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  • Is Leopard a Failure?

    December 17th, 2007

    After long months of anticipation, Leopard went on sale in late October, and I’m sure many of you succumbed to the lust for eye-candy and the promise of over 300 nifty new features and placed your orders early on. I know I did.

    Others waited for hours for the big bash at an Apple Store, as if some famous entertainer was going to be present. All this for a personal computer operating system? Well, in 1995, Microsoft got a similar reception to the introduction of Windows 95. How times have changed!

    But has Leopard truly realized its potential? Did Apple deliver on its promises, or deliver a buggy product that a few tech pundits are even comparing to the dismal Windows Vista rollout?

    The problem here is that there’s a huge disconnect between reality and some of those published claims. At the heart of this is the fact that, like all new operating system releases, Leopard was plagued with some annoying bugs when it left the starting gate. True to form, Apple probably released the product a little early in order to meet the deadline of shipping by the end of October.

    But most of the serious problems were fixed within weeks with a fast 10.5.1 update, yet the perception some so-called journalists want to convey is that those fixes never existed, or just weren’t very important.

    Among the complaints that were supposedly so serious: Failing Wi-Fi connections, application crashes and, of course, that infamous bug where you could lose a file while moving it to another drive or partition using the seldom-used Command-drag process.

    But, as I said, that’s a moot point, although I grant some of you are still having problems that, one hopes, will soon be solved by Apple or a third-party developer in the very near future.

    What is a fact is that Leopard had a terrific reception out of the starting gate, garnering some two million sales the very first weekend. I don’t presume to have the figures since then, but I think it would be fair to say that there are probably going to be another million or two Leopard users by the end of the quarter, even if most of those sales involve copies preloaded onto new Macs. My impressions of Leopard’s ongoing success are apparently confirmed by a MacNN report about the results of a recent NDP retail study.

    With such a fast influx of new Leopard users, you have to expect some ongoing teething pains, but to suggest that Leopard is somehow a failure strains logic. Lest you forget, previous versions of Mac OS X also had their share of troubles in the initial releases. Tiger, for example, had problems with VPN and cross-platform networking, and it took quite a while to sort things out. However, I don’t recall a spate of public pronouncements proclaiming Tiger as some sort of abject failure. In fact, Tiger is considered a great product, and it’ll take a lot for Leopard to attain that status.

    So why the difference?

    Well, the Apple of 2007 is quite different from the Apple of 2005, when Tiger came out. Although Apple was doing quite well with iPod sales and all, and had garnered great reviews for Macs, sales for the latter had yet to really soar.

    Today, Macs are ascendant, and growing fast. There are estimates that some 30% of Americans planning to buy new computers in the next three months intend to select a Mac. This is one extraordinary development with a product line that, only a few years back, had sales of but a few percent even in the U.S., Apple’s largest single market.

    With the iPhone and iPod also growing rapidly, Apple can’t do a single thing without attracting attention just about anywhere in the developed world. That is a double-edged sword, because it means that the vultures will be looking hard for bad news to create headlines, even if they have to ignore a few facts.

    Now if you have had bad experiences with Leopard, I suppose you might be inclined to believe it has been a failure on an individual level. But when I see it on Top 20 lists among the misses for 2007, I just believe that’s going way too far.

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