the icon-based app launcher in iOS.