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The Leopard Report: Exaggerating the Impact of 10.5’s Delay

I must admit that I am seldom surprised by the things I hear from Apple these days. Even though they strive for secrecy, the rumor mills work overtime whenever a major product announcement is forthcoming. So when the iPhone was unleashed, such elements as the touch screen and other frills weren’t all that amazing, although the specifics hadn’t been revealed to any large extent.

Just imagine, for example, an iPod with a built-in phone, and I bet you could devise the fundamentals of what the iPhone has become even though you didn’t know all the fine details.

Through all this, we all believed that Leopard would appear on time, in the spring, precisely as Apple claimed, and most likely on the first day of the WWDC, on June 11. Any day now, Apple would call a press conference to reveal all the “top secret” information they’d withheld from us about Leopard since it was unveiled last June.

So what was really going on behind the scenes? Well, there were rumors that Leopard’s development had struck some land mines, and that prerelease versions were crude, surely not an indication that 10.5 was in an advanced state of completion. Of course, you shouldn’t take those rumors at face value, since a story about a problem has the potential of generating more hits than a story that everything is moving along according to schedule.

Now Apple wants us to believe that they had to borrow some Mac OS X engineers to complete the iPhone project. This raises the question as to whether the iPhone project was actually hitting serious snags rather than just falling slightly behind schedule. Regardless, Apple had to recruit extra personnel to finish it on time.

Would it really matter if the iPhone shipped in July, rather than June? Well, I suppose they’d lose sales because it would arrive a bit too late into the summer season, but there are other factors at work. Apple’s partner, AT&T — or the wireless provider formerly known as Cingular — no doubt has a huge investment of its own in sales, marketing and developing the proper network infrastructure for the new gadget. There may also be a contractural obligation on the part of Apple to deliver the goods within a specific timeframe.

So Apple was forced to make a decision, and the iPhone won.

All right, I suppose that makes sense. Even if both the iPhone and Leopard products were troubled, Apple had to weigh its options. It’s not as if they could hire developers and quality control experts off the streets and put them to work in a few days or weeks. They might get enough bodies to do the job that way, but those bodies would be untrained, and would make the situation even worse.

So what does all this mean?

Well, I don’t think an awful lot in the scheme of things. All right, if all goes well, the iPhone will come out on time, and Apple will surely sell enough product to make its huge investment (whatever that might be) quite worthwhile. Yes, the iPhone’s arrival might seem anticlimactic after all the hype, but there will be enough pent-up demand to compensate.

As to Leopard, one of the dilemmas Apple is going to face is how to persuade you and me to upgrade. After all, Tiger works quite well, thank you. It’s a reliable, relatively crash-free operating system that millions of Mac users run every single day without a second’s thought.

Looking at the promise of Leopard, I can’t say an awful lot, because we just don’t know. But not everything shown so far seems terribly appealing. I am not, for example, so enamored of Time Machine, since I regularly back up my files anyway, and the various solutions I’ve tried all work beautifully. Just the other day, for example, I wiped the hard drive of my 17-inch MacBook Pro and easily restored it from a cloned external device. It was all a matter of the time it took to transfer the files from source to target.

There’s also that multiple desktop feature, Spaces, which may appeal to some, but not to me. I use a program that simply hides all the applications except the one I’m using at the moment. There are several utilities that do it automatically, such as HideItControl. If I do need to see documents from two applications at the same time, I hold down the Shift key when switching (or whatever keystroke I choose). I’ve worked this way for years with different variations on this theme, and don’t feel that I’ve lost any productivity.

The new eye-candy for iChat and Mail may be entertaining and all that, and some of the rumor sites claim Apple is smoothing the Mac OS X interface, making it more consistent from application to application.

Let’s all issue a collective yawn!

In the end, I plan to upgrade to Leopard and will probably place my order on the first day it’s available. No, I’m not being a hypocrite. I’m sure once the full feature set is announced, I’ll find things that I really can’t live without, and I’m hopeful for even greater performance and reliability.

But it really doesn’t matter all that much that I have to wait until October for those hopes and dreams to be realized. And now I have to get back to work.