Has the Leopard lost it’s spots?

If you read many Apple or Mac OS X forums, magazines or listen to Mac-related podcasts, soon enough you’ll come across a comment about how Windows Vista was late to market, only just competes with Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and how OS X 10.5 (Leopard) will rewrite history and further boost Apple’s growth. Some of the podcasts I listen to even expected Apple to release Leopard at MacWorld in January and therefore beat Vista to market. Well, Leopard wasn’t ready at MacWorld (why would Apple rush it to market just to “beat Microsoft”, especially as Vista was already available to Microsoft’s business customers at that time?) – all Apple announced at MacWorld 2007 were some products that weren’t ready yet (although the Apple TV and AirPort Extreme have since begun shipping).

For a while now, Apple has said that Leopard will arrive in the spring 2007. Well, spring is here, and there is no sign of Leopard but when exactly does spring end? I could be generous and assume that the second quarter of the year counts as spring and maybe Leopard, iLife, iPhone, a new iSight camera and updates to the Macintosh and iPod product lines will be launched at Apple’s worldwide developer conference in June. Nope. Leopard will be late. Except in the southern hemisphere, where it will be spring in October. Yes, October. Now, I’m no Microsoft apologist (although some of my friends may disagree) but I do feel an element of smugness here as the same Apple fanboys who poured scorn on Windows Vista weep while they have to wait until the autumn (at least) for a new version of OS X.

To Apple: shame on you. I’m not sure whether to be more annoyed that you dropped the ball and let down your existing customer base in order to enter the highly-competitive smartphone market with an unproven product or that you are hiding behind the development of the iPhone in a crude attempt to mask the hypocrisy of criticising Microsoft’s incessant delays on Vista then delaying your own operating system update.

100 million iPod sales is a fantastic achievement, as is the resurgence in Apple’s computer sales but, by introducing uncertainty into the market, delaying releases of Mac-related products and failing to ship a new generation of iPods in order to follow a dream of becoming a consumer electronics giant, Apple risks losing it all. If they don’t get their act together soon then the winners will be Microsoft (PC operating systems), Nokia (phones) and Sony (consumer electronics).

Even before Apple announced that Leopard would not ship until October, there were rumours that all is not well in Cupertino – in TWiT episode 94 it was even suggested that the reason for the delays is not actually a lack of resources but actually because Steve Jobs is personally involved in so many of the decisions at Apple and only has limited time himself. An interesting theory (there were others too that I hold less credence in).

From a personal perspective, I’ve been considering a new Mac purchase and was looking at Leopard to see if it’s worth waiting for – even before this announcement I’d been preparing to blog about Leopard because my conclusion is that it’s probably not worth the wait. It looks to have some nice features but it doesn’t seem to offer much at all that’s ground breaking and I very much doubt that it can live up to Apple’s claims of “advancing the world’s most advanced operating system”. Now, before I get flamed, I’ll set out why I don’t see what the fuss is about, based on the Leopard Sneak Peek on the Apple website:

  • Time Machine. Looks good. Very pretty. Windows has had a backup utility since the mid-1990s (Apple make you pay for theirs) and has had the volume shadow copy service (VSS) for snapshots since Windows XP too – not as pretty as Time Machine but present in the operating system nevertheless.
  • Mail and iCal. The first new Mail features that Apple cites are based around HTML stationary, which either looks nice or tacky (depending on your point of view) but is pretty pointless as any decent mail client will block images in HTML mail for security reasons (at least until the message can be confirmed as safe). iCal’s collaboration functionality sounds good but in my experience the majority of non-geek users struggle to get any further at collaboration than e-mailing documents to one another. As for Notes and To Dos – have you ever heard of Outlook or Entourage? They may not be part of the operating system but let’s face it there aren’t many PCs in the world that don’t have Office on them. Regardless, I’ll concede that Mail and iCal are already better than their Windows equivalents.
  • Anti-phishing improvements in Mail and Safari. Check – already there in Windows, whether you use Internet Explorer or Firefox.
  • iChat. Fair enough – it is a great IM client and the new presentation features are miles ahead what the competition offers but in order to use the iChat audio-visual features with non-iChat contacts there are a lot of hoops to jump through, and getting iChat to talk to certain IM networks is difficult too.
  • Spaces. Something similar has been there on Linux for as long as I’ve used it (which, admittedly, is not very long) and the technology is already available for Mac OS X using VirtueDesktops. It’s a pity that Apple pulled up the rug from under Tony Arnold’s feet rather than making him an offer he couldn’t refuse, although the Leopard implementation does look pretty cool.
  • Dashboard. Nice. Should widgets be on a separate desktop or at the side of the screen? I guess that depends on your preference – personally I prefer the Apple implementation but I already have it in OS X 10.4 – either way, widgets weren’t invented by Apple (or Microsoft). As for users creating their own widgets… hmm… that’s sounds like a way to inject something nasty into my system (at the very least, user-generated widgets are unlikely to be frugal with system resources).
  • Spotlight. I hope it’s better than in Tiger – at the moment the productivity gurus recommend Quicksilver instead.
  • Accessibility. I understand that accessibility is a legal requirement (maybe that is just for websites). Maybe one day we’ll have a computer that can speak without sounding like a computer. Sorry but that new “Alex” voice still sounds very synthetic.
  • 64-bit. We’ve had 64-bit support for Windows since XP (albeit with limited driver support) and it’s been around in Linux for a while too; however the main advantage of 64-bit processing is access to more memory and unless we get some more Macs that support more than 2-3GB (at the time of writing, only the Mac Pro can use more than 3GB), what’s the big deal?
  • Core Animation. I’m not a developer but I understand all the core-* technologies are a method of exposing functionality to developers in a way that encourages simple application development. Is that like the Microsoft.NET framework or Java then?

Now I’m not saying that Windows is better than Mac OS X. That would be a purely subjective view; what I will say is that, even though I still use computers running Windows and Linux, my personal preference is to use my Mac as much as possible (probably just because it’s the computer with the large display, two processing cores and 2GB of memory, rather than any operating system considerations). Even so, I guess it means that I’m still a switcher – as is Kevin Ridgway, who thinks that people who prefer Windows are dumb. I just think this whole “my operating system is better than yours” nonsense is pointless and am disappointed that Apple has sunk to that level in their (admittedly rather funny) advertising. As for Kevin’s assertion that the latest version of OS X will be “an even more enticing reason to make the switch”, I just can’t see it.

Incidentally, for those who favour a third way (i.e. not Microsoft or Apple), a new version of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution was released today…

7 thoughts on “Has the Leopard lost it’s spots?

  1. I totally agree with you on all points! I’ve used OS X for almost a year now, and love it, but I really can’t see what the Mac has to offer that is so unique. It’s different, but that is in many ways only in the wrapping. In the end it’s another OS that hangs and crashes from time to time, and leave you swearing because you have a pile of work to be done.

    I’ve used Windows XP and GNU/Linux for years, and really have a pragmatical approach to it all, I mean all OSes have their charm. If you look at the revolutionary new functionality of both OS X and Vista, you will find – as you also mention like in the case of desktop switching – that most of these features are things that’s been around for ages for other OSes or from 3rd parties, whether it be commercial, shareware, freeware, or open source. They all copy and steal from each other, everyone. The saddest about it all is probably when new integrated features leads to the death of original 3rd party products that is superior featurewise, but simply cannot compete anymore.

    Well, like you, I now probably use my Mac the most because it’s my newest piece of hardware. When it comes to 10.5 anticipations, ironically what I hope for the most is better Windows interoperability, like a functioning samba implementation – but is that too much to ask?

  2. Hi Hans-Gunnar,
    Thanks for your comments; I’m so glad that I’m not alone on this one! As for improved Windows integration – I’m right there with you on that request (when I first bought the Mac I spent a lot of time and effort trying to get it to authenticate with my Active Directory but in the end I gave up – I’m sure it is possible, but after struggling for a couple of days I decided that I had so many better things to do with my time).


  3. Since you linked to your comments about Leopard, I don’t mind having a quick poke at them, too:

    1. So it was late: big deal. What’s six months? Remind me how late Vista was?

    2. AFAIK, Windows XP’s backup utility doesn’t run in the background, automatically protecting your documents as you go along, so Time Machine is more than “pretty” in comparison — although it’s clear a lot more thought went into the UI than Windows XP backup. I have no idea what the volume shadow copy service is — something for IT professionals, presumably.

    3. Mail and iCal. I think you concede this point, except where you compare built-in features to expensive add-ons (we recently bought a copy of Office Home/Student 2007 and it doesn’t even come with Outlook!).

    4. iChat. I clearly remember you and I having to jump through hoops to get the A/V features to work, but I have seen it set up on other machines and “just work”. I think this is more a router issue than an Apple problem.

    5. Spaces. Sure, it’s been available on Linux, but I thought you were comparing to Windows? Or are you knocking Apple for not including the features of every other OS?

    So, you’re kind of right when you say Leopard didn’t offer anything ground-breaking. But, these were all new features to the OS, which makes it a very worthwhile upgrade from previous versions of Mac OS X. And at a bargain price, too.

  4. @Alex – have you not got anything better to do?

    1. I can’t remember – it was certainly a long while after XP (5 or so years) but many of the “missed deadlines” were never public commitments. Meanwhile Apple were criticising Microsoft for being late to market, then slipped their own product. It’s called Hypocrisy – and I think we argued about it in the comments on another post.

    2. The backup utility may not run silently in the background (actually, it does if you set up scheduled backups) but VSS (which is more analogous to Time Machine) does. Personally, I like to know that my backups have completed successfully rather than just relying on trust…

    3. Windows Live Essentials = Free – which is exactly why the Home and Student edition of Office doesn’t include Outlook… (you did read the spec. before purchasing didn’t you?)

    4. It’s called security. The reason you and I had to open ports manually was because uPnP was turned off on your router and not supported on mine. “It just works” relies on insecure router configurations.

    5. No, I’m just saying that their much lauded features (and, casting my mind back I think they said there were about 300 new features when many of them could hardly be counted as “features”) are hardly original… especially as many Mac fanboys were busily accusing Microsoft of ripping OS X features off in Windows at the time. Let’s face it, both OS X and Windows NT (in which I include its successors) are both mature operating systems now… I expect to see some duplication of features, but not all listed as major breakthroughs (and the points I listed in this post were taken from Apple’s spin on how great Leopard would be).

    £129 I seem to recall. Not really the “bargain” you described. And yes, you’ll probably pull out some horrendous retail price for the Ultimate version of Windows but no-one actually pays that. The only features I have knowingly used Leopard for that weren’t in Tiger were Boot Camp (I soon stopped using that after I got fed up of rebooting) and Front Row’s remote iTunes connectivity.

    Now, let sleeping dogs lie. This is a two and a half year old post. And Snow Leopard (which is what got us here) is still little more than a service pack.

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