Apple Snow Leopard : Second Take

Apple is getting a stranglehold on the evolution of computing devices, particulary for consumers. iPod + iTunes dominates the media playing world. iPhone + iAppStore dominate the phone plus highly portable app and messaging world. But Apple missed the boat despite a huge technology leads on the PC desktop and laptop world back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Microsoft with some serious treachery to IBM and blatant copying of Apple rose to the desk and lap Tops. Now with Vista being so bad and bloated, Microsoft has opened the opportunity for Mac to seize back a measure of desktop and laptop predominance – lead by Snow Leopard, its sometimes seriously better operating system.

Problem – Microsoft with PC vendors is pushing back by offering PCs, particularly of the laptop variety, at 1/2 [or even better] than the price of Apple’s comparable MacBooks. This discounting strategy has worked before against Apple in the mid 90’s when Intel bought up all the crucial components prior to Apple’s launch of its new Mac line. This foced Apple to raise its prices while PCs were discounted, killing the momentum behind Macs that were getting top-flite IT reviews. So trust me – the fighting between Microsoft and Apple can make Halloweed II+III+IV look like play school.

So Snow Leopard is a diversion that keeps Redmond pre-occupied about the desktop/laptop status quo, while Apple defines another smart device marketplace that it will of course dominate.

The latest slashings/slicings is the announcement and delivery of Apple’s Snow Leopard 10.6 update to the Mac OSX operating system for $29 about 3 weeks earlier than Redmond expected. Microsoft is still on schedule to launch for $100++ Windows 7 on October 22nd. Now Microsoft and pundits are describing Snow Leopard as “just an update, with no major feature changes”. Apple begs to differ and cites the Vista weak points of slow speed, bloated size, and high and confusing Windows prices as being some of the reasons for the deep appeal of Snow Leopard.

However, what is really at stake here is Apple’s attempt to win the minds and hearts of the iPod and iPhone set who have been badly burned off by the Bloat that is Vista. Now Windows has the reputation of being perpetually beta [inspiration for Google?]. Longhorn/Vista was to be the great rewrite that rid Windows of not just the beta tag and endemic security risks but also some deeply rooted reliability and performance problems. In 2004 the new Windows XP replacement [Longhorn+Blackcomb] was cast aside and what was to become Windows Vista was recast from a Windows Server 2003 codebase [see here for details]. The rushed results was a Wow Kludge of Vistastonishing proportions.

Only 1)a 95% PC market share monopoly, 2) a resilient and good enough Windows XP [certainly 40% faster than Vista and supporting a much wider number of peripherals/devices and applications], 3)a Linux community so fractured into self-enamored and self-defeating [but free and open] mini-segments that they could not deliver an innovative and profitable OS if their lives depended on it, 4)a group of virtual machine OS vendors second only to the Linux community for ineptness and unwillingness to produce a low cost [yet still highly profitable] VM package using either Linux+Win XP or Apple+Win XP as a bridge which would offer businesses as well as consumers a realistic weaning tool to get themselves off their dependence on a very abusive Windows Software Assurance relationship, and 5) an Apple unwilling to price their hardware across the board within 10% to 15% of the equivalent Windows PC just to achieve a self-sustaining 25-40% PC marketshare [remember Intel is going to be neutral on this since they win regardless of whether Apple or Microsoft succeeds] – this accidental confluence of events has allowed Microsoft to maintain a 90%++ desktop and laptop market share in the face of having an OS in Vista that even top Microsoft executives found seriously defective. So given this series of events and Apple’s strange disdaining of any Marketshare wars [one rationale, the pricing downdraft could get seriously out of control and Redmond has a much bigger cash kitty than Cupertino]; here is our take on the key features of Snow Leopard and what impact the cat will have on the PC markets.

Apple Snow Leopard’s Key Features

1)Leopard is full 64bit. This is one of the key factors in improving the speed of operation of MacOS. NYTimes David Pogue is reporting that start up time falls from 100 seconds to 70 seconds and that program startups range from 7 seconds for iTunes to 3 seconds for the Safari browser. These times are cut in half if the program is restarted in a MacOSX session. Now I know many Apple users that leave their Macs constantly running because a) the hibernate is fast and b)MacOSX does not “gunk up” with memory leaks and handles losses like Windows which benefits from a periodic [often daily reboot]. But others like Infoworld saw a more mixed story on speed. The downside of going to 64bits is drastic reduction in old applications able to run in the new Snow Leopard OS. Thus, as of the intro of Snow Leopard, about half of the major programs that run on a Mac cannot be certified that they will run properly in Snow Leopard. As might be expected, the major Apple app programs do and ditto for Adobe CS3 and CS4 Suites of programs. But check here to verify that your favorite programs run on Snow Leopard.
2)Snow Leopard leaves PowerPC Macs behind
. Users of older Power PC hardware are now LOST – stranded on the technology overdrive bitch. Echoes of Motorola Mac users from about a decade ago. I have not heard of any virtual machine vendor offering a bridge to Snow Leopard. This means the price of older Power PC Macs will surely decline evermore. Not good PR.
3)Quick Time Pro
now has a much improved interface, does image and video screen captures, and is bundled for free with the Snow Leopard. For a media savvy system this is long overdue.
4)GCD-Grand Central Dispatch and
Open CL which respectively take advantage of the multi-core processors used in all Apples [GCD] and the enormous plus largely latent power of the GPU[Open CL – GPU=Graphics Processing Units, like the NVidia 9400, now out perform the Intel Core CPU hardware by almost an order of magnitude in raw speed and often have nearly equivalent amounts of devoted memory]. But these important improvements still have to be tapped by Apple and 3rd party developers. For example, MacWorld shows little or no improvement in Adobe’s latest CS4 version of Photoshop on Snow Leopard. Nonetheless I suspect compute bound vendors like Adobe, Oracle, and Quark among others will certainly want to find ways to take advantage of these performance goodies – and unlike on Windows, they can start right now.
5)Snow Leopard is small
er – it takes less time to load, uses less disk space and less runtime memory. This is a key message versus Windows bloat and slow.
6)Universal Access
– Apple continues to pioneer in support of the blind or visually impaired. Now trackpad/touchpad gestures have sounding equivalents. In general, gestures and touch operations have been streamlined across all trackpad/touchpad devices. Rumors abound of Easter Egg hidden touch screen operations in Snow Leopard in anticipation of the Apple touch-based Tablet due at Septembers end.
7)Snow Leopard has Microsoft Exchange direct support
. This is vital to business people where Exchange has about 60% of mail server market share. Now Apple users can directly connect to Exchange without going through hoops. Two downers: this time next year Microsoft Outlook will be available to make that connections and Exchange 2007 or later is required and many IT shops are not up to date in Exchange Servers.
8)Numerous improvements to Apple utilities
. iChat, Finder, Expose, Dock, TimeMachine, Safari among many others all have seen speed and convenience improvements.

Although Snow Leopard does offer some very positive features, there are some distict downsides. The compatibility problems will be very real for lots of Snow leopard users.  and  the “expected speed in improvements” using GCD and Open CL may be too distant in the future. Coupled with Apple’s more than premium hardware prices, Snow Leopard does not appear to be a knockout blow that will chip off even single digit market share points into the Apple column. Yes, the IT press reviews have been positive. NYTimes’s David Pogue seems to reflect the consensus: “Either way, the big story here isn’t really Snow Leopard. It’s the radical concept of a software update that’s smaller, faster and better — instead of bigger, slower and more bloated. May the rest of the industry take the hint.”

Now I believe speed and reliability [little or no monthly Tuesday patches for Macs] and code efficiency will play to Apple’s advantage over the long haul. But if Microsoft delivers a Windows 7 marginally faster and just as memory voracious as Windows Vista, Redmond will have committed hari kari. On the other hand, if Windows 7 delivers a)substantial speed improvements over not Vista but Windows XP, b)effective and widely adopted full touch screen operations, plus c) major improvements to making its Windows security less intrusive but much more effective – the net result may be to kill two birdsnwith one stone. Microsoft will not only halt the Apple nibblings into their desktop and laptop 90%++ marketshare but also will kill the Google Android and Chrome OS challenges in the bud. But potentially there are some real spoilers for bothApple and Microsoft. Both vendors will have major compatibility problems with peripherals and applications that don’t work in their respective new OS. Likewise there will be the learning curves that Help Desks love/hate – if Vista was barely People Ready, how do 70% of Windows users who are not on Vista going to cope with Windows 7 revamped utilities and new features? So the jury will have to wait until October 22nd when Windows 7 steps out to see how this big IT Corral Shootout turns out.


Finally let me posit another strategy – Snow Leopard is a diversion. Something to keep the troops and execs in Redmond preoccupied with. In the meantime, Apple works on perfecting its touch tablet – a technology that heretofore Microsoft has had exclusively to themselves for the past 5-8 years [and to decidedly mixed reviews]. iTablet likely will target a multi-purpose device usable in  any of 3-6 areas: 1)a graphics art tablet similar to Wacom’s $2200 Cintiq that every graphics artist will lust for as the premium interface to their Macs; 2)an Amazon Kindle/Sony eBook reader but in color; 3)a Nintendo/XBox 3D gaming platform that uses touch+gestures to replace most external controls; 4)a video/movie/multimedia experience of the highest order; 5)The mobile tv receiver; 6)  and the Mac’s smart touchpad that can move about on its own as a highly mobile iTablet device capable of running many iPhone apps plus a host more that can take advantage of a bigger screen, built in GPS/accelerometers and other interface goodies. So Snow Leopard keeps Redmond pre-occupied about the desktop/laptop status quo, while Apple defines another smart device marketplace that it will of course dominate. Waiting for the denoument in September  [Apples projected iTablet announcement] and October 22nd [Windows 7 makes it debut].

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