With the release of Apple’s Snow Leopard operating system Friday, the next generation in operating system battles has begun. Snow Leopard is set to take on Windows 7, which is still slated for a late October release. And although it promises to be an interesting battle, it seems that Microsoft will hold the upper hand when it’s all said and done.
Microsoft still dominates the operating system market, but it lost the last-gen battle. Apple’s Leopard simply made Vista look like the also-ran in the market. Apple used its marketing budget to take Microsoft to task on all the issues its operating system suffered from.
Microsoft could do little to fight back and eventually enlisted the help of comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It was an ill-fated move. And it made Microsoft look even more desperate. So after considering its options, Microsoft decided to focus its efforts on Windows 7 and admit defeat against Leopard. But now that Snow Leopard has been released and Windows 7 is just two months away, it’s a new battle. Apple will continue its time-tested strategy of appealing to consumers while trying to capture more market share. Microsoft will stay true to both enterprise users and consumers and attempt to take back some of the market share it lost in the last generation. It’s a tall order for both companies. But at this point, it seems that Microsoft might be in a better position to capitalize.
Although Snow Leopard received high marks in early reviews, it isn’t a revolutionary upgrade. It features some iterative updates that do make it more appealing, but at the same time, those small updates limit its appeal. The new operating system sports better 64-bit support for Apple applications, including Finder and Mail. It also has Exchange support, which is a major update for businesses. But other than some fixes and a few upgrades, Snow Leopard is Leopard with a new name. That’s probably why Apple isn’t trying to gouge the consumers — Snow Leopard costs just $29 for a single upgrade.
Windows 7 is an entirely different story. Microsoft realized that Windows Vista was a nightmare. It’s aware that both companies and consumers are thinking twice about deploying new operating systems from Microsoft. So in an attempt to right the ship and bring Windows back to a place it once enjoyed with Windows XP, Microsoft has substantially improved its operating system.
Gaining the Upper Hand
Windows 7 now features an improved taskbar, making it easier for users to find and open applications. A preview feature lets users quickly open the desired window. According to Microsoft, Windows 7 also boasts several new security upgrades, making it the most secure operating system Microsoft has released to date. At the same time, Microsoft has limited the annoying User Account Control to ensure users don’t face pop-ups whenever they want to perform simple, safe operations. It’s a vast improvement over Vista. And chances are, most users will be happy with it.
Perhaps the most important component in the battle between Apple and Microsoft is the nature of the two companies’ upgrades. Apple’s upgrade is evolutionary. Microsoft’s upgrade is revolutionary. Although Apple commands significant attention in the marketplace, an evolutionary upgrade will lose steam quickly. Users will install Snow Leopard on their Macs, recognize the few differences, and move on.
A revolutionary update has far more appeal in the marketplace. The press will spend more time delving into Windows 7. Users will be trying to learn about all the changes to the OS. It will be a hot topic for much longer. And it will carry Microsoft into the holiday season, which could be a key battleground period for both companies.
Apple will be marketing its operating system as a more secure option than what Microsoft offers (whether or not that is really true is up for debate). Microsoft will remind folks that Windows 7 is user-friendly and has the most application support of any product on the market. Both companies will find that single issue with the other’s operating system to put itself over. But regardless of how they go about it, I don’t think there will be any stopping Microsoft from winning this generation.
Although I have yet to use Snow Leopard, I have used Windows 7’s Release Candidate. Even though it wasn’t the final build of the OS, it provided an outstanding experience. It was a major upgrade over Windows Vista. And it’s an operating system that, based on my experience, I would rather use than Leopard. Considering that Snow Leopard is an iterative update over Leopard, it’s likely I’d have the same feeling when comparing Windows 7 to Apple’s latest OS.
In the end, it comes down to execution. Can Microsoft deliver a product that is more reliable than Snow Leopard? Can it combat Apple’s marketing onslaught? Does it have the features to captivate end users? At this point, we need to wait and see. All those questions need to be answered before we can officially declare a victor. But so far, Microsoft has the upper hand.