Leopard, Vista and Thurrott… oh my!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Apple’s most recent operating system, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, was released last week and overall, the reviews have been very positive. Not surprisingly, Apple recorded record sales during the product’s first weekend on sale. Leopard sales have far outpaced Apple’s initial sales for Tiger (10.4) when it was released. This stands in strong contract to the reception Microsoft received with its Vista debut. While I happen to think Vista is a fine operating system and largely a big improvement over XP, the migration to Vista has been painful for many. I’ve been shocked to see such a demand from consumers to downgrade back to XP.

With that in mind, it’s kind of funny to read a Leopard review from an extremely biased Windows “journalist”. I’ve tagged this under “journalist hack”, but I may start a new tag called “comedy” to cover items like this. While I realize nobody really takes Paul Thurrott’s articles seriously, feel free to continue reading my rebuttal just for fun.

For the record, I should probably state my position of Leopard right up front. I see Leopard as a nice evolutionary upgrade for the Mac platform. I wouldn’t say the new features in Leopard are particularly innovative in function. Apple has done a good job of taking existing concepts and implementing them in a very user friendly way. While enhancing the user interface to existing concepts is a form of innovation, it’s not the same level of innovation that Apple is known for. Much of what Apple has done with Leopard has been done before in other operating systems. Thurrott tries to attribute much of Apple’s work to previous works from Microsoft. In doing so, he makes himself look foolish as his comparisons are often a bit of a stretch. I’m not sure whether Thurrott really isn’t aware of where various technologies have originated from or whether he chooses to omit such information in order to give his explanation more credibility.

Apple Mac OS X 10.5 ‘Leopard’ Review
Paul Thurrott

http://www.winsupersite.com/reviews/macosx_leopard.asp

“While the Apple hype machine and its fanatical followers would have you believe that Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” is a major upgrade to the company’s venerable operating system, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, Leopard is yet another evolutionary upgrade in a long line of evolutionary OS X upgrades, all of which date back to the original OS X release in 2001.”

I suppose this is where the comedy begins. A common argument I hear from Windows zealots seems to be that each OS X upgrade is minor, sort of like a “service pack” release for Windows. The basis for this argument comes solely from the naming convention. The fact that each release has had what seems like a point release (10.0, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5) naming convention seems to be more than Thurrott can handle. In all fairness, the 10.1 “Puma” release really was just that, a point release to fix stability issues and add very minor features to the not yet ready for prime time 10.0 “Cheetah” release. However, each subsequent release since then has been very substantial and worthy of the “major release” designation.

Apple highlights some of the more significant user level features on their web page. They even have a site which makes a list of 300 new features. Granted, all of the new features aren’t earth shattering and many are enhancements to existing features, etc. Still, not everything is listed. For most of what’s new in an operating system, you’d have to be a developer to appreciate. For those who actually want a taste of what Apple has really done with the kernel, systems services, etc. you can start by reading the John Siracusa’s excellent review at Ars Technica.

Anyway, back to the Thurrott’s review… The funny thing is, Thurrott is in a tough position. Leopard is considered by most to be the leading operating system in terms of technology and features. Clearly there is not a true one to one comparison with Vista. Vista excels at some things and Leopard excels at others. Still, Leopard is the real deal and Thurrott is fully aware of it. So, on one hand, Thurrott wants to belittle the accomplishment Apple makes with each release. On the other hand, you have to acknowledge the product Leopard is in your review. The only way to do that is to claim the original Mac OS X 10.0 release was better than it is. That’s pretty much how Thurrott back pedals in his next paragraph. He doesn’t mention the 10.0 release by name, but since everything since then has been a “service pack” like update, what he’s implying is clear enough.

“But let me get one huge misunderstanding out of the way immediately: That’s not a dig at Leopard at all. Indeed, if anything, Apple is in an enviable position: OS X is so solid, so secure, and so functionally excellent that it must be getting difficult figuring out how to massage another $129 out even the most ardent fans. Folks, Leopard is good stuff. But then that’s been true of Mac OS X for quite a while now.”

Thurrott tries to draw parallels between Vista and Leopard and the development process between Microsoft and Apple, but he just doesn’t fly.

“Both Leopard and Vista were horribly late, Vista even more so than Leopard.”

Really? Vista/Longhorn was supposed to ship in 2003, but actually shipped (to consumers) in 2007. That’s 4 years late and it was missing most of the interesting features that were originally promised. Leopard was supposed to ship in “first half” of 2007, but actually shipped in October of 2007. That’s 4 months late and feature complete. BIG difference Paul!

New Features

For some reason, Thurrott goes on a tirade about the definition of “new features”.

“…the feature must actually be new (i.e. have not appeared in any form in a previous version of the product) and must actually be something that impacts end users in a practical way.”

According to Thurrott’s definition, hardly any software products can list “new” features. That is, (using Thurrott’s own example), it doesn’t matter what “enhancements” Apple has made to its DVD player for example because it already had a DVD player. Likewise, new capabilities of this or any similar application don’t count as “features” for some reason. I wonder if Thurrott applies this same logic to his Microsoft Vista or Office reviews?

Time Machine

“New to Leopard, Time Machine is Apple’s version of Microsoft’s Previous Versions feature, which first appeared in Windows Server 2003 over four years ago.”

As expected, Thurrott loosely tries to compare Apple’s Time Machine feature with something Microsoft has. The problem is, what is he comparing it to? Backing up files? Apple has had a “backup” application for years that came standard with .Mac subscriptions. Backing up files is nothing new for Apple either. Perhaps he means snapshots? Again, this concept has been around in the Unix world for ages, certainly long before Microsoft even considered adding such a feature. This alone makes me wonder why he is trying to pretend Apple is copying Microsoft here. It gets better though.

“What makes Time Machine truly interesting is that it works with certain applications in addition to files and that’s something Apple should stress more in its discussions about this feature.”

Again, this begs the question, which Microsoft product does what Time Machine does here?

“Unfortunately, the company mucked up Time Machine with a truly juvenile user interface, one that is horribly out of place in its otherwise staid and professional looking OS X.”

I suppose user interface is a subjective thing. However, it’s worth noting that this is the one and only review I’ve seen which doesn’t praise the Time Machine interface. Apple has put a practical and user friendly interface on what has traditionally been a tool reserved for geeks. It would seem that Thurrott stands alone on this one.

“Apple also blows it by requiring a second hard drive: This makes Time Machine less useful for mobile users, which Apple says represent over 50 percent of its sales. Way to ignore your own trends, Apple.”

Again, comments like this are why I enjoy reading Thurrott’s posts. Comic relief is a great way to reduce stress in the work day. Basically, Thurrott is advocating the practice of storing your backups on the same volume as your original data. That’s all well and good until you actually need to restore your data after a disaster occurs. What do you do when your hard drive crashes Paul? You’ve just lost your original data and your backup data. Brilliant! Please Paul, don’t apply for an IT job. Any laptop user that doesn’t backup to another physical device such as an external hard drive or some other network storage is just asking for trouble.

Spaces

Thurrott doesn’t say much about Leopard’s Spaces feature other than acknowledge that it came from the UNIX environment. True enough, though some of the ideas go back as far as Xerox Parc, the concepts of virtual desktops are really nothing new. Most of the work was pioneered by the X Window system. Microsoft has dabbled with this concept before by making this feature a “PowerToy” add on to Windows XP, but the implementation was absolutely horrible. Basic features like moving a window to another desktop, etc. were not implemented.

This is definitely a feature for power users and Apple seems to have done a good job here. There is nothing innovative about what Apple has done with this, but it is a first class implementation of an existing concept.

User experience

“After years of deemphasizing unnecessary translucency effects in Mac OS X, Apple takes a big step back in Leopard. Now, not only are menus more translucent than ever in Leopard, but so is the system-wide menu bar at the top of the screen, meaning that it will rarely be solid white as it’s been in all Mac OS releases since the original version in 1984. The effect is ugly, and I wish you could at least turn it off.”

Every dog has his day and even Thurrott gets to be right once in a while. Fortunately, this “feature” can be turned off, but it involves something beyond a simple control panel setting.

“Apple’s file manager application, the Finder, has always been adequate, but this time around it’s been upgraded with a number of Vista-like features, including a new look and feel (based, go figure, on iTunes) and a semi-customizable sidebar. This, I like quite a bit.”

This is another one of those situations where you just have to laugh. Thurrott claims the Mac “Finder” has been upgraded with “Vista-like” features, which in turn he credits as being based on iTunes. Really, why bring Vista into this? Clearly the iTunes product and interface have existed long before Vista. Isn’t it possible that Apple is just standardizing the interfaces of its own products? Thurrott is clearly implying Apple is copying Microsoft in some way. Yet, he goes on to acknowledge that both Leopard and Vista are copying Apple’s own iTunes. Funny. He goes on to draw other similarities between Leopard and Vista, but again, most of these conventions already exist in Apple’s iTunes.

Smart Folders

“Search For, as you might expect, is OS X’s answer to Vista’s Searches folder. Here, you’ll see links to prebuilt searches such as Today, Yesterday, Last Week, and links for searching for images or documents. And as like Vista, you can create your own saved searches. These will automatically show up in the Search For list in the Finder when saved.”

Again, Thurrott seems to be hoping that his reading audience is limited to Windows users that have never seen or heard of other operating systems. Here, Thurrott is referring to Apple’s “Smart Folders” feature. Smart Folders are also known as Virtual Folders. They are basically saved search criteria. When you access one of these folders, they use the saved search criteria and use the systems search engine to provide dynamic results. Apple has made extensive use of this feature in products like iTunes, iPhoto, Mail, etc. for years. Microsoft first used this feature in Outlook, but this use is predated by iTunes by several years. Even still, the feature really originated with the Be operating system (BeOS). So, again, this concept is nothing new. Apple hasn’t done anything innovative here but they certainly didn’t steal this from Microsoft as Thurrott seems to imply.

Quick Look

“In another nod towards reducing steps and thus increasing efficiency, Leopard includes a new feature called Quick Look, which lets you view the contents of most document types without opening them in the application that created them. This feature, apparently modeled after the preview feature in Windows Desktop Search, augments Leopard’s Finder-based icon views which, like those in Vista, use thumbnails to reflect the contents of documents.”

At this point, one has to question whether he’s insane or not. Many programs save icons that reflect the content and have for years. For example, this is typical for graphics programs when saving JPEG files, etc. Comparing Leopard’s Quick Look to Vista’s preview feature is either disingenuous or naïve (or possibly both). Quick Look is way beyond Vista’s preview. Quick Look allows you to view entire documents, page by page for example without opening the application. It’s instantaneous in performance and elegant in design. It’s a real break through for searching content. It should also be noted that Mac OS X (since the beginning) has always had the ability to preview photos, movies, audio, etc. in a method beyond what Vista’s preview does. This feature works in conjunction with Apple’s Cover Flow viewing mode. Since this is another feature which has no counterpart in Vista, Thurrott makes up some nonsense about performance issues. I’m not sure what machine he’s using and if he’s looking in folders with 10,000+ files or something. From my experience, I haven’t witnessed a performance issue with this feature.

Spotlight

“When Apple copied Microsoft’s instant search feature to create Spotlight, it only got it partially right, so the Leopard version addresses some of the missing features from Tiger.”

Predictably, Thurrott paints Apple as the one copying Microsoft. Really? That’s a bold claim to make and it should be noted that he offers nothing to back this up. Apple shipped a comprehensive desktop search solution, Spotlight, in the 10.4 (Tiger) release. Tiger shipped in April, 2005. Microsoft shipped a comprehensive desktop search solution, WDS, in the Vista release. Vista shipped in January, 2007 (let’s not split hairs about the fall 2006 release to select “business” users). So, that begs the question: How did Apple copy Microsoft?

Apple first introduced Spotlight in June, 2004 at the annual WWDC (world wide developer conference) as part of an early demonstration of their upcoming Tiger release. Not coincidentally, Microsoft quickly went out and purchased a search engine start up company, Lookout, in July, 2004. This acquisition later went on to be released in beta as the “MSN Desktop Search”. In version 2, it was later renamed to Windows Desktop Search. Yet, we’re supposed to believe Apple is copying Microsoft? Not according to the timeline!

In case anyone is wondering, Microsoft’s indexing services (which Apple also had back in the “classic” Mac days) is not the same thing. Some may note that Microsoft was working on the now defunct WinFS for years. But I see no point in discussing products than never shipped. We could just as easily discuss Apple’s previous efforts with the V-Twin search engine developed for Copland, etc. Also, if Microsoft’s home grown search technology were really mature enough, they wouldn’t have had to go out and purchase another company just to acquire a competing solution.

In any case, it’s not like either company came up with the idea. The BeOS was years ahead of it’s time technology wise. The BeOS Tracker had what is considered to be the best desktop search integration even today.

Anyway, Thurrott goes on to try to make Spotlight look bad by making false claims. For example:

“Spotlight now supports Boolean operators like AND, OR, and NOT, which should be familiar to database gurus and Google fans. As with Vista’s Start Menu search feature, you can now use Spotlight to quickly find and launch applications.”

While it is true that there were limitations on what you could do from the Spotlight search window in Tiger, Thurrott is absolutely incorrect on both counts here. For example, searching from a Finder window allowed for more extensive search criteria. Further, command line utilities such as mdfind, mdls, mdutil, etc. allowed for extensive Boolean based searches and other flexibility not found in other search engines. Additionally, you most certainly could launch programs from the Spotlight search window, though I do agree that this feature was better implemented in both Vista and Leopard.

Finally, Thurrott makes it sound like Apple is just catching up here. That’s not the case. Where is Vista’s (WDS) ability to search over networks like Leopard can?

Web Browsing

“Apple’s lackluster Safari Web browser is updated to version 3 in Leopard and it features some improvements that will be familiar to user of Firefox.”

This is the sort of comment that demonstrates Thurrott’s extreme anti-Apple bias. Since when is Safari considered to be a “lackluster” web browser? I certainly agree that Firefox is a great web browser, I use it fairly often. Prior to Safari 3, it did have the best search feature for example. I find it odd that he doesn’t even mention IE 7. If anything, IE has been considered lackluster for only just now getting tabbed windows, not to mention its poor support for WC3 standards. On the other hand, Safari has been proven to be the fastest browser and the first to successfully complete the ACID2 test. That doesn’t sound like a “lackluster” browser to me. I’d say the biggest legitimate knock against Safari is market share. In practice, web developers are forced to make sure their web pages can be viewed by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, even if they have to abandon internet standards or dumb down their code in the process.

Miscellaneous

“It’s not like OS X, which has had no real world viruses or malware attacks over the year, has gotten any more secure in a realistic sense.”

I’m not even sure what that means. Basically, Leopard does make security improvements. In some cases such as “Library Randomization” it is playing catch up to Vista and other more secure operating systems (OpenBSD, etc.). That said, Apple apparently doesn’t get credit for this because it was already “secure enough”? Granted, Vista was a huge improvement over XP in terms of security. The vast majority of security features have always been present in OS X. This explains why malware attempts have largely been unsuccessful with OS X and now similarly with Vista. Windows zealots used to claim that OS X was safe due to security through obscurity. Of course, now that Vista has adopted much of what OS X has already done, some are beginning to recognize the OS X’s security model was in fact very good.

“If Apple is seriously about slowing that growth, it needs to offer an OS that is obviously better than Vista. Leopard is not that system.”

Thurrott is a bit naïve if he thinks operating system market share is that simple. Tiger seriously outclassed XP, but Windows users didn’t switch in droves (some did though). Switching platforms is extremely costly, especially for the business world where most of Microsoft’s sales come from anyway. History has proven that the best operating system in terms of features and technology is not enough. Does anyone remember DR-DOS? OS/2? etc. ?

“Make no mistake: Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” is the real deal, a mature and capable operating system and a worthy competitor to Windows Vista. But then, so was Tiger, Leopard’s predecessor.”

Agreed. Microsoft Vista brought rough parity with Apple’s Tiger (10.4) operating system. In some ways it was a little better and some ways not quite as good, but overall, it certainly bridged the huge gap between XP and Tiger. Leopard is not revolutionary in any way, but it is a nice evolutionary upgrade over Tiger and overall most would agree it’s a better choice over Vista. That opinion is certainly shared amongst the more respected press.

“Another problem with Leopard is the unmet expectations. Apple, like Microsoft with Windows Vista, promised more than it delivered with Leopard, and even went so far as to promise secret new features that never materialized.”

I think there is a big difference here. Microsoft made a big deal about the different pillars of “Longhorn”. Major, specific features were promised such as WinFS, Palladium, etc. but not delivered. Apple on the other hand never promised anything specific. Rather, when Leopard was first demoed more than a year ago at the WWDC, they mentioned other “secret features” in a sort of tongue and cheek type of way. Surely, anything like the support for Sun’s ZFS, etc. could qualify for that. To compare Microsoft’s broken promises to Apple’s is just absurd.

“Leopard is also incomplete. If you purchase this product on October 26, you’ll be getting pre-release quality software that Apple will update early and often, as they’ve done so often in the past with virtually all of its software products in the past several years. While your garden-variety Mac zealot may bristle at this suggestion, people who actually beta tested Leopard know what I’m talking about. It will get better over time. It always does.”

By Thurrott’s definition, Vista must also be incomplete. Are there no service packs coming for Vista? Really, Thurrott’s sense of logic is certainly twisted. No operating system or software product of that scope will be released without the “service pack” type of updates.

“Leopard was Apple’s chance to once again leapfrog Windows, and given the five years of delays Microsoft put us through, it should have been a slam-dunk. That Apple was only able to come up with something that’s roughly as good as Vista is both surprising and telling, I think. Leopard just isn’t better than Vista. And it should be.”

Again, this is another example of more ridiculous commentary from Thurrott. Yes, Leopard was an opportunity to leapfrog Vista. While I’d stop short of saying Leopard leapfrogged Vista, it generally did shoot past it. To suggest that leapfrogging Vista should be a slam dunk is to suggest that Vista is crap and easy to leapfrog. That’s just not the case. Also, why is Thurrott surprised that Apple is the only real competitor left? Operating system development is a huge effort and requires support from third parties. Linux is fundamentally sound. From a kernel level technology, it’s better than Windows. Linux just needs to standardize on the front end and get better third party support. It also needs to get a user base that is accustomed to paying for software.

Conclusion

I’m not sure a Paul Thurrott article really warrants a formal rebuttal. In fact, I’m quite sure it doesn’t. Nobody is perfect and everyone (including me) makes mistakes. However, there are few examples of people who are more consistently wrong than Thurrott. Rob Enderle comes to mind, but that’s another story. Since Microsoft is a client of Enderle, at least it’s clear where his bias comes from.

I’ve seen various forum debates where even the most die hard Windows zealot won’t cite Thurrott as a source of information because they know that would only hurt their position in an argument. Still, I have to admit, I do enjoy reading his articles once in a while. Every once in a while, I might even indulge myself in a rebuttal!

In any case, Vista is a fine operating system and in my opinion is somewhere between Apple’s Tiger and Leopard releases in terms of features overall. I’d agree that it’s roughly on par with both, but from my experience, I’d say Apple is in a better position with Leopard.

The real challenge will be to see where both companies go from here. If Microsoft goes another 5 – 6 years before it’s next major OS release, they will certainly fall behind Apple, much like XP was well behind Tiger.

While the Vista product is good, Microsoft can’t be proud of Vista as a project. It took nearly 6 years and cost more than 6 billion dollars and finally shipped without many of the promised features. That was a disgrace and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Jim Allchin has moved on. Microsoft has replaced Allchin with Steve Sinofsky. I have no doubt he’ll do a better job on delivering on promised features and promised dates.

It’s not like Apple hasn’t suffered through this as well. Remember the Copland project? Of course, all of that was before Steve Jobs (and company) returned to Apple. Since then, Apple has been very predictable and reliable with regard to delivering on its promises. Perhaps Apple was a bit stretched recently with its focus on the iPhone product. However, a 4 month delay for a software product of this scope is certainly reasonable. Unlike Thurrott, I would not put Leopard in the same category as Vista from that respect. Still, the pressure will be on Apple to continue to enhance the Mac OS X operating system with regular updates. Only time will tell who will deliver what next… I’m looking forward to the next releases from Microsoft and Apple already!

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4 Responses to “Leopard, Vista and Thurrott… oh my!”

  1. zato Says:

    “While the Apple hype machine and its fanatical followers would have you believe that Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” is a major upgrade”…

    Thurrott is a professional black PR writer who works for Microsoft.. “The Apple hype machine and it’s fanatical followers”, is what his review is really about, not the tech details. It’s about creating an IMAGE of Apple and it’s users that is repellent. An image of Apple as a thief-stealing Microsoft ideas, an image of all the features being lame, broken or copied.
    Thurrott is a professional lier, who is paid to lie and discredit the companies Microsoft sees as its enemies.

  2. Majida Al Roumi Says:

    Hi there…Man i just love your blog, keep the cool posts comin..holy Tuesday

  3. Partners in Grime Says:

    Excellent post. Bet Microsoft wishes they had Leopard.

  4. technicalconclusions Says:

    Zato wrote:

    “Thurrott is a professional black PR writer who works for Microsoft.. ”

    Well, I certainly don’t know if there is any truth in that. I will say that you are probably not alone in thinking that way though. For example, he trashed the Zune and praises the iPod/iTunes. I tend to think he does that because it’s popular to do so. That is, he likes Windows because it’s popular to like Windows and he likes the iPod because it’s the most popular player. I don’t really know what his motives for. I have no issue with the personal preferences of others. However, if you’re going to write about it publicly, you should be prepared to defend the position you take and the things you say. Clearly, he’s is not capable of doing so.

    Partners in Grime wrote:

    “Excellent post. Bet Microsoft wishes they had Leopard.”

    I suppose. ;-) I do personally believe Apple has the better OS here, but Vista is in the same ball park technology wise. In all fairness, Microsoft and Apple are delivering to different markets. Microsoft caters to the business market and Apple caters to the content creation market. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. This article was more about calling out Paul Thurrott on the crap he writes than it is about cheerleading for Apple.

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