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  • The Leopard Report: It’s All About Customer Satisfaction

    March 17th, 2008

    One thing is perfectly clear and that’s the fact that most Mac users who have upgraded to Leopard are quite satisfied with that decision. Surveys show over 80%, which is extremely good, particularly when you compare the levels recorded with Windows.

    What do I mean?

    Well, Windows XP gets a pretty decent rate too, but Vista is down in the dumps, with only a little more than a quarter of the upgraders reporting decent levels of satisfaction.

    Now consider that Leopard has been out just short of five months, whereas it’s been nearly 14 months since Vista shipped to consumers. During that time, Microsoft has had plenty of time to fix the worst ills. True, there have been lots of obtuse updates, and, of course, the infamous Service Pack One that’s now becoming available for download. But the early reviews of SP1 don’t seem promising. Sure, there are loads of under-the-hood changes, and perhaps application and driver compatibility is improved, but the core problems with the bloated Vista operating system are still there. It’s still slow and it still requires an extremely powerful PC to provide the full user experience, complete with Aero eye-candy.

    Consider that Microsoft squandered billions of dollars developing Vista, but they couldn’t get it out on time, nor with all the promised features intact. In fact, during the final stages of Vista’s development, it has been revealed that MIcrosoft had to kowtow to Intel to build a “Home Basic” edition that would allow entry-level PCs, using older chipsets, to be declared as capable of running the system.

    Now I don’t pretend to know all the internal decisions and compromises Microsoft had to make in order to finish up Vista. Certainly they were under an awful lot of pressure, and it’s no longer true that they can just do what they want and the rest of the personal computing world will follow in lockstep. Antitrust actions have surely changed that situation for good.

    However, Microsoft must have known the product roadmaps for both AMD and Intel early on, and realized the level of computing power needed to get Vista to run in a satisfactory fashion was far too high. They had to also realize that Mac OS X can run on a wide variety of Apple hardware, dating back as much as four to six years, with all or most features intact. It’s not as if Microsoft doesn’t know what Apple is doing, since their Mac Business Unit is one of the largest — if not the largest — third-party Mac developer. They’re getting Apple’s prelease seeds as quickly as Adobe, Quark and all the rest, maybe even sooner.

    Armed with that knowledge, is it plain incompetence that dictated Vista’s direction, or a level of hubris that is totally beyond logic? Maybe Microsoft was filled with the images of people lining up to buy Windows 95 upgrades and forgot to look at the calendar, forgetting that was long ago and far away.

    Yes, there will be another Windows, known as Windows 7, which will appear some time in 2009, 2010 or maybe later. Perhaps Microsoft is working really hard behind the scenes to recover from the Vista disaster, and perhaps the next version of Windows will focus more on cleaning up the excesses. Or maybe MIcrosoft figures that, by then, most PC hardware will comfortably cope with massive system requirements without buckling under the pressure.

    This is not to say that Leopard is necessarily the perfect operating system. Aside from some of the excesses perpetrated by some of the Mac troubleshooting sites these days, there are still genuine problems that need to be fixed. For example, AirPort connections can, at times, still be flaky, although it’s not at all certain whether the fix requires a Leopard update or an AirPort fix.

    Other issues include persistent flakiness with cross-platform networking, something that was also prevalent in Tiger and not fixed until the very end of the latter’s lifecycle.

    Some of you claim that Leopard crashes more often than Tiger, or at least the applications you run, but that might just be the fault of the third parties who still need to bring their products up to date. Unfortunately, when things like that happen, it’s awfully easy for the affected software company to just blame Apple, claim that some change or incomplete feature in Leopard has caused them grief, and it’ll take time to sort things out.

    I don’t pretend to know all the answers, so I won’t blame anyone. I just want things to work, and when it comes to that, I rarely encounter any crashes in Leopard. It seems, to me at least, to be about as stable as Tiger, if not more so. Performance is noticeably snappier, no doubt the result of hard work to improve the Finder’s performance, which remains the linchpin of the Mac user experience.

    As always, our Comments section is open for your repsonses. This time, I also want to hear from Windows users. As much as some of you hate Microsoft products, millions of businesses depend on Windows for their core operations. We all benefit if everything works fine, and suffer when things fail.



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    15 Responses to “The Leopard Report: It’s All About Customer Satisfaction”

    1. Andrew says:

      I actually rather like Vista, and to be honest, the hardware requirements aren’t that much, if any higher than Leopard’s.

      Looking at video cards, Leopard will run without a modern card, but Quartz Extreme needs at least an ATI Radeon 7500 and the oldest cards supported by Core Image are at most 3 or so years old, which is about the same age as the cards that support Vista’s Aero. I have a 6-year-old PC with an ATI Radeon 9500 that runs Vista Business with the full Aero interface quite nicely. My PowerMac G4 is admittedly older at 9 years, but in its original state its Rage 128 graphics aren’t even accelerated for OS X, let alone Quartz Extreme and Core Image. With a slightly weaker Radeon nVidia GeForce FX5200 I get both Quartz Extreme and Core Image, but some of Leopard’s eye candy works poorly and DVD playback is too jittery to enjoy despite my 1GHz G4 processor (original was 400MHz).

      As for cross-platform networking, I am currently evaluating Thursby Software’s “Dave”, which so far fixes things and lets my MacBook have full access to my Windows network and vice-versa. I’d been losing shares in Leopard’s own SMB sharing, so I may just have to spend the $100 on Dave. Of course, its worth it, as using Leopard with my newly reliable shares is just a dream.

    2. Michael says:

      Joel Spolsky who writes the “Joel on Software” column and who used to work at Microsoft asserts in his most recent column:

      “The victory of the idealists over the pragmatists at Microsoft, which I reported in 2004, directly explains why Vista is getting terrible reviews and selling poorly.”

      In other words, he’s saying that Microsoft stopped being so concerned about backwards compatibility, which — for sound economic reasons — used to be a near obsession with them. It seems they would even do things that they thought were messy and bad in engineering terms if by doing so they could avoid breaking old programs that people rely on.

      For an example of that see what Robert Graham (c.f. the “Errata Security” blog where he, and David Maynor (who will be known to Mac users) post) says with reference to the BlackICE firewall he wrote for Windows in a recent post:

      “However, we became popular enough that Microsoft added our software to their list of third-party software that ‘must work’ when they release updates. When they created SP2 for WinXP, our software broke. This delayed SP2 by a month while Microsoft reverse-engineered our product to find out why BlackICE broke. … This forced Microsoft to leave the part we were accessing unchanged, and to make the rest of their code work around it. It was an ugly hack on their part to deal with the uglier hack on our part.”

      So Microsoft had this concern with maintaining backwards-compatibility. But it seems they’ve changed their attitudes.

      Google “dell vista mistakes” for a pertinent article in the New York Times:

      “Last-minute changes to Windows Vista broke drivers, forcing key hardware vendors to “limp out with issues” when the OS launched last year, according to a presentation by Dell Corp. …”

      There’s a quote there from Steven Sinofsky, chief of Windows development, that has been taken from an internal email “included in the documents revealed by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman”. Sinofsky says to Ballmer:

      “Many of the associated applets don’t run within the constraints of the security model or the new video/audio driver models.”

      So there you have it. It looks like they tried to move drivers out into user space as much as possible, probably because that’s better for security, and because buggy drivers running in kernel space can pull the OS over (the infamous BSoD). They had to revamp the driver model anyway to allow for the fact that they wanted a compositing window manager. How long has OS X had a composting window manager? Since its inception. Microsoft needed to offer one, too, in order to compete.

      With Vista Microsoft have thought it better to make some quite radical changes — or have been forced to do so by a number of factors. So there was the horrendous security problems on the platform, the need to compete with Apple, the wish to build in next-generation DRM (“Windows Vista Content Protection”), and perhaps just the plain fact that Windows was becoming a heap of spaghetti – “It’s not going to work”, as Jim Allchin famously said to Bill Gates (as reported by the _Wall Street Journal_).

      So they lost the backwards-compatibility religion, and as a result people found they had programs that wouldn’t run and hardware for which there were no drivers. That would seem to be where the customer dissatisfaction comes from — that, and the fact that they agreed to Vista being sold on hardware that was underpowered for what Aero requires, as you already mentioned.

    3. Vince says:

      I used Vista full-time. Although I’ve read there a quite a few under the hood improvements, it feels more like XP with a UI upgrade.

      Leopard, on the other hand, is polished. There are hundreds of nice thoughtful touches if you’re upgrading from Tiger. It all adds up. It feels as if Apple engineers have combed through OS X over and over again to refine it to a “t” on this version.

    4. Sam Elowitch says:

      I actually find Leopard to be somewhat crash-o-riffic. I especially hate it when you have to Force Quit an application (this often happens on shutdown/restart) and you get a popup immediately afterward saying the app quit “unexpectedly,” when in fact it was not only “expected,” I made it happen!).

    5. Karl says:

      I don’t do Windows very often but XP in VirtualPC has been stable for me but I don’t use if very often as VirtualPC is rather slow. Most of the people I know who use Windows really don’t care about Vista or XP but the ones who do seem to prefer XP.

      Leopard is hit and miss with me on my PowerMacG5 2.3Mhz. I love the features but I experience quite a few application crashes, quitting and hanging. Not that I am blaming Apple. It’s just that Tiger from the start was more stable for me then Leopard.

    6. Richard Taylor says:

      I upgraded to Leopard — Leonard, as my eyes keep reporting — on day one. I love the added features, in particular Time Machine and Quick Look. I’ve used XP in the past and while it has ox-cart workability I wouldn’t call it a pleasure to drive. I do have one huge, huge, dare I say it again, HUGE problem with OS X and that is windowing. They never stay where I put them when I close and then reopen them. The icons shift from list view to icon view. The sidebar is almost always open when I’ve taken the time and effort to close it. Why can’t Leopard remember how I want my system to work? Why must I constantly adjust and readjust it?

      Other than that, gosh, it’s swell.

    7. MichaelT says:

      Our company is finally starting to release Leopard into the workplace. I am looking forward to that because I’ve gotten used to Leopard’s features at home and I miss them at the office.

      As for Vista, there is still no word when that will be coming. We’re safely and comfortably using XP. And will be, I’ve heard, until mid-year at the earliest, but possibly even next year. (Conflicting reports are coming in.)

    8. Our company is finally starting to release Leopard into the workplace. I am looking forward to that because I’ve gotten used to Leopard’s features at home and I miss them at the office.

      As for Vista, there is still no word when that will be coming. We’re safely and comfortably using XP. And will be, I’ve heard, until mid-year at the earliest, but possibly even next year. (Conflicting reports are coming in.)

      I expect the reaction to Vista SP1, which I installed last night on my Parallels virtual machine, will be key to greater business acceptance. If the upgrade fails to resolve some of the prevalent issues with Vista, that will delay adoption. From what I hear so far, it’s a mixed bag. Performance is improved with such functions as copying files, but slower with other tasks.

      Peace,
      Gene

    9. MichaelT says:

      With several thousand government computers, our computer people don’t take upgrading lightly. I don’t hear good things so far, but you’re right, the real test will be the final version of SP1.

      What do I care? I’ll be happily computing on Leopard. (With whatever Windows I have to use on my VMWare side.)

    10. SM says:

      Unfortunately I upgraded to Leopard. It is my worst Mac OS experience since 7.5.3 – lots of panics (DVD player mostly) and the wireless driver is not working properly. I am running 10.5.2 now – two upgrades and the wireless driver is still not working.

      I am now thinking about switching away from Mac OS after 12 years with it – already got me anoter laptop running XP, CentOS and Solaris and use it more than the dreaded MacBook.

    11. Unfortunately I upgraded to Leopard. It is my worst Mac OS experience since 7.5.3 – lots of panics (DVD player mostly) and the wireless driver is not working properly. I am running 10.5.2 now – two upgrades and the wireless driver is still not working.

      I am now thinking about switching away from Mac OS after 12 years with it – already got me anoter laptop running XP, CentOS and Solaris and use it more than the dreaded MacBook.

      The first is not a known Leopard issue. As for the second: Well, Apple has done some recent AirPort upgrades. Are you using an AirPort or another wireless product?

      Perhaps you can explain further. Don’t assume it’s all Apple’s fault.

      Peace,
      Gene

    12. Karl says:

      Unfortunately I upgraded to Leopard. It is my worst Mac OS experience since 7.5.3 – lots of panics (DVD player mostly) and the wireless driver is not working properly. I am running 10.5.2 now – two upgrades and the wireless driver is still not working.

      I am now thinking about switching away from Mac OS after 12 years with it – already got me anoter laptop running XP, CentOS and Solaris and use it more than the dreaded MacBook.

      I don’t claim to know your experience but “…worst Mac OS experience since 7.5.3” seems like a cry of frustration in which I can relate to, but that is unrealistic.

      I too have had more issues with Leopard then previous OS X versions. Hard drives not showing on the desktop. Applications quitting. Random hangs. You name it. But a threat to leave the OS after years seems a bit harsh and a bit dated. Why not just revert back to Tiger? Or better yet, back up your MacBook data and reinstall Leopard from scratch. Both of these options I have contemplated.

      At the very least let Apple know about your issues. Switching OS is obviously up to you but for myself I’m going to stick it out because I think Leopard is worth it.

    13. SM says:

      Hi,

      @Gene:

      – DVDPlayer panicking the box is a known issue. No idea if it is fixed in 10.5.2 as I removed the program.
      – No, I am not using Airport.
      – It was working prior to Leopard/MacBook (I replaced my iBook with a MacBook which came with Leopard), so naturally I assume that it is a Leopard/MacBook issue. And plenty of reports in the internet and the fact tht the other Oses have no issues with the router at all seem to strengthen that assumption.

      @Karl:

      – Thanks to the DVD Player issue I had more panics in a short period of time than under Mac OS 8, 7.5.6 or 7.5.5 in a similar period of time. With Leopard Apple produced the worst bug/improvement ratio since I am using Macs (1996). Both Mac OS 8 and 9 made the OS more stable and added features, while Leopard added bugs and instability – and I keep forgetting what great features it introduced. A basic backup tool? Lots of graphical gimmicks I switch of anyway? And a very basic implementation of a feature I have long been used to on other OSes (spaces).

      – The issues are known.

      – And about leaving Mac OS X: That is not a threat, it is a consideration. As my job is Solaris and LInux based using the same OSes at home would do me no harm. Prior to Leopard there were no issues with Mac OS X, so I was happy using it. But when I have to troubleshoot my home box then it would make more sense to use the same OSes I use and troubleshoot at work.

    14. Color me skeptical about some so-called “known” issues. I read far too much crap at troubleshooting sites to believe everything. Basically everything is a “known” issue with any Mac OS update, since someone has had the problem.

      This isn’t to say that Leopard is free of bugs, but 10.5.2 took care of a lot of problems. As to AirPort, recent updates from Apple have addressed a number of matters. Since I installed them, signal strength has improved — it is even better than Tiger for me now.

      As to your particular problems, don’t ignore the possibility of a conflict with non-Apple products.

      Peace,
      Gene

    15. Karl says:

      Yeah, I hear your frustration. Leopard for me has been hit or miss. What I’m saying is that just last week I have been messing with system 7.5.3 on a PowerBook 520 just given to me. I’ve been messing with system 8 and 9 on a PowerMac over the last few months and even compared to Leopard all of them are less stable. I’m not saying you are wrong it just sounded more like frustration then a true statement.

      The whole leaving Mac OS X statement bothers me. Call me jaded, but during the 90’s that kind of “consideration” was pretty much on every Mac posting forum. Wouldn’t the suggestions I mentioned earlier be a more likely path then just throwing out the whole OS?

      As I have considered downgrading back to Tiger but more than likely just wipe the hard drive and install Leopard from scratch. To see if that helps.

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