The Leopard Report: The Rush Release Rant!

July 13th, 2006

Look at the situation right now. Microsoft has thrown wasted some $8 to $9 billion struggling to get Windows Vista and office 2007 out at some amorphous time next year. Yes, I know Bill Gates says there’s an 80% certainty that Vista will be available to consumers in January, but I take that with a grain of salt.

The money? I suppose, with the S.E.C. and the EU watching his every move, the information is most likely accurate. Now look at how many years Apple Computer has failed to achieve revenue at that level, and now consider the total amount that has been spent developing every single version of Mac OS X, and it doesn’t approach that figure. Not even close!

In case you tuned in late, you’ve read lots and lots of reports that Apple will unveil the specifics about Mac OS 10.5 Leopard at the WWDC in August. It doesn’t matter what those details might be, or whether there will be subsequent revelations of still more features.

The real issue is when it’ll be released! Here, the betting is that it’ll happen in time for the news of an immediate or near-term shipping date to be revealed at Macworld San Francisco in January. That would put it on a possible collision course with Windows Vista. While this might sound good in principle, in practice it is fraught with potential land mines. Let’s not forget that Microsoft will be staging a major marketing campaign with a possible investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps more.

No matter where you go during Vista’s debut, you’ll hear about it. It’ll spill out of the pages of your favorite magazines and newspapers, and you can bet that you won’t be able to spend more than a few minutes online without seeing a banner about it, and forget about escaping those TV ads, unless you keep your remote’s fast forward button on, and you record all your programs in advance. That is, of course, if ABC doesn’t have its way and makes the cable and satellite providers disable the fast forward feature on a digital video recorder when commercials are being played. Sigh!

Apple might attempt to compete with that onslaught with plenty of marketing dollars of its own. It does have a fairly substantial cash war chest to dig into, should the need arise. On the other hand, the best solution is just to get Leopard out first, and beat Vista by a few weeks or even a few months, if possible.

That creates enormous pressure on Apple’s programmers, and with the lucrative holiday season in sight, is it possible that Leopard will be released before Thanksgiving? That would give Mac developers only a three-month window of opportunity to get their stuff updated to support the new operating system or take advantage of its most entertaining and/or important features.

But what if Leopard’s fundamentals are designed to remain compatible with 99% of existing apps? That way, support wouldn’t be a serious problem, and software might only need modest updates to take advantage of new tools to activate new or changed features. That’s something that might be done quickly with a simple and free update.

In that event, Apple might be able to rush the release of Leopard without causing developers nightmares. On the other hand — and this is the big factor — it has to be absolutely reliable!

This is not a trivial factor. Consider the initial release of Tiger. Folks who required VPN to log into corporate networks, or in need of absolute reliability in connecting to cross-platform networks were sorely disappointed. It took a while to get things together, even though some of it was the fault of third-parties. At the end of the day, even 10.4.7 may not be perfect, and it came out more than 14 months after Tiger debuted.

Apple may get away with a few minor bugs or poorly implemented features. But show-stoppers that cause grief are going to hurt, and hurt badly. If all goes as planned, hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Windows switchers will be buying Leopard upgrades, or new Macs with Leopard preloaded. If things don’t “just work,” there is the danger that they’ll be tempted to return to the “Dark Side” once Vista appears.

My memo to Apple: If you can get Leopard out early, that’s great! But make sure it works properly first!

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13 Responses to “The Leopard Report: The Rush Release Rant!”

  1. Keith says:

    And let’s not forget when Panther 10.3 was first shipped. Hosed firewire drives everywhere. In retrospect I’m glad I was unable to procure a copy on the day it was released and had a few weeks to read the reports and fixes available.

  2. Rick Ruffin says:

    Tiger has continued to work in an inconsistent manner with my work Cicso VPN. The work IT guys (all Windows/Novel experts) just kinda smile and throw up their hands. It is very embarrassing. VPN connections are a small part of the Mac OS experience, but ones that, when not working, really hurt the platform’s image in the enterprise world.

  3. Frodo says:

    But what if Leopard’s fundamentals are designed to remain compatible with 99% of existing apps? That way, support wouldn’t be a serious problem, and software might only need modest updates to take advantage of new tools to activate new or changed features. That’s something that might be done quickly with a simple and free update.

    Good lord, man. If you’re not a software developer, I wouldn’t write about software development. You stick to heart surgery and let the more technically inclined speculate on technical matters.

  4. Good lord, man. If you’re not a software developer, I wouldn’t write about software development. You stick to heart surgery and let the more technically inclined speculate on technical matters.

    I presume, then, that you ARE a software developer and now you can tell us why it’s impossible for Apple to keep Leopard from destroying application compatibility 🙂

    The world awaits your response.


  5. Jim says:

    I couldn’t find any other place to send you this feedback, so apologies for entering it here:

    Why does the page width on this site have to be so insanely wide? I work on a PowerBook with limited screen real estate, and not being able to make the window narrower at your site makes it difficult to read. Also, having line lengths this long in text violates a longstanding rule for designing readable text: a reader should be able to take in on line of type with at most 3 eye movements. To do that on this site, I have to make the type ridiculously large and sit back from the computer.

    Please add a flexible page width to this site. Thank you!

  6. Jeffsters says:

    Gene is correct here. The change from Tiger to Leopard will be similar to the Panther to Tiger upgrade. We all know that there are some apps, even in a X.X.X release that need some tweak. Usually however, it’s supposed to work, where as long as the developer used documented API’s and such, unless Apple’s introduced a bug, which they at times do, all should be well. If an app wants to take advantage of Leopard specific features it’s going to require an update. The positive here though is WWDC in August. Apple will be giving developers more than enough time for a majority of developers to get their aps ready. There are some that in the course of this effort will discover other issues which often causes further delays etc. I don’t expect Leopard to be without issues of it’s own or that some aps won’t have issues, but I think BOTH Apple and it’s developers have gotten better at this and we shouldn’t see any show stoppers.

  7. brent lee (webmaster macnightowl) says:

    Hello Jim,

    The is no wider then or Apple hardware like the MacBookPro or or any other big time site. You can view the screen statistics at the W3Today as of January 2006, 57% of users have a resolution of 1024×768, 17% are even larger. We just want to stay with the times for 2006.

    Sorry for the inconvenience:(

  8. brent lee (webmaster macnightowl) says:

    And if have a question or concern you can email us up directly by using the email link at the bottom of the page.


  9. Stevew says:

    When Tiger was released Apple stated that the API was now stable and would not be altered, just added to. I would expect far fewer problems for existing apps being run under Leopard.

    On a different note Apple has historically been very poor at handling upgrade procedures. At best they are half-baked, one size fits all procedures with very little room for adjustment. This needs a complete overhaul. The receipts based system is far from bulletproof and the upgrade process needs to offer far more info to the user.

    I sent feedback to Apple years ago detailing a system to make upgrading a surefire process but very little progress has been made.

  10. Max says:

    I believe Vista will have a 6-8 months of really hard worldwide propaganda. After that, the new “Vista” era will be installed for good, leaving the others to make their moves. But, a first move of Apple wont give Vista some arguments against it? Wont it be easier to try to put Leopard down? They´ll suck every single bug/problem out of Leopard and use it to convince people? Wont Windows switchers be impressed? Apple needs to be better, always, and my guess is that they´re gonna lounch Leopard after Vista, at least 6 months after, by June `07.

  11. Terry says:

    As web-master for a media company, we’ve struggled with the idea of moving to a 1024 768 layout. we’ve decided to hold off one more year. Many sub notebooks and office desktops still like 800 600.

    The flexible width on this page works fine here.

  12. Jeff Mincey says:

    If Apple releases Leopard prior to the release of Vista, that’s great, but I would be strongly opposed to Apple’s development and QA teams rushing Leopard to market IN ORDER TO beat Leopard to market. I mean, why? What’s the point?

    Vista will get its news and marketing day in the sun irrespective of the timing of its release. Nothing Apple can do about that. Meanwhile, so long as Apple doesn’t release Leopard at the same time as Vista, it (Apple) will likewise get its own share of coverage with the release of Leopard. I have heard no one say that in recent years Apple has not been getting its fair share of media coverage — particularly not when you measure it as a percentage of market share.

    So what is the relevance of timing?

    I would much rather that Apple’s QA take great care to ensure that Leopard is rock solid. Yes, there will always be glitches here and there and unforeseen problems which require adjustments, but let’s keep this to a minimum. I see no compelling reason to beat Vista to market and I don’t think it will affect the sale of a SINGLE Mac model one way or the other. So let’s leave Apple to focus on solid development, and Vista can take care of itself.

  13. cartographer says:

    I would never want to be fair to Dell. Michael Dell was one quoted as saying not only in 1997, but again in 2003 that
    Apple should sell the company to its shareholders and close up shop. Obviously he does not view Apple’s competition in a fair light. Until he retracts his statement I wouldn’t want to be one buying his products.

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