Apple's Mac OS X "Mountain Lion" will do battle against Windows 8, with both operating systems betting big on their respective mobile features.
In 2009, Microsoft unveiled Windows 7. The operating system
had a dual mission: erase the bad memories associated with Windows Vista, which in its early days was met with derision from an extremely vocal subset of customers
and businesses, and replace the solid-but-aging Windows XP.
A couple months before Windows 7 hit store shelves, Apple
rolled out an updated version of its Mac OS X, Snow
Leopard (the company has a thing about
naming each successive OS after a big cat of some sort). Unlike Windows 7,
Apples latest software platform was more of an update than an outright
revision. And although pundits and the tech press made the inevitable
head-to-head comparisons between the two companies offerings, nobody seemed to
believe that Snow Leopard would threaten Windows 7 in the traditional
Three years later, history is set to repeat, with Microsoft
and Apple ramping up new versions of their respective operating systems for
release within months of each other. But the tech landscape as a whole has
undergone some seismic shifts in the interim. Although Windows continues to
dominate the market for traditional operating systems, the rise of
mobilitydriven in large part by Apples success with the iPad and iPhonehas
threatened to replace the PC as the center of peoples everyday computing lives.
That trend has affected Microsoft in a very big way. Windows
8 features a "start" screen of big, colorful tiles linked to applicationsthe
better to touch, because Microsoft intends the operating system for both
traditional PCs and tablets. It will come with an app store, and many of the
latest under-the-hood tweaks optimize battery life and wireless connectivity.
Windows 8 tablets will face a variety of competitors,
including the iPad and a large array of devices running Google Android. Part of
Microsofts strategy for dealing with that threat rests on its emphasis of
Windows 8 as a consummate productivity platform, even on a smaller
In a Building
blog post describing Windows on ARM architecture, which powers
many of the tablets on the market today (and for which Microsoft applies the
acronym WOA), Windows and Windows Live division president Steven Sinofsky
suggested that the new version of Office software would come as an integral
part of the overall Windows experience. Within the Windows desktop, WOA
includes desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and
OneNote, code-named Office 15, he wrote. WOA will be a no-compromise product
for people who want to have the full benefits of familiar Office productivity
software and compatibility.
Thats on top of a robust apps ecosystem. For the past few
months, Microsoft executives have encouraged third-party developers to create
apps for Windows 8. The company will further emphasize the upcoming operating
systems mobile bona fides by (almost certainly) unveiling the Consumer Preview
(a fancy term for beta) at this Februarys Mobile World Congress in
Mountain Lion, Apples next version of Mac OS X, similarly
takes big cues from mobile operating systemsin its case, by incorporating a
number of features that first appeared on iOS. These include iCloud, which
syncs user data (including mail, calendars, contacts and documents) between
devices via the cloud, and a new Messages feature allows Mac users to send
unlimited messages to iOS devices.
With Apple, this evolution toward mobility feels more
organic. For some time, it has positioned itself as a mobile first company.
The current version of its software, Lion, incorporates an app store clearly
derived from the one available for iOS.
Windows continues to hold a commanding share of the
traditional operating system market, a situation that seems unlikely to change
anytime soon. The bigger question is whether Windows 8s embrace of the mobile
paradigm will allow it to fight toe-to-toe against Apple in the tablet market.
That certainly remains to be seen, but based on the new features in Mountain
Lion, it also seems that Apples unwilling to let Microsoft entirely dictate
the evolution of the operating system on PCs.
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter