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Can Apple Blow It Before Microsoft Self Destructs?

After looking at the mock-up for Windows Mobile 6.5, I am apt to think that there’s nothing that Microsoft can do that’s innovative in any fashion. The upgraded interface merely comes across as a mixture of the cheesy Windows desktop environment, along with a Home button essentially copied from the Mac OS, sans the chimney.

Now I don’t know about you, but the effort strikes me as downright pathetic, and I have to wonder whether Microsoft’s kool aid drinkers are actually consuming stronger stuff, and not to their benefit.

Besides, aren’t we past the point where people are going to blindly accept warmed over imitations from Microsoft rather than the real things from Apple and other companies?

Maybe not, because whenever Apple comes up with a new product, Microsoft’s shrinking legion of fanboys will tell us just how pathetic the concept is, and that it’s destined to fail. You read that when the original iPod came out, and when the iPhone was released.

In each case, pretenders from other companies got absolute raves. We had iPod killers and iPhone killers, but none were shown to be superior to Apple’s offerings in any way, except for a handful of features that people may or may not need. In the areas where Apple excels, the ultra-elegant user interface, the competition falls down, and certainly Microsoft is one of the worst offenders.

These days Microsoft is having some struggles with which to contend. PC sales are declining and they recently announced plans to shed 5,000 from their bloated staff. That, of course, doesn’t apparently include contractors, of which there may be thousands more. A contractor would be a freelancer hired directly or through a third-party agency, and they wouldn’t be eligible for the advantages of being a real salaried employee, and could be dismissed far more easily.

This doesn’t mean Apple has a clear field, or that you will wake up soon and find that the Mac OS has beaten Windows in terms of market share fair and square. If it happens at all, it would take years to accomplish, and it’s quite possible that Linux and operating systems we don’t even know about yet will splinter the market so much that no single company can attain the sort of dominance Microsoft held for so long.

More to the point, Apple could make some huge mistakes that would slow or halt its incredible progress.

Let’s take a look at 2009, for example. Now the fact that Steve Jobs isn’t working full-time as CEO probably isn’t much of a factor. It does appear as if he’d be called upon to make critical decisions regardless of the state of his health — unless it gets really bad — and the product releases and marketing concepts are probably pretty much etched in stone at this point.

Now I suppose you can forgive Apple for not paying any heed to the 25th anniversary of the Mac. It might have been nice to release something fancy on the day in question, but that’s not something that would represent a serious calamity. However, just what new stuff have we seen from Apple so far?

The unibody version of the 17-inch MacBook Pro is evidently beginning to ship. Other than that fancy new and non-removable battery, it’s simply a grown up version of the Mac Pro released last fall. While iLife ’09 and iWork ’09 are worthy upgrades, they aren’t earth-shattering either.

So far, at least, there is no new iMac or Mac mini on the horizon, although they’ve both been expected for weeks now. The real question is why the delay, particularly since Mac desktop sales suffered during the last quarter. That, in and of itself, would be good reason to want to expedite release of substantial refreshes.

If Apple were simply to incorporate MacBook Pro parts into the iMac and MacBook parts into the Mac mini, it would seem doubtful that the effort would require any large amount of engineering expense. If the changes are going to be of a more significant nature, of course, maybe that would explain the apparent delay, though I hasten to mention that Apple never promised anything at any particular time. They seldom do.

There is a new quad-core mobile processor from Intel that might really soup up the iMac, particularly with Snow Leopard and its enhanced multiprocessor support in the wings. Is that the factor? It wouldn’t explain a delay in the Mac mini, unless Apple is seriously reworking that form factor.

I’m not saying much about the Mac Pro, except that the newest generation of Intel Xeon processors is due at the end of March, and it may be a trivial effort to incorporate them into Apple’s high-end workstation. Maybe potential customers will even have the money to buy the new models in a few months, to take advantage of the expected substantial performance boost.

As to netbooks, I suppose the jury is still out. Right now, they appear to be mostly cannibalizing sales of more expensive PC note-books. If that represents the major portion of their market penetration, it’s Microsoft’s problem, since none of them can run Vista, and some come with Linux. Moreover, the forthcoming Windows Mobile update is surely not suited to a PC, even a low-end one.

As it stands, Microsoft may continue to suffer regardless. But it would be nice to see some compelling new product action from Apple, if only to demonstrate that they haven’t fallen asleep at the wheel.