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Will Apple Try to Brand Windows 7 “Vista II”?

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In 2009, the operating system PR machines in both Redmond and Cupertino will kick into action. Both Microsoft and Apple will spend millions of dollars trying to convince you that their new OS is the OS that youshould be spending your workday sitting in front of.

There’s no doubt in my mind as to which OS will remain dominant during 2009 (and for several years to come).

While the Windows market share might have fallen to below 90% during November 2008, and there’s no doubt that the Mac OS is gaining ground on Windows – and could hit 10 – 11 per cent by this time next year – Microsoft will be a dominant force on the desktop and notebook for years to come.

Note: The Mac market share as measured by NetApplicationscurrently stands at 8.87%. Over the past 12 months the OS made a gain of 1.56%. Given steady gains over the next 12 months the Mac OS market share should be around 10.4%.

The reason that makes 2009 interesting is that we’ll see Apple release Mac OS X 10.6, codenamed “Snow Leopard” and Microsoft release its new OS, Windows 7.

Exact release dates haven’t been released, but a little crystal ball gazing suggests that “Snow Leopard” will be released in the first half of 2009 (after all, Steve Jobs did say at WWDC in June of last year that 10.6 would in “about a year”) and that Windows 7 will hit PCs probably in the second half.

Both “Snow Leopard” and Windows 7have a small presence on the Apple and Microsoft website respectively, but once the holiday season is out of the way I expect this to grow geometrically.

The PR blitz hasn’t even begun yet. Which company wins the upcoming PR war depends both on how good their own OS is, and how much ammunition the other side provides through making bone-headed decisions.

For example, Vista has been a huge gift for Apple, which has exploited the toxic nature of the name in both Web and TV ads. In fact, negative feeling for Vista was so strong that Apple no longer seems to bother mentioning Mac or the Mac OS in ads, and instead concentrates on hammering Vista.

Here’s an example of such for your amusement:

But fortunes might just be changing for Microsoft. I’ve handled a number of pre-beta builds over the past few weeks and I can report that Windows 7 is looking good.

In fact, it’s so good that I already find myself wondering whether I could make the switch to the pre-beta. Normally I don’t bother benchmarking early builds of an OS, but I was so impressed by the performance that I was experiencing with Windows 7 that I broke this rule, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

In pretty much every test I threw at Windows 7, the OS beat both XP and Vista. Here, for example, are my boot time results:


My guess is that given how good the negative publicity that Vista has received over the past few years has been for sales of the Mac, I’m betting that Apple will try to make the same strategy work in its war against Windows 7.

Although it wasn’t Apple that started the negative campaign against Vista (that was down to disgruntled early adopters), I don’t think that will stop the Cupertino PR machine from trying to tar Windows 7 with the Vista brush. Any weakness or omission will be scrutinized and magnified for the sake of making the Mac OS look like the superior operating system.

But will Microsoft give Apple any ammunition to throw back? I think that the answer to this is yes. After all, the first problem is that no matter how good Windows 7 is, there’s an argument to be made that Vista set the “better” bar pretty low. Windows 7 doesn’t just have to be better than Vista, it has to be a heck of a lot better, and those improvements have to go way beyond superficial eye candy.

Another possible weakness for Microsoft is the fact that Apple is including support for experimental technologies in Mac OS 10.6. These include features such as OpenCL (Open Computing Language) which allows the GPU to be leveraged for parallel computing purposes, making possible applications capable of fast video rendering or highly accurate voice recognition.

Microsoft is also planning a similar feature for DirectX, but while Apple’s solution will be cross-platform, Microsoft’s will be confined to the Windows PC and the next generation Xbox, which could limit broad adoption of the technology.

And Microsoft would ignore Apple’s capability to whip up developers into a frenzy at its own risk – just look at how developers took the touch screen and accelerometers of the iPhone and used them as the basis for some really innovative applications.

Note: Some people think that OpenCL is a transient flash-in-the-pan technology. I have to disagree with this and can offer one compelling reason to take OpenCL seriously – Apple is already openly hyping it on the “Snow Leopard” web page. To quote: “Another powerful Snow Leopard technology, OpenCL (Open Computing Language), makes it possible for developers to efficiently tap the vast gigaflops of computing power currently locked up in the graphics processing unit (GPU). With GPUs approaching processing speeds of a trillion operations per second, they’re capable of considerably more than just drawing pictures. OpenCL takes that power and redirects it for general-purpose computing.”

In not backing technologies such as OpenCL (which is backed by some big hitters such as AMD, ARM, Electronic Arts, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Samsung, and Texas Instruments), and instead going with a Windows-only solution, Microsoft is once again relying on its dominance to sell technologies to developers.

If Apple brings out some cool apps that make use of technologies such as OpenCL (like maybe a revamped iLife), this will be used against Microsoft.

Microsoft really needs to get Windows 7 right, or it risks breaking the revenue-generating upgrade cycle that it relies on so much. Time will tell …

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