Apples Delay of Leopard Isnt the End of the World

Opinion: In the past, Apple mostly executed on its promises, but now it says that it will miss its spring target date for Mac OS X Leopard. That may disappoint some of its developers, but users-and even switchers-won't likely care.

Over the past month or so, the rumor that Apple would delay Mac OS X Leopard (v10.5) surfaced and then submerged and finally surfaced again, but this time with a legit press release from deep inside the Cupertino headquarters. The new "date" for Leopards arrival is now in October.

Could this mean that we will see Steve Jobs in a Halloween costume for the launch? October 31 is a Wednesday this year, a fine day of the week for a launch party in fancy dress.

There were rumors floating around for a good while that Leopard would ship in April, rather than in June as many of us expected. Steve Jobs said a year ago that Leopard would ship "in the spring," which longtime Apple watchers know can extend all the way to the summer solstice on June 21 here above the equator.

However, this supposed April release date looked unlikely, since the pace of testing builds hadnt quickened. When companies head toward GM (golden master) its usual to see new versions released every week.

More importantly, developers said the Leopard code wasnt ready for prime time.

"Im not entirely surprised [about the delay], it doesnt quite seem stable enough yet!" said one application developer who declined attribution.

Another coder called the recent beta versions "horrible."

However, developers back in February and March said that the signs suggested that Apple would be ready to release Leopard at the upcoming 2007 WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) in June.

The company on April 12 said that it would give developers a "near final version" at the conference. In addition, Apple released Build 9A410 to several tiers of developers. Its been about 6 weeks since the last one.

Yet when the October date first surfaced, it wasnt believed by most Apple insiders. The problem was that the reason given for the delay was Leopards dual-boot support for Windows Vista.

This made no sense—Apple delay its new Mac OS X for Windows? Come on! Then this conjecture was sunk for good when Apple in late March released Beta 1.2 of Boot Camp, which supports 32-bit Vista.

While October was correct, Apple on April 12 offered a different reason.

According to Apple, testing of the iPhone required it to shift engineering and QA resources from the Mac OS X team away from Leopard testing and bug fixing. "Life often presents tradeoffs, and in this case were sure weve made the right ones," the Apple press release stated.

This excuse appeared to be bought wholesale by most of the developers I spoke with.

"Who knows how much OS X technology is being used by the iPhone. Its hard to tell. But I can imagine it [the shift of programmers] being possible," a Web tools developer said.

"Of course, Im a bit disappointed," he continued. "But [the delay] will give us more time to work on a Leopard version of our program. Thats not a bad thing."

Others said they thought the iPhone excuse was a "smoke screen" to cover for the long list of remaining bugs.

There are downsides to this delay, of course. But there could be some upside as well.

Mac developers have been waiting a good long time for Leopard. As I mentioned in a previous column, it would have been much better to head into WWDC with customers installing Leopard than not.

Apples Leopard story may have a strong sense of déjà vu to developers at WWDC. How different can presentations on new features be the third time around?

Still, there are a number of Leopard Server technologies that appear fresh. And most are aimed at providing SMB (small and midsize business) services.

For example, Leopard Server will come with a range of new content and collaboration features that provide a Mac alternative to Windows Exchange Server and some of Microsofts Live Server applications, such as local servers for wikis, Spotlight content searches and iCal calendar files. Theres also a server-side podcasting package, called Podcast Producer.

Also due for more details at WWDC will be iChat Server 2, which supports secure multiuser IM chat video conferencing and screen sharing. It will add support for instant messaging federation, letting Mac users connect with other XMPP instant messaging systems such as Google Talk. The current Tiger version supports Jabber.

In addition, Apple will be focusing on IT managers at WWDC with a new IT immersion track for Windows managers who now are supporting Mac "switchers" in their organizations.

Perhaps this delay will let Apple bring out into the light more about its support for ZFS (Zettabyte File System), a Sun Microsystems pooled-storage file system that is included in Solaris 10. In December, a Mac site published Leopard screen shots showing ZFS running on Leopard.

The intelligent management in ZFS supports plenty of storage goodness such as built-in replication, RAID and self-healing data verification, which would be icing for the other Leopard Server services.

Another question the Leopard delay brings concerns the rumored release of iWork 2007, the update to Apples productivity package. The Think Secret insider site in January reported that iWork 2007 would include a new spreadsheet app and updates to the Keynote presentation and Pages word processing/layout programs.

Some insiders suggest that the update is tied to Leopard features. We will see about that later this spring and summer.

Next Page: Leopards delay wont trouble the Mac base and Windows switchers.