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  • The Snow Leopard Report: How Much Abuse Should You Accept?

    September 17th, 2009

    As you have probably heard, NDP Group, a well-respected market research firm, is reporting stellar sales for Snow Leopard. The long and short of their survey is that sales over the first weekend were twice that of Leopard its launch weekend, and nearly four times that of Tiger.

    NPD Group’s vice president of industry analysis, Stephen Baker, tells The Night Owl that they are not releasing actual figures, though other estimates peg the number at two million. If sales through the remainder of the quarter remain extremely high, you can bet that Apple will likely have a press release touting that achievement ahead of their quarterly financials next month.

    Of course, it’s also fair to say that two factors influenced those numbers. First is the $29 upgrade price for Leopard users, and the second is the mere fact that there are many millions of additional Mac users now than there were when Leopard came out.

    From Apple’s standpoint, this is a great thing. It means they’ll recover the investment in development fairly quickly and if a large portion of eligible Mac users — those with Intel-based models — adopt Snow Leopard quickly, developers are apt to work that much harder to take advantage of the new performance-enhancing features. Right now, as with the very first PowerPC Macs, the things Snow Leopard can accomplish are largely theoretical. Except for Apple’s own system-related apps, such as the Finder, and a few third-party offerings, support for 10.6 is largely confined to compatibility.

    Certainly it would be nice to see Adobe release a plug-in for Photoshop that supports Grand Central Dispatch, which would allow the more resource hungry rendering functions to harness the power of multicore processors. That approach would be similar to what Adobe did back when the PowerPC was first introduced. Then it was a free plugin, and it would be a good idea for them to do it again, assuming it is possible from a programming standpoint. Otherwise we’d all have to wait until next year for CS5 which, no doubt, will incorporate that support.

    If such a plugin does appear, and the ball is certainly in Adobe’s court, it would also be really useful to see support for OpenCL, the Snow Leopard function that offloads work to the graphics chips. That would be a killer add-on, and perhaps it would fuel extra sales of CS4 until CS5 is closer to release. In other words, it would be a huge advantage for Adobe, since income generally drops in the months prior to the announcement of a major upgrade.

    While most everything is surely coming up roses with Snow Leopard, there are still those lingering issues that make some media pundits skeptical. One of those scribes is even now telling us that we should give up Macs and move to Windows 7, even though the latter hasn’t been officially released. I won’t mention that person’s name because I used to think better of him, and don’t feel I should join the crowd in embarrassing him in print. Let his words do that.

    Certainly Snow Leopard isn’t perfect. There are surely plenty of bugs left for Apple to fix, and some have seized on the fact that 10.6.1 came out a mere 13 days after the original release. But this is nothing new for Apple. All or most previous system releases have seen maintenance updates within a few weeks after the initial version hit the streets. Unless the system is afflicted with data-destroying bugs, most issues aren’t apt to be terribly serious. In large part, the initial releases are meant to address those various and sundry bugs that crop up during the dark days between declaring a Gold Master release and the actual product launch.

    Surely nobody is surprised to realize that work on 10.6.1 clearly began well before 10.6 was sent to the DVD pressing plants, and that 10.6.2 and even 10.6.3 are probably well underway. How could it be otherwise?

    Furthermore, even if Windows 7 is all or most of what Microsoft’s devoted followers claim, you can bet that developers are hammering away even now on lingering bugs not addressed before it was released to manufacturing. There will be incremental updates early on to address the most serious issues, and a Service Pack will appear probably within a year.

    So it’s really unfair to pound Apple for simply behaving in a normal fashion for a tech company. You know software is buggy, and releasing a product is a balancing act. The marketing people want to deliver the goods as fast as possible to ensure high sales. Most developers are dedicated to their craft and want to make sure that all important defects are fixed. At some point in time, though, they have to recognize reality and give the green light. Of course, they also keep their fingers crossed that nothing critical was missed, and sometimes even their best efforts don’t quite succeed when the fruits of their labor finally goes on sale.

    To look at the dark side, certainly Microsoft’s leadership would prefer that Snow Leopard falters in its early days. That hope may have fueled some of the worst criticisms. A few too many unfavorable or even lukewarm reviews can be enough to sink a product, or at least gut sales. Think about what happened with Windows Vista. Certainly Microsoft doesn’t want to go there again.

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