- The Tech Night Owl — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com -

The Leopard Report: Should Apple Try to Upstage Windows Vista?

In the software development game, few things are certain. However, it does appear to me that Microsoft has little alternative but to get its Windows Vista operating system out the door before the end of the year. Sure it’s late, and yes features were jettisoned along the way, but it’s been years since the last major upgrade appeared, and Microsoft needs those upgrade dollars to keep the profits rolling in. And consider its credibility, such as it is.

It will be a hard sell, though. Believe it or not, lots of companies have standardized on Windows 2000 and are only now deploying Windows XP on their systems. While you and I spend lots of time reading about the latest and greatest, it doesn’t work that way in the business world. There upgrading to a new operating system, particularly the Windows variety, is a humongous undertaking that must be approached carefully. A misstep may leave computers inoperable, which means that critical functions will be crippled. Imagine, for example, being unable to accept orders for your products or services.

So it’s widely expected that the large part of initial Windows Vista sales will go to home users, small businesses or to folks who just bought a new PC.

At the same time, all we know about Mac OS 10.5, or Leopard, is that it may appear before the end of this year or the early part of 2007. No doubt little word will leak on the new system before WWDC 2006, and that event will likely happen during the latter part of June. Some are also expecting the first unveiling of an Intel-based professional Mac, to be dubbed Mac Pro. It makes sense to me, but may be a tad premature.

In any case, you’ve already heard about a few rumors and wish lists, but the real thing will no doubt still come as one huge surprise to everyone. But let’s forget the new features and look at the marketing. As the summer passes into fall, you can bet that Microsoft will be rolling hundreds of million dollars into touting the joys of Windows Vista. The fact that Mac OS Tiger trumped it with desktop search and other features won’t matter. Microsoft will no doubt blast the news about its enhanced security, spiffy new interface and all the rest.

This isn’t to say that Apple can’t get itself heard. Clearly the reverse is true. But is it worth fighting tooth and nail against Microsoft with its own operating system, or just let Windows Vista get its moment of glory unchallenged? After all, while Microsoft blows lots of cash on something that isn’t very sexy in the scheme of things, Apple can continue to sell iPods and any other consumer electronics gear it has available. When you look at your holiday shopping list this year, what would look better as a stocking stuffer? A shrink-wrapped version of a new computer operating system, or a spanking new iPod?

Will customers actually line up to be first in line to get a copy of Windows Vista, as they did in the days of Windows 95? I really don’t think it’ll gain that sort of traction, because operating system upgrades are no longer as significant as they used to be in the scheme of things. Sure, Apple gets one out every 12 to 18 months these days, but a growing part of its sales are no longer related to personal computers.

I have every reason to believe that Leopard can be released before the end of the year, and perhaps just ahead of Windows Vista. I have every reason to believe that WWDC 2006 will include a long demonstration touting its coolest features, both the ones that developers care about and the ones you and I care about. If it doesn’t force Mac developers, already heavily immersed in the transition to Universal binaries, to have to make more sweeping changes, the upgrade path may be reasonably simple for almost everyone.

Apple is known to do the unpredictable. From a logical point of view, it may not make sense to unleash a new operating system to go against Windows Vista while, at the same time pushing iPods and other consumer electronics gear. And, of course, completing the migration to Intel processors. There’s the danger of rushing Leopard into market with potentially significant bugs. Frankly, I feel that Tiger got out the door just a little early and some of the early networking bugs might have been massaged out of the system if it was given a little more quality control.

However, Apple really jumped the gun on the initial phases of its Intel transition, and so far the chatter about the new iMac is pretty good. You may wish for more Universal applications, but you’ve got to feel amazed it has all come together so well.

But what if the professional Mac desktop, whatever it’s called, is out by early fall or late summer? Would that give Apple sufficient time to finish Leopard? What if that Mac came out preloaded with Leopard, say a few weeks ahead of Vista? Another way for Steve Jobs to stick it to Bill Gates? You heard it here first!