Leopard vs. Vista: An uphill marketing battle for Apple.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Recent articles in the press illustrate the uphill battle Apple faces trying to convince Windows users to switch to the Mac platform. This article isn’t meant to make any definitive comparisons between the two operating systems. Rather, this article addresses some of the perceptions illustrated in the media that are based on incorrect information.

With roughly 5% market share (slightly less worldwide), Apple continues to face the difficult task of differentiating it’s product from the Microsoft Windows based PC platform. This task is compounded by ignorant journalism which only serves to propagate incorrect myths, etc. I don’t mean to single out specific journalists on this issue. However, it’s difficult to illustrate this point without proper examples. The article below is an example of what I’m referring to. I’ll take a look at the article on a point by point basis.

Leopard looks like … Vista
By Mary Jo Foley
June 11, 2007

Foley apparently attended Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) on June 11, 2007 and came away thinking that Apple’s most recent operating system release in development, OS X 10.5 Leopard (due in October, 2007) looked a lot like Microsoft’s Vista.

Now, by her own admission, she’s not a Mac users and likewise not familiar with the Mac OS. If you’re comparing these products at a VERY high level (presumably from outer space) and only looking at a small subset of features, then it’s understandable how one could come to that conclusion. However, she also describes herself as a technology journalist that has covered the industry for more than 20 years. Already I have an issue with this. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t write about something, expect to be excused for your mistakes due to the lack of familiarity with the subject matter, and yet expect to be taken seriously due to your credentials. Which is it?

During the Apple keynote presentation, Steve Jobs demonstrated 10 out of 300 features of Leopard. This was not a comprehensive tour of the operating system, nor was it a complete demonstration of new features and enhancements.

“Here’s what Jobs’ hit list looked like to this Windows user:
1. New Leopard Desktop: Not a whole lot different from Vista’s Aero and Sidebar.”

What does that even mean, “not a whole lot different”? Does that mean it looks similar? Does that mean it functions in a similar way? Well, yes, they both use a desktop metaphor with icons, use a mouse for a pointer, etc. Yet, they are also different. With the desktop, Apple only talked about changes to the “Dock” and the introduction of “Stacks”. Vista has a dock, but it functions in a very different way. Vista “kind of, sort of, maybe” has something like stacks. It’s more like something Apple invented and patented years ago called “piles” than it is like Apple’s recent “Stacks” implementation. Again, I’m not discussing which is better as that is beyond the intended scope of this article. But, it’s safe to say they are significantly different in implementation.

“2. New Finder: Many of the same capabilities as the integrated “Instant Search” in Vista (the subsystem that Google is trying to get the Department of Justice to rule as being anti-competitive). The new Leopard Coverflow viewing capability looked almost identical to Vista’s Flip 3D to me.”

Huh? Desktop search (or “instant search” as she calls it) existed in Tiger which shipped several years ago. Wouldn’t that mean Vista looks like Tiger?

Then she goes on to compare Leopard’s Coverflow feature to Vista’s Flip 3D. This comparison is done out of pure ignorance. These are not even competing features. Coverflow is a graphical way to preview documents in a folder for which there is no equivalent feature in Vista. Flip 3D is a graphical means of switching between open windows in Vista. At best, you might functionally try to compare Vista’s Flip 3D with the Expose` feature which debuted in the Panther release of OS X. It’s clear that Foley doesn’t even understand what she’s comparing at a functional level.

“3. QuickLook: Live file previews — just like the thumbnail preview capability available in Vista.”

Again, she doesn’t understand what she’s talking about. She’s referring to Vista’s “Live Icon” feature. For starters, this isn’t available in all versions of Vista. Second, at best, it’s comparable the preview mode found in the Mac Finder when browsing in column view. Quick Look is significantly different and clearly a step forward. It allows you to see a full size preview of the document very quickly without opening the application. It also allows you to view the entire document, page by page, etc. Simlarly, you could play a movie in this mode or even go full screen with a simple double-click. Which Vista feature would she be referring to here?

“4. 64-bitness: Leopard is the first 64-bit only version of a desktop client. Vista comes in 32-bit and 64-bit varieties. And most expect Windows Seven will still be available in 32-bit flavors. Until 32-bit machines go away, it seems like a good idea to offer 32-bit operating systems.”

Once again, Foley doesn’t understand what she’s talking about. Leopard offers both 32bit and 64bit compatibility in the same release. That is, in Leopard you can have a 32bit program running along side a 64bit program in the same OS. You can’t do that in Vista. Most programs would not benefit from 64bit address spaces yet. This is why virtually nobody uses 64bit on the Windows side. Apple has made it possible for a smooth transition. Microsoft has not. Somehow Foley is trying to make a case for Microsoft’s approach, but since it’s clear she doesn’t understand the implementation of each, her point is not very convincing. Still, I give her credit for consistency.

“5. Core animation: Not sure what the Vista comparison is here. The demo reminded me of Microsoft Max photo-sharing application. The WWDC developers attending the Jobs keynote didn’t seem wowed with this functionality.”

It’s fair for a non-technical person to not understand what Core animation is. It’s also fair for a non-technical person to not know if Vista has an equivalent (especially when it doesn’t). However, to somehow dismiss this feature because the people she sat next to her weren’t blown away is ridiculous. This is especially true since the very same people were first introduced to this feature nearly a year ago. As for the feature itself, it doesn’t allow you to do something that was impossible before. It just makes animations easier and likewise much more practical within applications.

“6. Boot Camp. You can run Vista on your Mac. Apple showed Vista running Solitaire in its WWDC demo. But I bet those downloading the 2.5 million copies of Boot Camp available since last year are running a lot of other Windows business apps and games.”

What’s her point here? Many features of Leopard were previewed before. Boot Camp has been available in beta for in Tiger for a long time. Does Vista offer similar functionality (being able to boot into Mac OS from a generic PC)? No? Then, what’s her point?

“7. Spaces: A feature allowing users to group applications into separate spaces. I haven’t seen anything like in in Vista, but the audience didn’t seem overly impressed by it.”

Once again, Leopard has another feature (Spaces) that has no equivalent in Vista. Once again, rather than acknowledge that features like this make the premise of her article moot, she attempts to deflect attention to the crowd’s reaction. Once again, this feature was demoed nearly a year ago to the same audience. What type of reaction was she expecting?

“8. Dashboard with widgets. Isn’t this like the Vista Sidebar with gadgets?”

Sigh… Yes, Dashboard and Widgets are very much like Vista’s Sidebar and Gadgets. The problem is… Foley doesn’t acknowledge that this feature has been in the Mac OS for years now (since the Tiger release). If anything, it just demonstrates how Microsoft has been copying Apple’s lead. The concept dates back to Apple’s desk accessories in the original Mac OS.

The new feature in Leopard was the ability to highlight any part of a web page and create your own widget. Vista, like Tiger, does not have this feature. This is what was demonstrated, not the concept of Widgets/Gadgets. Unfortunately, Foley doesn’t have a frame of reference here to even know which features are new enhancements and which features are entirely new concepts.

“9. iChat gets a bunch of fun add-ons (photo-booth effects, backrops, etc.) to make it a more fully-featured videoconferencing product. The “iChat Theater” capability Jobs showed off reminded me of Vista’s Meeting Space and/or the new Microsoft “Shared View” (code-named “Tahiti”) document-sharing/conferencing subsystems.”

Inevitably, there are features that do have rough equivalents on the Windows side. As both are mature operating systems with a mature set of helper applications, it’s not unusual for there to be some level of parity. iChat isn’t new, it’s just enhanced, like the majority of the 300 features in Leopard.

“10. Time Machine automatic backup. Vista has built-in automatic backup (Volume Shadow Copy). It doesn’t look anywhere near as cool as Time Machine. But it seems to provide a lot of the same functionality.”

Yes, and Apple also had its own backup solution, appropriately called “Backup”, prior to this. This was demoed in more detail last year. Still, if Foley had done a little research she’d be aware of some of the differences. Foley acknowledges that Time Machine looks cooler. By that statement alone, it contradicts her claim that Leopard looks like Vista. But, there is a lot of innovation in the interface to common concepts such as data backups. Apple’s interface to this feature is innovative. Further, at a functional level, individual applications can access the APIs. Likewise, you can retrieve data at the application level. Jobs demonstrated the example of restoring personal address within the address book and restoring photos from within iPhoto last year. Does Volume Shadow Copy offer this?

Foley goes on to make the following statement in her article:

“I’m not trying to pull a Dvorak here and use this blog post for click bait.”

Well, that’s unfortunate if true. Given that she has more than 20 years of experience covering the technology industry, I would have been more than happy to give her the benefit of the doubt in hopes that this was just an attempt to get more attention for her articles. As she points out, a common tactic is to write something controversial in hopes to get lots of visitors to your web site. This in turn makes advertisers happy. Since she claims this is not the case, then I find it rather sad how poor her journalism skills are.

Leopard vs. Vista: Take two
By Mary Jo Foley
June 13, 2007

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming number of people “misunderstood” the point of her first article. She goes on and attempts to discredit the majority of her responses by labeling the authors as fanatics, mentioning the personal attacks on her and the use of fake e-mail addresses for replies. On some level, it’s a shame that people resort to such tactics. Extreme responses tend to negate any legitimate points that may have been brought up in a response. She even takes her shot at Linux users.

At the same time, it’s fair to question Foley’s journalism skills for demonstrating such a gross lack of knowledge on the subject matter she’s covering.

“My original post was not an attempt at a Vista vs. Leopard product review (in response to the reader who said s/he’d contact my managers to make sure this ZDNet reviewer was fired!). Nor was it a news story. It was my plain, old, biased opinion, as most blog posts tend to be.”

Foley attempts to go into damage control mode here, but it doesn’t work. How can she claim she’s not attempting a product review, yet ask her audience “Why is Leopard so superior to Vista” and specifically go down a point by point listing of some of the demonstrated features? While doing this, she makes the point of saying that Leopard looks like Vista. In my opinion, there is an inherent contradiction with this

I also don’t like it when journalists try to hide behind blogs and claim it’s just her opinion and not a news story. That much is clear. Still, what does Foley do for a living? Isn’t she supposed to be a journalist professionally? She uses the word “opinion” to cover for inaccuracy and poor journalism. In my “opinion”, the moment you decide to share your opinion, you’re open to criticism.

“Admittedly, my headline choice (“Leopard looks like … Vista”) for my original blog posting was poor. A lot of folks immediately assumed I was asserting that Leopard — the version of Mac OS X coming this October, which Jobs demonstrated at the Worldwide Developers Conference on July 11 — was copied from Vista.”

Yes, and having reread her article, I still get that impression, at least to some extent. Apparently, the measure of how “up to date” an operating system is directly proportional to the amount of eye candy in the user interface. At least that’s the message I get from her articles on the matter.

Anyway, it’s back to damage control mode for Foley. Clearly, in order to claim she was misunderstood, she has to acknowledge something she did was wrong. In this case, she’s acknowledging a poor choice of headlines.

What features coming in Leopard do you think will leapfrog Vista?

Sadly, she’s trying to make a point by looking for that one killer feature that sets one operating system above another. That’s a naïve look at the subject matter. Each operating system has hundreds of features to compare. It’s nearly impossible for one feature that will apply for everyone as the killer feature that makes one operating system better than another. In reality, a product as large as an operating system is a product that is the sum of its parts. The answer to her question lies in the in depth comprehensive comparison of those features. To my knowledge, there is no such comparison. A fully comprehensive comparison would compare the operating system distributions at the technical level for performance and developers as well as the end user functional level. The closet I’ve seen to such a comparison is http://www.xvsx

Conclusion

The reality is, the Mac OS is a niche market. The business world has standardized on the Microsoft Windows platform, at least for desktop purposes, years ago. People like to use what they are most familiar with. In terms of operating systems, that’s usually Windows. With the 6 years of development for Vista, Microsoft had fallen significantly behind the Mac OS on a feature and technology basis. To Microsoft’s credit, Vista has largely caught up with Apple’s Mac OS 10.4 Tiger. In some cases, it’s slightly ahead and in some cases, it’s slightly behind still. Leopard, due out in October, is Apple’s most recent release. In most cases, its features are improvements on existing technology rather than bold, new, revolutionary features. That’s not a bad thing. That means Tiger is already a mature operating system just as Vista is. I wouldn’t consider Leopard to be a bold leap over Vista, but it does successfully negate any advantage Vista had over Tiger and adds a bit of refinement above Vista’s offerings. By leveraging open source technology with their own technology and innovative interfaces, Apple has managed to stay ahead of Microsoft since the introduction of OS X. Microsoft did a great job of closing this gap with Vista, but Leopard reestablishes the separation between the two, if only by a small margin. Going forward, Microsoft will have to do a much better job of delivery than they did with Vista if they wish to remain competitive on average. Apple has established a much more consistent delivery of new technology as compared to Microsoft.

But, I digress. This article was not meant to compare Vista with Leopard. Rather, it was to demonstrate how irresponsible journalism can serve to propagate misinformation. Mary Jo Foley’s summary and comparison of the 10 Leopard features demonstrated was rather pathetic. While this is obvious to those familiar with both operating systems, I have to wonder how many people read her column and come away with the wrong conclusion based on her misinformation. I don’t mean to single her out. Surely, she is not alone in reporting misinformation. In fact, her second article links to an eWeek article by Joe Wilcox that is equally misinformed. It seems that she’d rather quote another journalist that doesn’t understand the technologies involved rather than doing a little research on her own. I wonder how many other bumbling idiots will pick up the same misinformation and cite one of these two “journalists” as the source for their “mis”information.

In any case, Foley seems to have been called out in her own forum for this article. She was bothered enough by it that she felt compelled to do a follow up for damage control. The damage control wasn’t convincing in my opinion, but hopefully, being burned on this one will teach her to do a little due diligence before expressing her next “opinion”.

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2 Responses to “Leopard vs. Vista: An uphill marketing battle for Apple.”

  1. Juan de Dios Says:

    Once again, Foley doesn’t understand what she’s talking about. Leopard offers both 32bit and 64bit compatibility in the same release. That is, in Leopard you can have a 32bit program running along side a 64bit program in the same OS. You can’t do that in Vista. Most programs would not benefit from 64bit address spaces yet. This is why virtually nobody uses 64bit on the Windows side. Apple has made it possible for a smooth transition. Microsoft has not.

    About the 64-bit issue, it’s more complex than that. With Windows Vista, you either work in 64 bits or 32 bits. In 32 bits mode, you can’t run 64 bit applications. In 64 bits mode, you can run both 64 and 32 bit applications side by side… but you can’t have access to 32 bit only drivers. And a Vista application is either 32 bit or 64 bit.

    In Leopard, you only have an installation, and if your machine works in 32 bits, you will not be able to run 64 bit *only* applications, but an application can provide both 32 and 64 bit versions (together with Intel and PowerPC code, by the way). If you’re running Leopard in 64 bit mode —on Intel Core 2 Duo machines, and Mac Pros, or on PowerPC G5s—, you can run almost any application. And 64 bit applications can deal with 32 bit drivers, so anything that has a 32 bit driver for Mac OS X will work in Leopard, but can benefit from additional optimizations for 64 bit… if need be!

    So, 64 bitness in Leopard is improved over Tiger, and much improved over XP and Vista —Vista is even worse than XP with respect to 64 bit drivers—.

  2. technicalconclusions Says:

    Juan, thanks for your comment. Yes, technically, you are correct. My intention was to keep the discussion at a higher level rather than distinguish the difference between application and driver level issues.

    The point of my comment was to provide a little perspective to Mary Jo Foley’s comments. She seemed to think that Leopard was 64bit only which doesn’t make sense considering the vast amount of legacy 32bit Macs out there, including the first generation Intel Core Duo based Macs. She also tried to argue the advantages of Microsoft’s strategy in that they planned to offer 32bit versions of future Windows products. In the process, she’s implying 32bit compatibility would not be available on the Mac side.

    Anyway, I didn’t intend on going into a deep discussion on the actual implementations of 64bit processing. My intention was simply to describe how completely off base Foley was in her entire line of thought. Clearly, we both agree that Apple is providing a smoother transition to 64bit processing. This was the intention of my comment which stands in contrast to Foley’s argument.

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