Microsoft's Windows 7 and Apple's Snow Leopard have begun drawing comparisons as both operating systems approach their respective release dates. Despite a few business-centric improvements to Snow Leopard, however, study data suggests that it may make limited inroads in the enterprise and among small and midsize businesses. Windows 7 also may face a slower rate of business adoption despite its aesthetic and processing improvements.
planned release of Snow Leopard on Aug. 28 has led to widespread comparisons
between its newest operating system version and Microsoft's
Windows 7. Both operating systems offer aesthetic and performance refinements,
but Snow Leopard also faces an uphill battle if Apple wishes to seize more
substantial market share in the enterprise and in the small and midsize
Leopard's improvements are mostly under the hood, with an emphasis on speed.
Mail loads in half the time as in Leopard Version 10.4.8, while initial backup
of Time Machine is 80 percent faster, according to Apple. The 64-bit version of
Safari 4 is 50 percent quicker than the 32-bit version, and the Finder has been
fine-tuned to be more responsive, the company said. There is built-in support
for Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. Snow Leopard also requires 7GB less space
on the hard drive than the previous Mac OS X iteration.
Apple seems to be promoting rapid adoption of the new operating system by
offering it to Mac OS X Leopard users for $29; those who purchase a Mac between
June 8 and Dec. 26 will be able to purchase a Snow Leopard upgrade package for
That strategy has the potential to work, according to Piper Jaffray analyst
Gene Munster, who estimates that Snow Leopard will ship 5 million copies through
the end of September. Heading into its launch, the operating system has taken
top spots on Amazon.com's bestseller list on the strength of preorders.
With regard to SMBs that utilize Apple products, the other big news is the
release of the Snow Leopard Server on the same date as its client-side
counterpart. The server, which will cost $499, features iCal Server 2 and
Address Book Server.
"Apple is attempting to meet the needs of an increasing number of
people using Macs for work," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT
Research, said in an interview with eWEEK. Despite the relatively low number of
companies historically that have adopted Apple as a cross-company platform, he
said, "I think what we're seeing is Apple acknowledging that they'd like
to see more [business] people buying Macs."
Microsoft is on track, meanwhile, to launch Windows 7 on Oct. 22. Windows
7 has many features that invite a head-to-head comparison against the
less-expensive Snow Leopard, including a smaller memory footprint than its Windows
In addition, Windows 7 brings aesthetic enhancements, particularly to
aspects such as the task bar, which further encourage comparison with Leopard.
Unlike Leopard, which Apple considers an iterative updating of its operating system,
Microsoft would like users to see Windows 7 as a completely new and separate
entity from the much-hated Vista. On top of that,
Microsoft is hoping that Windows 7 will promote an industrywide tech refresh
that will boost not only its own sagging revenues, but also those of its
Although both operating systems offer improvements in speed and durability,
Microsoft has traditionally held a lock on end-user IT infrastructure within
the enterprise that seems unlikely to break soon. By comparison, a report in
early 2009 by research company Forrester found that the Mac
adoption rate for businesses in Europe and North America had actually declined
to 3 percent from 5 percent in 2008.
With those numbers in mind, it seems unlikely that the rollout of Snow
Leopard-despite the anticipated sales numbers-will pose any short-term threat to
Microsoft within the enterprise.
"Apple has increased its market share notably over the past couple
years, and partially that's due to how miserably Microsoft has done with Vista,"
Charles King said, "but they're still in the high single- or low double-digits
compared to Microsoft. When Windows 7 comes out, I think it'll be harder for
Apple to differentiate its platform."
During Microsoft's annual Financial Analyst Meeting on July 30, CEO
Steve Ballmer suggested that Apple's market-share gains among consumers did not
translate into a direct threat to Microsoft.
"Apple's share, globally, cost us nothing," Ballmer told an
audience of analysts. "You can't be high-priced. That doesn't get us to
the high volume that we aspire to."
However, Microsoft also needs Windows 7 to be a hit in 2009 if it wants to
end the year on a stronger fiscal note, and data suggests that the enterprise
might not be ready to play ball on that particular front. In a study by
in 10 companies surveyed had no plans to upgrade their computers immediately
upon Windows 7's October release, although nearly 40 percent intended to have
the operating system up and running by the end of 2010.
Another study, this one by Deutsche Bank, found that Windows 7 could achieve
the same degree of penetration within the enterprise as Windows XP and Windows 2000
within 12 to 18 months.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.