Assumptions, Assumptions and More Assumptions

February 28th, 2012

So we all know that Microsoft plans to unleash the final version of Windows 8 by the end of the year. The key feature is Metro, which replaces the Start menu with the same tiled-based interface theme that has already failed on Windows Phone and the Zune. Otherwise, it’s still just Windows for better or worse.

Sure, there will be a version earmarked for ARM processors, but those using regular PCs, and aren’t enamored of Metro, don’t have an awful lot to chew over. The new feature set, at least so far, seems pretty slim.

Apple’s Mountain Lion, in contrast, promises over 100 new features. Sure, some will be little more than modest enhancements, but there are ten major or tentpole features that are being touted, eight of which are derived from the iPad, such as the Notification Center. In addition, there’s Gatekeeper, an app security feature, and an enhanced version of iCloud that will also be rolled out to iOS users. However, the basic OS X interface will be substantially unchanged, except for an Open/Save dialog box that integrates iCloud for document storage of 10.8-savvy apps. You won’t be saddled with a huge interface change you didn’t want, or didn’t expect.

Sure, these revised apps will impact the the way you use your Mac, unless, of course, you prefer a different browser, chat app, or email client. But they will still run like Mac apps. The Dock won’t change in any noticeable fashion.

But this state of affairs hasn’t stopped some from suggesting Mountain Lion is being rushed to market to address the expected competition from Windows 8, even though Lion was also a foray, one far more intrusive, into infusing iOS-style elements into the OS X. But Lion wasn’t cited as a perceived response to Windows 8; the latter appears to be the case, representing Microsoft’s possibly desperate attempts to attempt to respond to Apple.

The skeptics wonder what Jobs would have said had he been around to run the company, while failing to grasp that Jobs himself may have given the green light to a long-range OS X upgrade path, before his passing, which included Mountain Lion and several successors. Remember, these upgrades are architected several years in advance, although there will obviously be changes along the way as development moves ahead.

Further, if you examine Mountain Lion, you’ll see that, rather than seeming rushed to market, it’s a natural progression from Lion. It’s act two of a multi-act play, and I wouldn’t presume to suggest how many acts there will be, other than that, by the end of the show, the iOS and OS X will still be separate, but with key functionality extremely close. It may well be that future versions of both will track new features almost in sync, but Apple still believes you interact with a desktop and a mobile OS differently. Microsoft just wants to pour as many useless gestures as they can into the Windows 8 stew on a PC, hoping you’ll find something you like.

Indeed, I suppose some might suggest that Windows 8, although it’s expected to arrive three years after Windows 7 appeared, was rushed to market by Microsoft in a desperate attempt to seem relevant in a changing computer landscape. That would explain why Metro was lifted from Windows Phone, and why Microsoft is struggling to build a version for ARM processors that’s intended to run on tablets.

Sure, three years may seem a long time in the world of personal computers, but Microsoft moves far more slowly than other companies.

Now a key reason for these assumptions is the belief that Apple must change drastically because a different person is in charge, even though Tim Cook actually ran Apple for a fair amount of time during the extended sick leaves taken by Steve Jobs. Sure, Cook wouldn’t want to change strategy in the Jobs’ shadow. Sure, Cook’s leadership is more nuanced than Jobs, witness some minor changes in the way the board of directors are elected, and some corporate policies. But there’s no reason to think product development and marketing strategies will be altered soon in any meaningful way.

There’s also the impression that Apple’s decision to let tech journalists in on Mountain Lion a week before the official announcement is a new policy that would have gotten a veto from Jobs. Actually, it’s a return to the past, a move very similar to the way in which the original Mac OS X Public Beta was launched in the fall of 2000. A short time before the release date, a number of tech journalists were given private media briefings by Apple, after which they were presented with copies of the Public Beta installation disc. I got one of those briefings.

By returning to an older marketing plan, Apple didn’t have to stage a major media event just a few weeks ahead of the expected release of the iPad 3. They still got worldwide publicity, and I expect that Mountain Lion will get yet another major media push at the next WWDC, just weeks ahead of the actual release.

Now I don’t pretend to know what really goes on behind the scenes at Apple. All I have are those stories based on alleged “informed sources,” and Apple’s public behavior. But I think I’m on the right side of the argument here.

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One Response to “Assumptions, Assumptions and More Assumptions”

  1. DaveD says:

    I believe that Apple is quite aware that while the post-PC market is booming, the traditional personal computer market is not. One indicator is the memory chip market that is again in the oversupply situation. Like with Windows Vista and now Windows 7, the expected boom in demand for memory modules due to a new version of Windows on the market had failed to materialize. Any remaining memory manufacturers should bear no hopes for the upcoming Windows 8 (the “Meh” edition).

    I’m speculating that the recently announced annual OS X upgrades is Apple seizing the moment to sell Macs to Windows XP users who now want one.

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