How Will Apple Respond to Windows 7?
Windows 7 is slated for a late 2009 release. Pundits are gearing up
to chime in on its possibility of success. Consumers are anxiously
awaiting the opportunity to finally get their hands on the operating
system. Companies are wondering if it will be better than Vista.
And Apple - the cool, consumer-friendly Apple - is preparing an operating system of its own, Snow Leopard, that, it contends, will best any operating system it has ever released. In the meantime, it has made little mention of a possible dilemma the company might have: Windows 7. Will it be good? Will consumers like it? Most importantly, will it boast features that make Mac OS X look dated?
Since Microsoft has said that its most recent Windows 7 release, Release Candidate 1, is close to the final version of Windows 7, I think we can answer those questions now. Yes, it will be good. Yes, consumers will like it. And yes, it will boast features that make Apple's operating system look dated.
And Apple will be forced to respond.
The Windows 7 taskbar makes Mac OS X's Dock less appealing.
It boasts both open and closed applications, similar to Mac OS X's Dock. But when you hover your mouse over the open application icons, you'll find a thumbnail of every open instance of the application. Whenever you move your mouse over an individual thumbnail, it will be brought to the front and fit to your screen. Opening the right window takes much less time in Windows 7 than in Mac OS X. Spaces, Mac OS X's multidesktop tool that aims at keeping you organized and getting you to the desired application sooner, can't compare on any level with Windows 7's taskbar. Windows 7 (finally) provides a much nicer experience when it comes to opening and organizing applications. The onus is back on Apple to improve it.
The software conundrum
Whenever we consider the Windows and Mac OS X ecosystems, we need to look at software. Before Vista was made available, there weren't many issues affecting the Windows ecosystem. Companies had the software they wanted, since there were no compatibility issues. All that changed when Vista was released. IT managers were wondering when their broken applications would be updated to work with the OS. Developers were scrambling to find solutions to the incompatibility issue. And Microsoft kept promising results.
It turned many companies off to Vista, and it ensured that either XP or other solutions, including Mac OS X, would be deployed. It gave Apple an upper-hand. Worse, it made Microsoft look bad and created a scenario with Vista that turned into less-than-stellar public opinion over the software.
But Windows 7 is different. It has an XP mode, which will allow any company to run apps that might not work in Windows 7 on a virtual Windows XP install. That means that deploying Windows 7 won't be a problem for companies that are in desperate need of a company-wide deployment. And it ensures that Windows 7 won't leave companies relying on mission-critical software out in the cold.
For Apple, it means yet another missed opportunity. If Microsoft released another operating system with compatibility issues, Apple's move to the enterprise market could be swifter, since companies would be searching for alternatives to XP. In the meantime, developers would be ostracized as yet another Windows operating system broke their software. But since that issue has been resolved, Apple doesn't have that advantage.
One of the biggest issues facing Windows Vista was its lackluster response from the enterprise market. Many companies decided against switching. Vendors were forced to exercise Windows' "downgrade rights" to keep customers happy. And Microsoft was trying to find ways to get Vista into the enterprise.
But now that Windows 7 doesn't suffer from compatibility issues, it isn't as annoying as Vista, thanks to a reworked User Account Control system; and it's likely to be the most secure OS the company has ever released (another problem for Apple). Microsoft has redeemed itself in the enterprise. Apple now needs to wonder how (or rather, if) it can inch its way into the enterprise market as more companies than ever find reasons to deploy Windows 7. It puts Mac OS X firmly back in the consumer space.
How does Apple respond?
Though I highlighted three issues Apple faces, there are many more. The company might hold the high ground now when we compare Windows Vista to Mac OS X, but it won't for long. The more I use Windows 7, the more I realize just how great of an operating system it is. In turn, I quickly realize just how difficult it will be for Apple to do what Microsoft has done with future iterations of its own operating system. How can it improve its Dock to make it better than Windows 7's taskbar? How does it plan to attract more software developers if it continues its policy of closed-door politics? And most importantly, how does Apple plan to gain a foothold in the enterprise market if it has made no significant moves in that direction?
I know what you're thinking: it doesn't want to play nice with developers and it's happy in the consumer market. Plus, Apple is a hardware company.
OK, I can live with that. But consider the fact that it's the software that you interact with as your computer sits on your desk, collecting dust, and I think it becomes clear that Windows 7 could be a real problem for Apple. The way I see it, companies will find more reasons to deploy Windows 7. Employees at those companies will then start using Windows 7 and grow comfortable with it. And once it comes time to invest in another computer, it will be the OS they know from work - Windows 7 - that will be installed on their next home purchase.
All the while, Apple executives will be forced to find ways to trump Windows 7 to bolster sales. Based on my experience with both companies' operating systems, that won't be so easy.