The Leopard Report: The Rush to Judgment

August 11th, 2006

Think about it for a moment. Mac OS X Leopard is months away from release. The entire feature set hasn’t been announced, and we have only a glimmer of an idea of the extra goodies that developers are seeing on the preview DVDs they got this week from Apple at the WWDC. During the keynote presentation, Steve Jobs made it perfectly clear that some features were still “Top Secret,” which means that we won’t know about them, officially at least, until Apple decides to lift the curtain.

I do not, however, buy the explanation that Apple fears Microsoft is going to attempt to copy those features in Windows Vista. It is way too late for that to happen, and it’s also true that Microsoft is a preferred Apple partner and its Mac Business Unit is being seeded with early versions of Leopard as soon as they are available.

The real truth is probably a lot more mundane, and I’m just guessing here. Aside from marketing impact, it’s quite possible there are components of Leopard that just aren’t ready to show off. An operating system isn’t one sprawling product, but it consists of a number of parts. So a new Finder, which may offer not just a changed interface, but enhanced methods of file navigation, could be in development, but it won’t be rolled into the betas until the time is right, or it’s stable enough for outsiders to see.

I am not, however, suggesting there will be a new Finder. Maybe there will only be bug fixes to address its well-known performance issues, the ones we’ve all complained about. Maybe all we’ll see is the ability to recognize a file share is no longer on a network immediately, rather than hang up the system for long minutes. Maybe you’ll be able to copy three or four separate sets of files to various drives without bringing the speediest Mac to its knees.

Despite the early stage of Leopard development and information about its feature-set, some elements of the Mac and Windows blogging community are even now ranting about whether it’s going to be a worthwhile upgrade or not. The comparisons with Vista, favorable and otherwise, has already begun.

That, to me, is like looking at the wheels of a car, ignoring all else, and making a final purchase decision. Surely they’re being premature.

Remember, Apple’s WWDC, despite getting so much public attention, is largely aimed at the Mac developer community. While it was a great marketing opportunity to introduce the Mac Pro, it also gives developers a chance to begin to work with the newest tools to update their applications to be Leopard savvy.

At the same time, it’s far too early to judge Leopard’s worth, although there are some neat features, even if they are, as most suggest, not terribly original. For now, you have to consider Leopard a work-in-progress, and not reach snap decisions about what it all means.

When Tiger was announced, Apple touted over 200 new features, although you might debate whether some of those additional capabilities were really new or just minor application enhancements. I fully expect Apple to take a similar route with Leopard, once the Top Secret veil is fully lifted.

Then and only then will it be possible to decide if the upgrade is worth buying, or you should just wait until it’s time to buy a new Mac with the operating system preloaded. But no matter how compelling Apple is going to make Leopard, it may still be a harder sell than previous versions of Mac OS X. Tiger, for example, is slick, powerful, and, despite a few growing pains along the way, quite reliable for most users.

In addition, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of you are tired of the annual operating system upgrade routine, and the time spent upgrading and dealing with early release bugs. It’s going to take some hard selling on the part of Apple to make you want to give Leopard a chance to change your Mac’s spots.

There will be plenty of time for that decision to be made. Right now, however, there’s just not enough information to go by, and it’s unfortunate an outspoken few don’t realize that yet.

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21 Responses to “The Leopard Report: The Rush to Judgment”

  1. Drew says:

    While no announced Leopard feature will affect the Vista software, at least before it is released, it could definitely affect Vista marketing. If a feature in Leopard garners big buzz before the Vista marketing machine gets cranked up, the Vista marketers will try to jump on the bandwagon in one way or another.

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