Revisiting my Leopard speculation

Mac users find themselves playing an odd sort of waiting game right now, with three potentially exciting products floating around tantalizingly out there—we speak, of course, about Apple TV, the iPhone, and the Mac OS X 10.5 update —even though each one has yet to wind up in consumers’ hot little hands. The first domino appears to have fallen, if the many forwarded e-mail notifications that Apple TV is now shipping I’ve received today are any indication. So those of you who had “March 20 or thereabouts” in your Apple Product Ship Date office pool, feel free to collect your winnings.

That leaves just the iPhone, slated for June, and the Leopard update, scheduled more ambiguously for “spring,” awaiting concrete ship dates. If you recall, the release of OS X 10.4.9 moved me to muse, in this very space, about whether or not OS X 10.5’s release was looming on the near-term horizon. My wool-gathering inspired some reader feedback suggesting possible ship dates and a couple of questions—I thought it might be interesting to share both with y’all.

First, the Leopard ship date. In a statistically irrelevant sampling of 15 readers, a slight plurality of 27 percent predicted Leopard would make its debut at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, which the company has scheduled for June 11 to 15 in San Francisco. There appears to be some disagreement as to whether the final version of Leopard will just be shown off at WWDC—remember how Steve Jobs promised in last August’s preview that the 10 or so features he was showcasing weren’t the only OS X 10.5 tweaks Apple had up its sleeve?—or whether the OS update would be out the door once the conference convened.

A WWDC released just nosed the next two most popular suggestions—May (one symmetrically-minded reader proposed that 10.5 would, naturally, ship on 5.01) and March 24. Readers who know their history will recognize that latter day as the sixth anniversary of OS X’s original ship date; readers who also look at calendars will also know that March 24 is this Saturday and, therefore, an unlikely candidate for such a high-profile release (especially with little advance fanfare). Other theories: Leopard appears on April 15 during Apple’s previously announced special event at the National Association of Broadcasters trade show, or on the anniversary of the company’s founding on April 1, or—for the pessimists in the crowd—June 21, the last day of spring.

Me, I’m sticking with my June prediction, although more than one reader noted I wasn’t exactly going out on a limb. Fine—you want specificity? Then put me down for June 11, right at the end of the WWDC keynote. And I’ll go even further and say that a final version of Leopard will ship that very day. Now watch Apple rush it out the door this Saturday just to make me look silly.

Now on to the questions. Any time Apple has an major OS overhaul in the works, I’m asked some variation of this query: I’m thinking of buying a new Mac. Should I do it now, or wait until the OS update appears on new hardware? My answer to that is essentially the same one my colleague Rob Griffiths gives in his Mac buying advice —if you can’t put off upgrading your Mac any longer and can live with paying the OS upgrade price Apple’s going to charge once Leopard does ship, you should buy the Mac now; if you can hold off until June, then do so and save yourself the cost of upgrading to OS X 10.5. (I can’t recall Apple announcing a price for Leopard just yet; it cost $129 to move to Tiger.)

Another question that’s popped up in my inbox, particularly from users new to the Mac: Should I hold off on upgrading to OS X 10.5 until there’s been an update or two so that I know for certain if it’s stable or not? I passed along this question to Rob, and here’s his response:

Unlike major revisions of Windows, OS X’s major releases are more evolutionary than revolutionary—there are nice new features added to an already-mature and stable core. As such, there is less risk in going with the new version of the OS than there may be on the Windows side. However, there’s always a good chance that there are a few niggling bugs in the system, so my advice would be this: If you have mission-critical absolutely-positively-cannot-have-downtime work to be done, get 10.4. otherwise, 10.5 will be fine, even in its “dot zero” release.

Myself, I usually wind up doing my major OS X upgrades a month or so after the release first ships, but that’s not because of any excess caution or stability concerns on my part. Instead, because of the daily demands, it usually takes me about a month to block out some time to do an upgrade. That I’ve gone from Jaguar to Panther to Tiger without so much as a hiccup is just a happy side effect of my procrastination and poor time-management skills.

But that’s just one person’s advice. (Well, two people, if you want to count Rob.) How would you folks answer the buy-a-Mac-or-wait and the upgrade-right-away-or-not questions?

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