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.
Windows Switchers Untroubled
Yet based on many hours sitting through recent Mac user group meetings here in San Francisco, I suggest that most Mac users arent clamoring for Leopards release. They look forward to it and some of its capabilities, but Tiger is working fine for them.
Much of the focus at the recent Macworld was on the iPhone, which Apple says is still on track for June. The stall for Leopard will let Apples PR and marketing departments focus totally on that rollout. So perhaps theres the hint of silver lining for the delay.
At the same time, switchers from Windows wont be troubled at all by Leopards slight delay. A few extra months is a much different story than Windows Vista, which was delayed for years.
Heres one switcher who responded to my column about the Apple “halo effect” and the enterprise. Hes a vice president of engineering at a Silicon Valley company and said hes been a “dedicated” Windows user for more than a dozen years.
“Until a year ago, if you mentioned Macintosh, I would have told you to get a real computer to do real work. Now times have changed. The switch to the Intel platform has opened Apple up to the marketplace and to skeptics like myself.”
This guy said he switched in November to a MacBook Pro and uses SWsofts Parallels virtualization software to run Windows XP.
“Now I find that I have none of the issues that use to plague my system and daily operations. … Speed-wise, I could not be happier. Software-wise, I am pleasantly surprised at how many of the tasks can be completed with OS X-native applications and/or X11 based Linux apps. I do believe if OS X 10.5 Leopard is as good as its beta demonstrated for me, Vista has lost the OS war,” he concluded.
He sounds expectant for Leopard, not unhappy that its not here already.
(Please note that there is no such thing as the “OS war.” If there were such a thing then Microsoft “won” it years ago and even Steve Jobs said so. Still, as this engineering VP suggests, there should be a place in the market and in the enterprise for quality hardware and software that runs something else besides Windows.)
What all users want from an update to any OS or app is a solid release. Of course, they understand that there are problems that crop up with any launch, but they want it to work right. If another four or five months of work will make Leopard better, then thats what should be done.
What do you think? Are you bugged with Apples delay of Leopard? Let us know here.