In the scheme of things, the day an operating system is released probably isn't terribly significant. But since there was a huge publicity run-up to Tiger's debut, April 29th was important for many of you. But now, as the Tiger era ends its first three months, maybe it's time to sit back and take stock of what Apple has wrought.
It's highly encouraging to know that Apple managed to get Tiger out on schedule, which is an achievement you've got to take seriously, considering that Mac OS X, since its original release, has appeared like clockwork. Microsoft must be jealous. At the same time, it's clear to me that 10.4 could have simmered in the development labs a few more weeks to massage away those early release bugs. Since Apple seems to prefer Friday release dates for its operating systems, June 24th would have kept it on its preordained path of the first half of 2005, yet yielded a more reliable product.
It's not that many of you confronted a raft of mysterious crashes when setting up Tiger. Most of the problems affected business users, particularly when connecting via VPN to corporate networks or hooking up with Windows computers. The problems, some of which still exist, have been well documented at John Rizzo's MacWindows site. Since easy cross-platform networking is widely touted by Apple, it's particularly significant that things haven't quite worked out as planned.
To be fair, the 10.4.1 and 10.4.2 updates fixed a slew of problems, dozens and dozens of issues affecting a number of areas. Even if you aren't concerned with networking with Windows boxes or using VPN, you'll appreciate the improvements in widget management, particularly the superior control over installation and removal. No doubt there is a 10.4.3 on the horizon that will address even more early release bugs. I am quite certain that Apple's operating system team is dedicated to making Tiger as trouble-free as possible. In fact, my experiences have been almost uniformly positive, perhaps because I haven't been impacted by any of the irritants others have reported.
In fact, I have upgraded a number of clients to Tiger in the past three months, and nobody has complained. But, once again, I deal mostly with home and small business users, folks who aren't affected by the more serious problems.
But Apple is at the crossroads. For the first time in years, the Mac's market share is on the increase. Whether the alleged iPod "halo" effect, or ongoing disgust with Windows doesn't matter. There are hundreds of thousands of new Mac users and, as I've said before, first impressions count for a lot. Things are supposed to be better on this side of the tracks. The operating system is supposedly easier to use and more reliable. Windows switchers no doubt cherish the freedom from viruses, spyware and mysterious system slow-downs. To be sure, we're probably just lucky that there haven't been any Mac viruses, other than so-called "proofs of concept," in the past few years.
But if Apple fails to deliver on the promise of a computing appliance that just works, you can bet these Windows switchers aren't going to give Macs a second chance. What's more, with Microsoft apparently beginning to get its act together with its newly minted Windows Vista, it's clear that Apple will be facing a huge challenge over the next year to remain a viable alternative. Microsoft will be dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into a marketing campaign that will make Vista appear to be the greatest operating system ever created by man. It won't matter that many of its most significant features are already available, today, in Mac OS X. It won't matter that it's late, that some of the highly touted features either won't appear, or will show up at a later date.
By the fall of 2006, personal computer users will be inundated with broadcasting, print and online advertising claiming that their next personal computer must come with Windows Vista. The name may, in the scheme of things, seem silly, and you can make all the jokes you want about its various definitions. But one thing is certain: When Microsoft's marketing machine runs fill tilt, it'll be difficult for any alternative to get a fair shake.
This doesn't mean that Apple can't overcome the "Redmond Machine's" marketing muscle. During the second half of 2006, the first Macs with Intel Inside will no doubt become available. Apple will be putting the final touches on Leopard, 10.5, and it will have its chance to raise the bar even further with capabilities that Microsoft won't be able to emulate for years to come.
The initial round of Macintels must be as trouble-free as possible, and I just hope that Leopard isn't rushed to market, as Tiger was. The stakes are far too high for Apple to fall down on the job.
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