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  • 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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