The Snow Leopard Versus Windows 7 Report: Marketing

August 26th, 2009

Depending on whom you believe, Apple’s early release of Snow Leopard is either a brilliant marketing stroke or won’t make one bit of difference in the end. What some people forget is that maybe, just maybe, Apple is shipping 10.6 this week because it could. The work was wrapped up, the DVD pressing plants had the capacity and so they went for it.

Now some suggest that this wider window of opportunity will give Apple a change to expend a tremendous amount of money to push Snow Leopard adoption. However, with a $29 purchase price and over a year of advance publicity, I don’t think selling upgrade kits is a major problem; that’s going to take care of itself. Apple’s focus is on selling Macs, and the ones on which Snow Leopard is preloaded are no doubt already on their way to dealers.

What you’re seeing instead is what are essentially two heavy-duty service packs being marketed in diametrically opposed ways, may the better product win.

Now whether or not Snow Leopard arrived early isn’t such a big deal to Apple. After all, the majority of Mac users have already upgraded to Leopard, and the surface differences aren’t vast. Yes, there are highly-touted performance advantages to 10.6, but a lot of that also depends on Mac developers coming out with apps that take advantage of the improved multiprocessor and graphic card features. Having a Cocoa-based Finder doesn’t really do much, if anything, from a visual standpoint. It’s just back-end programming stuff that may impact performance and compatibility, but won’t be obvious to most of you.

The enterprise will be pleased to find a more complete Microsoft Exchange Server experience. As some have observed, Microsoft’s Entourage component of Office for the Mac can be a maddening application to use, and its support for Exchange has never been all that good. True, maybe its successor, Outlook for the Mac, will have more significant features and decent reliability, but having  most of what they need available speedy and reliable apps that come free with the system might be sufficient.

And, besides, Microsoft must be truly enjoying those Apple checks that cover the ActiveSync licenses for Snow Leopard and the iPhone.

In any case, Snow Leopard is a refinement, period. End of story.

When it comes to Windows 7, Microsoft wants to create the fictional message that it’s somehow a major OS upgrade, when it’s really nothing of the sort. In large part, Microsoft is doing to Windows what Apple did to Mac OS X. They are cleaning up many of the rough spots in Vista, making it leaner and meaner, in the hope that more businesses will choose to upgrade from XP.

However, the name Vista carries with it the stench of failure, so Microsoft, in its infinite lack of wisdom, decided the best approach to take was to rename the product. That’s why MSN Search became Windows Live Search, which became Bing. If at first you don’t succeed, call it something else and pretend it is different.

With Windows 7, Microsoft also added some surface fluff to enforce the impression that there is really something new, and their band of fanboys have been polluting the net with loads of puff pieces about how the upgrade is the bee’s knees of operating systems.

Microsoft desperately wants to change history. They want to pretend that maybe Vista never existed, and that they’ve come up with a brand new product that will set the PC world afire.

They surely need some good news. Remember that most Windows 7 sales won’t be for upgrade packs, but to PC makers, who are coming off a serious sales slump and want to move customers past netbooks and other cheap flirtations and back to the gear from which they make real profits.

Oh yes, Microsoft claims that Windows 7 will deliver decent performance on a netbook too, and maybe it will. But I won’t accept fawning reviews of prerelease versions of the OS as evidence that this is true, or close to true. But let’s not forget that the reason so many netbooks ship with Windows XP is because Microsoft has cut prices to the bone. Do they plan to do the same with Windows 7? And if they don’t, are we really going to see a big uptake, or will tens of millions of netbooks still ship with XP until Microsoft shuts the door for once and forever on such practices?

While I realize that businesses can’t suddenly dump millions of PCs and get Macs to replace them, the real question is whether Microsoft can recover all the ground it lost as the result of the Vista debacle. Let’s forget about all the nonsense that spews forth from the mouth of their chief maniac, Steve Ballmer. Will tens of millions of Windows users want to subject themselves to the drudgery of an OS upgrade, or will they be willing to buy a new PC and not downgrade to XP?

That remains Microsoft’s worst nightmare, whereas Apple has little or nothing to worry about when it comes to the Snow Leopard upgrade. It’s already a huge success. Just check the sales charts at Apple’s online store and Amazon.

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11 Responses to “The Snow Leopard Versus Windows 7 Report: Marketing”

  1. SteveP says:

    OK, slightly OT, but I haven’t yet seen this (to me, obvious) question raised anywhere yet:
    When will we see OS 10.7?
    It just feels – to me – that a lot of new features must have been thought about over the last couple of years leading to SL. I suspect maybe even partially fleshed out even though not included.

    MY ‘prediction’ is that the time to 10.7 will be LESS than the normal cycle. Maybe as little as 8 months.

    Any thoughts?

  2. Andrew says:

    I’m just as excited about Snow Leopard as I am about Windows 7. Both are very similar, refinements and enhancements to what we already have.

    Vista is cludgier than XP and Leopard is less robust than Tiger, though both brought plenty of new features. Leopard isn’t unstable by any means, but the list of gripes, most of which dating back to 10.0. remains long. Vista isn’t nearly as bad as most say it is and is good enough that I have left XP long behind, but 7 is a significant structural improvement in terms of implementation (think UAC, annoying in Vista, well-tamed in 7).

    Comparing one to the other is pointless as they are quite different systems and have very different strengths and weaknesses. Its like comparing a Ford F-150 crew cab to a Cadillac CTS. Both will take you to work or play in comfort. Both seat five in luxury and are quiet and smooth on the highway. The F-150 is far better if you also want to tow a trailer or carry some furniture, while the CTS is far better if you want to have some fun on a mountain road or park in a city lot. The modern F-150 is seriously nice, but its no car. The new CTS is gorgeous, but makes a lousy truck.

    So too with SL and 7. Both look like they will be the best ever on their respective platforms. SL on an Intel Mac should blow the doors off of any previous OS X, while 7 will bring all of the structural and security improvements of Vista while bringing back the speed and usability Windows users expected moving up from XP.

    My SL family pack arrives tomorrow, but sadly I’m waiting until October for 7. Even though I had no real complaints about Leopard or Vista, I am still very excited about both upgrades.

    • @Andrew, Thanks for raising the issue of reliability.

      I have not seen any material difference in reliability between Tiger and Leopard. I suspect where such issues exist, they are mostly the result of third-party conflicts.

      With Snow Leopard, I can tell you now that the NDAs are all expired that it is on the whole snappier than Leopard — despite a claim from CNET to the contrary — and has extraordinary reliability. Except for a rare browser crash (less than in previous Mac OS X versions), it just keeps chugging away.


      • Andrew says:

        @Gene Steinberg,

        I had some reliability issues with Leopard mainly on PPC Macs. I had it on both a 12″ G4 and a G5 tower and neither is quite as solid as it was under Tiger. The PowerBook had frequent (weekly or so) kernel panics while the G5 would on occasion (perhaps monthly) suddenly spool its fans to maximum and lock up as though the computer had overheated, when it fact it was doing nothing but just sitting there, perhaps downloading a file or displaying a website.

        Neither machine had those issues in Tiger, and booting into Tiger today they remain rock-solid, while booting into Leopard returns the issues as well. Both are clean installs with very little software added and NO interface tweaking utilities.

        I also had a lot of Airport issues in various Leopard versions, though by 10.5.5 wifi became pretty reliable. Strangely, Windows was always more reliable for me connecting to my Airport Extreme base station (even on my Mac using Boot Camp), but 10.5.8 seems to have fixed everything.

  3. Markian says:

    No. I suspect we won’t see another major OS update until we see a major new product rollout/transition. There is a lot going on in Snow Leopard. barring pressure from Microsoft of some form, we’re not going to be seeing a new OS for at least a year, unless it’s a paradigm shift. Apple’s just got the groundwork in place to do some really cool stuff. They’re going to iterate on it quietly with minor updates before the next big rollout.

  4. Markian says:

    Unless I’m wrong 🙂

  5. Richard says:

    Re: SteveP’s comment about the next iteration release of OSX coming sooner than later, I disagree. I think Apple is positioning itself for a revolution in software capability that will differentiate it from MS. Selling the next generation cat is small potatoes beside the potential of widening the performance and capability gap between Macs and PCs. Let’s face it, Windows 7 is better than Vista, and maybe almost, nearly, somewhat close to the feature richness of OSX. Apple needs to engage the boosters and open up some distance. This is how they’re going to do it.

  6. veggiedude says:

    I think Microsoft has a lot of work to be done. Windows 7 has a RAM limit of 192 GB. While that is no problem today, by 2015 (just 5 years away) I have a feeling the ceiling will be too low for the high end users. They have to completely rework the underpinnings of Windows. Again.

    Snow Leopard can theoretically support 16 Billion GB. Apple can now focus on the trivial things, you know, the ones that make the average users happy.

  7. SteveP says:

    Interesting perspectives.
    I think they can be summed up as “Apple will let the apps do the talking.”
    Adding ‘features’ in point updates?
    You guys may be (probably are! 🙂 ) right.

  8. Jon T says:

    Andrew above seems to believe that Win 7 is SL’s equivalent on the PC. No so.

    Win 7 is slower than XP which launched in 2001, SL is worlds apart from OS X 10.0 from the same year.

    Win 7 requires more hardware than XP, over twice the RAM etc, while SL invigorates every Intel Mac since 2006.

    I have a 13th week build of the MacBook Pro and I am very excited to huve three and four finger input on my touchpad. A pretty good improvement for a three and a half year old laptop.

    I don’t see Win 7 bringing many improvements like that, do you Andrew?!

  9. Jon T says:

    And on the security issue, I read this on another blog by someone calling themself Demon, if it’s true then the gulf between SL and Win 7 just got bigger:

    “Windows Vista poorly copied Apple’s user security model to derive the Windows UAC (the biggest advance in Windows Security todate). One of the issues with UAC in Vista & 7 is it is only skin deep, stupid and constantly required the user to allow actions. In the Mac OS X the User security is at the Kernel and file system level and rather then constantly requiring the user to approve actions/changes (the user just stops reading after the very first one), Mac OS X requires that the user authenticate the main action from that point the OS takes over and looks at what is going on, some Kernel and file system access is protected and the installer/Application is prevented from certain types of access. Hackers and Malware creators soon learned how to suppress and even intercept the UAC dialogs and approve their malware and hack installs without user intervention or knowledge. The exploit code to do it is freely available on a host of hacker sites and IRC Channels. Malware writers can’t by-pass Apple’s password authentication requirement because unlike Windows Vista & 7 it’s not just window dressing it’s real protection.”

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