2007 has, so far at any rate, been a good year for Linux and a not so good year for Windows Vista. But how will the long-awaited (and delayed) Mac OS X Leopard be greeted by users? Will it delight or disappoint? Will it leave users awed or unimpressed?
If you’d have asked me this time last year which operating system was going to be hot in 2007 I would have said it would be Windows Vista. Microsoft had both the marketing cash and the user base to springboard Vista into the hot list. But things didn’t work out right for Microsoft for a number of reasons. To begin with, Microsoft took a superficial approach to marketing Vista, choosing to concentrate on how the operating system looked rather than how it performed. Then, rather than being “Wowed!” by Vista, business and enterprise users immediately started asking when SP1 would be available. Compatibility and performance problems bugged a lot of early adopters, and these people quickly spread the word that living with Vista wasn’t all “Wow!” like Microsoft had promised.
Vista also appeared at a time when computer users were more willing than ever to try out alternatives to Windows. Ubuntu signed a deal with Dell to ship the Linux distro on a selection of PCs offered by Dell. Now, you can’t find them in Dell’s main catalog, and the selection is small, but it’s still a start. The Mac platform has also enjoying strong growth this year despite competition from Microsoft. Because more and more users want to experiment with different operating systems, 2007 has also been a good year for virtualization technologies. Applications such as Parallels, VMware Workstation, VMware Fusion and Apple’s Bootcamp have gained significant traction this year as people start to experiment with different operating systems. Part of this success is almost certainly down to people not being as pleased with Vista as they had expected to be.
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So the state of play is that Linux is hot, Vista is not. Tiger, the current incarnation of Mac OS X, is also hot and enjoying a long-awaited increase in users. But will the next incarnation, Leopard, enjoy a similar success? Or will it ultimately suffer a fate similar as Vista and fail to excite the emotions of its users?
Just lately there have been a spate of articles by folks in the Mac community who seem to be suggesting that Leopard just isn’t innovative enough. For example, here’s what Hadley Stern of Apple Matters had to say about Leopard:
“Look, I love OS X. And I’m with John [John Gruber, in his Macworld article] that when it first came out it was awful, and that Tiger is currently an excellent operating system. But I don’t just expect refinements from Apple (and I certainly don’t expect to part with $129 for it) I expect innovation…
“I have used the beta of Leopard extensively (and legally I might add) and for the most part it falls within the refinement area. It is faster, smoother, and the OS details are more consistent. It has spaces (which is nothing new), a horribly-rendered title bar image-thingy (which makes me think someone hired a UI designer from Redmond) and some other stuff I can’t remember right now. But what it doesn’t offer is anything really new, and this is a shame.”
Stern’s message is clear – Apple has lost momentum when it comes to innovation. That could be for a number of reasons. Perhaps the iPhone has something to do with it, or maybe Apple is making OS X more beginner friendly (not a bad idea since more newbies than ever are turning to Apple), or could it be because OS X is at the point where it’s about as good as it’s going to get? (I’m not sure where that leaves Apple when it comes to the next version … it’s possible that it’s an indication the OS X line has come to the end.)
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But, no matter what the reason, I’m noticing parallels between the early reviews of Leopard and Vista. Of course, it’s too early to condemn Leopard just yet, but Steve Jobs’ recent fumble over iPhone pricing does demonstrate that Apple can stumble (and also that Apple customers are perfectly willing to stage a revolt).
So it will be interesting to see how things pan out over the next few months, in particular Apple sales over the crucial Holiday period and how Vista SP1 is received by businesses. I’m not expecting that Ubuntu’s deal with Dell will boost user numbers a great deal, but more such deals could follow, and if that happens, the pressure will be on both Apple and Microsoft to once again start being pioneering, because the easy availability of a free operating system will make people who are still willing to pay for an operating system expect a lot more for their money.