Software

Analysts: Apple delivered the goods at WWDC

Apple’s preview of Mac OS X Leopard won rave reviews from technology industry analysts who said that Monday’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote set a strong tone for the coming months.

“With enhancements to existing features like Spotlight, iChat, Mail, and new features like Time Machine and Boot Camp, I think that Apple has demonstrated that there is enough value in Leopard for Mac users to upgrade,” Technology Business Research senior analyst Tim Deal told Macworld .

Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at JupiterResearch, agreed. “There is certainly a strong effort to show that most of the things in Vista are already available in [Mac OS X] Leopard and Tiger,” he said. “Without showing their hand, [Apple is] showing how they can move beyond where [Microsoft] Vista is going.”

While that upcoming operating system from Microsoft has been the brunt of many jokes from Apple CEO Steve Jobs over the years—including several during Monday’s keynote —Apple executives said the company isn’t focused on Microsoft.

“Our goal is always going to be to create the best desktop operating system that has ever existed,” said Brian Croll, Apple’s senior director of Software Product Marketing. “It’s all about delivering the things that our customers want.”

Developer support

Past overhauls to OS X have usually brought with them complaints about Apple adding features that mirror offerings from third-party developers—think back to the controversy over Dashboard and its similarities to Konfabulator when Tiger was previewed at the 2004 developers conference.

Apple could be in store for similar criticism with Leopard. The OS X update includes backup capabilities and iChat enhancements including video effects. Both features are available via third-party applications.

However, analysts downplay the possibility of controversy. “There’s no developer that has an application quite like Time Machine,” said Gartenberg. “There’s still opportunities to create new things or enhance the existing products—Apple is thinking of its customers first.”

Take Dashboard, Gartenberg said. Its inclusion in OS X affected Konfabulator developers Arlo Rose and Perry Clark. But adding the Dashboard feature to OS X opened the door for many more developers to enter the market.

Deal said that Apple needs to be more open with its developers. “It is essential for Apple to work in concert with third-party application developers or risk alienating them and losing them altogether,“ he added. “I think the company is beginning to understand that the Mac ecosystem thrives on third-party collaboration.”

Mac Pro musings

Leopard wasn’t the only Apple offering showcased Monday. The company also released the Mac Pro desktop powered by two Intel Xeon processors and announced a Xeon-based Xserve. Analysts believe the move to Xeon chips was smart for the company’s long-term goals, proving that the company is serious about power in its pro machines.

“With two Xeon chips, and double the performance of the Power Mac, the new Mac Pro is a sweet box,” Deal said. “Apple has also succeeded in differentiating the Mac Pro from high-end iMacs, which could help prevent cannibalizing of sales like in past product launches.”

Apple executives said the company wanted to give its high-end customers the best products with the best technology it could.

“That’s what our pro customers deserve,” said David Moody, Apple’s vice president of worldwide Mac product marketing. “We want to keep them at the forefront of the technology so they can do the best work they can.”

Deal believes Apple succeeded at doing that with its latest hardware. “It speaks volumes about the company’s drive to succeed within the professional environment,” he added. “In order for Apple to be taken seriously by business customers, it could in no way skimp on hardware performance in the server space.”

Not only did the Apple deliver powerful pro desktop and server machines, but it also did so at a cheaper price than the Mac Pro’s PowerPC-based predecessors. This will go a long to help Apple ditch the perception that its offerings are more expensive than those of other PC manufacturers, analysts say. “Apple has made significant strides in becoming more price competitive, however the company still has far to go in order to convince the public of that,” Deal said.

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