Depending on whom you believe, Apple's early release of Snow Leopard is either a brilliant marketing stroke or won't make one bit of difference in the end. What some people forget is that maybe, just maybe, Apple is shipping 10.6 this week because it could. The work was wrapped up, the DVD pressing plants had the capacity and so they went for it.
Now some suggest that this wider window of opportunity will give Apple a change to expend a tremendous amount of money to push Snow Leopard adoption. However, with a $29 purchase price and over a year of advance publicity, I don't think selling upgrade kits is a major problem; that's going to take care of itself. Apple's focus is on selling Macs, and the ones on which Snow Leopard is preloaded are no doubt already on their way to dealers.
What you're seeing instead is what are essentially two heavy-duty service packs being marketed in diametrically opposed ways, may the better product win.
Now whether or not Snow Leopard arrived early isn't such a big deal to Apple. After all, the majority of Mac users have already upgraded to Leopard, and the surface differences aren't vast. Yes, there are highly-touted performance advantages to 10.6, but a lot of that also depends on Mac developers coming out with apps that take advantage of the improved multiprocessor and graphic card features. Having a Cocoa-based Finder doesn't really do much, if anything, from a visual standpoint. It's just back-end programming stuff that may impact performance and compatibility, but won't be obvious to most of you.
The enterprise will be pleased to find a more complete Microsoft Exchange Server experience. As some have observed, Microsoft's Entourage component of Office for the Mac can be a maddening application to use, and its support for Exchange has never been all that good. True, maybe its successor, Outlook for the Mac, will have more significant features and decent reliability, but having most of what they need available speedy and reliable apps that come free with the system might be sufficient.
And, besides, Microsoft must be truly enjoying those Apple checks that cover the ActiveSync licenses for Snow Leopard and the iPhone.
In any case, Snow Leopard is a refinement, period. End of story.
When it comes to Windows 7, Microsoft wants to create the fictional message that it's somehow a major OS upgrade, when it's really nothing of the sort. In large part, Microsoft is doing to Windows what Apple did to Mac OS X. They are cleaning up many of the rough spots in Vista, making it leaner and meaner, in the hope that more businesses will choose to upgrade from XP.
However, the name Vista carries with it the stench of failure, so Microsoft, in its infinite lack of wisdom, decided the best approach to take was to rename the product. That's why MSN Search became Windows Live Search, which became Bing. If at first you don't succeed, call it something else and pretend it is different.
With Windows 7, Microsoft also added some surface fluff to enforce the impression that there is really something new, and their band of fanboys have been polluting the net with loads of puff pieces about how the upgrade is the bee's knees of operating systems.
Microsoft desperately wants to change history. They want to pretend that maybe Vista never existed, and that they've come up with a brand new product that will set the PC world afire.
They surely need some good news. Remember that most Windows 7 sales won't be for upgrade packs, but to PC makers, who are coming off a serious sales slump and want to move customers past netbooks and other cheap flirtations and back to the gear from which they make real profits.
Oh yes, Microsoft claims that Windows 7 will deliver decent performance on a netbook too, and maybe it will. But I won't accept fawning reviews of prerelease versions of the OS as evidence that this is true, or close to true. But let's not forget that the reason so many netbooks ship with Windows XP is because Microsoft has cut prices to the bone. Do they plan to do the same with Windows 7? And if they don't, are we really going to see a big uptake, or will tens of millions of netbooks still ship with XP until Microsoft shuts the door for once and forever on such practices?
While I realize that businesses can't suddenly dump millions of PCs and get Macs to replace them, the real question is whether Microsoft can recover all the ground it lost as the result of the Vista debacle. Let's forget about all the nonsense that spews forth from the mouth of their chief maniac, Steve Ballmer. Will tens of millions of Windows users want to subject themselves to the drudgery of an OS upgrade, or will they be willing to buy a new PC and not downgrade to XP?
That remains Microsoft's worst nightmare, whereas Apple has little or nothing to worry about when it comes to the Snow Leopard upgrade. It's already a huge success. Just check the sales charts at Apple's online store and Amazon.
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