How Will Apple Respond to Windows 7?

NEWS ANALYSIS: Microsoft is planning its Windows 7 launch for the end of the year. The enterprise is getting excited to finally enter the next generation of Windows. Both vendors and consumers are hoping for the best. But it's Apple that needs to be worried.

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Microsoft's 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.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...