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  • The Mountain Lion Report: Too Quick?

    February 24th, 2012

    Just as developers and Mac users became accustomed to OS upgrades happening every two years, Apple turned that expectation on its head with Mountain Lion. It's a return to the early days of Mac OS X, where key features had to be fleshed out, and needed features added, so releases were relatively frequent. As the OS matured, Apple indicated that the pace of releases would slow.

    Well, they did for a while, but Apple is, if anything, unpredictable. Think about the expected release of the iPhone 4's successor last summer, which ended up happening in the fall. Apple even suffered a shortfall in iPhone sales and customers hung out on the sidelines waiting for the upgrade. Of course, when the iPhone 4s appeared, despite all the performance boosts and the arrival of the iconic Siri personal assistant, the media attacked Apple because the case looked the same.

    Now until last Thursday, the media and industry analysts expected the next version of Mac OS X, which would carry the version number 10.8, would appear some time in mid-2013, although Apple might offer a preview at this year's WWDC. I even made the same assumption, but I'm pleased to have been proven wrong.

    But the impending arrival of Mountain Lion may be more of a threat rather than a promise to some developers who are still struggling to make their apps Lion savvy. While most recent apps run fine under 10.7, there are episodes of flakiness, and forget about support for key Lion features, such as Auto Save and Versions. Sure, neither is perfect, but they'd sure be nice to have in your favorite apps.

    This is not to say that Lion-savvy apps will suddenly become incompatible with Mountain Lion, since it merely expands upon 10.7's features for the most part. So an app can support Auto Save but not the Notification Center, but that shouldn't be a serious problem. You can still use Growl for alerts, if the app supports that, or at least that's my assumption since Growl will evidently continue to be developed.

    However, a developer in the midst of a Lion update will certainly want to check the Mountain Lion betas and the newest version of Xcode, Apple's developer software, and developer documentation of course, to see how much further work needs to be done to cover both bases. Or maybe get the Lion version out now, and deal with Mountain Lion down the road. Between now and Mountain Lion's release, it's a virtual lock that Apple will continue to make changes, and developers will be chasing a moving target.

    From my look at the prerelease version of Mountain Lion, on which current reports about the new OS are based, it doesn't look all that different when you give it a casual look. It's not the same as Microsoft, which has  nasty habit of confounding Windows users with such unrequested features as ribbons and the so-far failed Metro interface without really improving the user experience. Even though Apple has overhauled some system apps to closely resemble their iOS cousins, you aren't forced to change your ways all that much. Messages, which Lion users can download now as a public beta, gives you the very same Buddy List to which you're already accustomed in iChat. The preferences appear to be mostly the same. The message window is different, for better or worse, but there's nothing there that will confuse you.

    That Address Book has been rebranded as Contacts only makes sense, and the interface has been cleaned up. No big deal. And looking over the rest of Apple's "tentpole" changes, it does appear that Apple has either improved usability or left well enough alone. Certainly if you're accustomed to the iOS way of doing things, moving between mobile and desktop will be smoothed.

    So it does seem that Mountain Lion is a more mature upgrade than Lion. You aren't saddled with such controversial interface changes as reverse (or natural) scrolling, and part-time scrollbars. Forget about Launchpad, although a new search feature does make it slightly more usable. To me, Mountain Lion seems more intuitive overall.

    But I do wonder what's going to happen to the Lion upgrade rate among Mac users. Obviously every new Mac will be preloaded with Lion until Mountain Lion takes over, but how many Mac users are going to buy the current upgrade with yet another OS arriving in a few months? If you haven't already upgraded to Lion, and don't plan on buying a new Mac anytime soon, there's no harm in waiting at this point. You see, it does appear from the preliminary documentation that you'll be able to install Mountain Lion direct from a Snow Leopard installation. Sure, a number of Macs from 2008 and earlier are no longer supported, but that's nothing new for Apple. You have to expect this four or five-year window of compatibility. Apple would prefer to sell you a new Mac rather than just an OS upgrade.

    But that also means that my son's early 2008 black MacBook dead ends at Lion. As a result, he's probably going to ask his dad for a present this summer, I expect, so I better start saving.



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    15 Responses to “The Mountain Lion Report: Too Quick?”

    1. Jim H. says:

      Gene,

      This looks like the first outward sign of post-Steve. My impression is that Apple is cutting into the release of MS 8 w/o regard to the impact on the community. Coupled with the "we're going to be more responsive to shareholders" means Apple is gonna be another Sony. They will worry about the bottom line and work toward it. Steve was aware of the bottom line but worked toward the consumer not the shareholder. Since shareholders buy stock and consumers buy Apple hardware. It will definitely change the flavor of our favorite fruit.

      Regards,

      Jim

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Jim H., Mountain Lion wasn't something cobbled together to address the perceived "threat" of Windows 8. Having spent some face time with the prerelease, I can tell you that it evinces careful development, and is clearly part of a long-term product strategy. I've little doubt that Steve was very much involved in the initial planning stages.

      As to the issue of being "responsive" to shareholders is concerned, that's just a natural progression of a company that has become so large so fast. It doesn't portend another Sony, since Apple picks and chooses product segments and model lineups carefully, and there's no evidence that's going to change. Cook says it won't, but certainly his leadership is more even-handed, and more nuanced.

      Peace,
      Gene

    2. Ted says:

      Yes, coming out with a "new" operating system within a year of Lion is a poor strategic move by Apple. It shows Steve is no longer at the helm. He could care less about Win8, let it fall, then 12 months from now, then come in, bury it.

      The real problem is it creates another "permutation", so new / existing users will be confused. Do you have Lion? Snow Leopard? Tiger? Leopard? ... oh, you have Mountain Lion! ---- will be a common occurrence since Steve isn't around to say "NO"...

      Tim Cook... WAKE UP!

      There is zero reason to have a new "OS" right now... pace yourself... this is how companies fall... too many options, which messes up customers, the supply chain, technical support and the Apple "image" of simplicity.

      Tim Cook... WAKE UP!

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Ted, It is very naive to believe that Steve wasn't in on the planning of Mountain Lion before he left us. If anything, Mountain Lion simply reinforces Apple's strategy of unifying more of the user experiences between OS X and the iOS. That makes perfect sense from a marketing point of view.

      Zero reason? Sorry, and because you inserted a fake email address, that of a certain deceased corporate executive, and you are unwilling to provide a genuine email address, it makes it hard to take you seriously. What are you afraid of?

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Jim C. says:

      I haven't looked at Mountain Lion yet, so I'll reserve comment on it. But why on earth would Apple start making product decisions to appease shareholders? That one doesn't make a lick of sense. I'm guessing that Mountain Lion is the basis of, or at least a key component of those products in the pipeline that Tim Cook says are going to blow our minds. Bring them on, Tim.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Jim C., Indeed, there's no evidence that Apple is making product decisions to appease anyone. That Apple modified the process for electing board members doesn't mean much in the real world, except to follow corporate practice in most other companies. But since the board members routinely get over 80% of the vote, it's a non-issue, except to folks looking for Apple to suddenly swerve in a new direction because Cook is at the helm.

      Peace,
      Gene

    4. DaveD says:

      I don't mind the change in the pacing of upgrades. It shows me that Apple is not resting on its laurels and the Mac platform is still very important. To me it is all about the movement towards the unification of the user experience across all devices.

      One would decide if the upgrade is desirable. If so, will the Mac will support it? If not then staying on with an OS X version that works isn't that bad except for web browser support of future HTML standards.

      Check out another desktop OS, a Linux variant, Ubuntu. Yearly upgrade? Hah! It's semi-annual.

    5. Scott Sterling says:

      Gene, I expect iOS and OS X to become more alike in three very broad ways. One, they'll get onto almost the same release schedule, annual updates in roughly late summer. Two, each update will keep them both at feature parity, whether new features or upgrades. Three, I think they'll both cost the same amount: $0.

      Another way of saying it, I think Apple is going to start treating iOS and OS X more like two versions of the same thing.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Scott Sterling, I'm with you part way on this, but I do not think Apple is going to give Mountain Lion away. $29.99 yes, maybe cheaper, possibly. But not free.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Scott Sterling says:

      Heres why I think OS X will have to be free: iOS is free. And the two are converging, so to speak.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Scott Sterling, Still doubtful. Apple gave away the 10.1 update if you got a copy from a dealer. But it was otherwise a retail product.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. Shameer M. says:

      @Gene

      Considering there's approximately 60 million Mac users & it's to Apple's and developers' advantage that users keep upgrading their OS, I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that Apple gives away OSX for free. If they really wanted to make money off of OS releases, they would charge for iOS since there's about 4X as many iOS users than Mac users.

      It's no secret that Apple makes money off the entire product, not the OS, like Microsoft.

    8. Scott Sterling says:

      Here's another reason all OS X upgrades will be free: what a sweet way to put a hurting on Microsoft. "Buy a Mac get free OS upgrades, buy a Windows machine and pay for your upgrades."

    9. Ted says:

      @Gene - Sure, Steve was likely involved with ML, and probably 2+ OSes past it... My point is the "timing". It's too quick to have another 10.x release, it causes too many problems for users, developers, retailers, etc. Yes, Win8 is the likely reason, but Steve wouldn't have stooped to that level, he would have waited, polished ML then "next" summer release ML.

      My email is that of a "certain deceased corporate executive"... hilarious! everyone that comments knows to never use a real address on these systems, email harvesting is too rampant... but thanks for the concern.

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Ted, Please read our privacy policy. We don't publish email addresses, and we don't harvest them. If you continue to use a fake address, no more postings will be allowed.

      As to the timing: The assumption that Apple rushed Mountain Lion is without support. The assumption that Jobs wouldn't have allowed this release to appear a year after Lion is also without support.

      Peace,
      Gene

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