PETER SVENSSONNEW YORK (AP) ¿ While Microsoft Corp. prepares to release the next incarnation of Windows on Oct. 22, Apple Inc. is cutting ahead, launching a new version of its operating system for Mac computers on Friday. Apple's new Snow Leopard software isn't as big of a step forward from its predecessor as Windows 7 will be from Windows Vista. The most important changes in the Apple operating system are under the hood, allowing software developers to rewrite their programs to run much faster. Snow Leopard is a relatively cheap upgrade, costing $29 for an individual user who has Leopard, the previous operating system. A "family pack" for five users costs $49. For Mac owners using the older Tiger operating system, switching to Snow Leopard costs $169, or $229 for a family pack. That "box set" includes the latest iLife and iWork software for such tasks as movie editing, photo organizing and word processing. Buying the DVD is the only upgrade option for consumers ¿ you can't download the software. What's the catch? Well, part of the reason Snow Leopard can promise faster, better applications is that it's designed for Macs with Intel chips, which Apple started using in early 2006. It won't run on older Macs with the previous PowerPC family of chips. The launch of the new operating system is a hint to get a new computer.