After all of the hype in the media regarding the Snow Leopard frenzy, Friday’s official release seemed lacking. Not to say Snow Leopard is a dud. By all accounts it puts some zip into lagging Mac OS X systems, but it offers little else to impact the day-to-day experience of most Mac OS X users.
To be fair, Apple has been clear from the start that the focus of Snow Leopard was performance and that the update offers little in the way of new features. But, some in the media have tried to turn the coincidental timing of the Snow Leopard and Windows 7 releases into a battle of the titans with Snow Leopard playing the role of underdog to challenge Microsoft for desktop dominance. Not.
I wrote recently about the various ways that Snow Leopard demonstrates that Mac OS X is maturing into an operating system that can be used in an enterprise, but that doesn’t mean it can take on Windows 7 or threaten Microsoft’s desktop dominance. Let’s examine the ways that the Snow Leopard vs. Windows 7 OS battle is delusional:
1. Existing hardware. Windows 7 will work on existing PC hardware. Obviously a faster processor and more RAM will improve performance, but it only requires a 1GHz CPU and 1Gb of RAM- requirements met by the vast majority of systems in use now.
By contrast, Snow Leopard will only work on Intel-based Mac systems. That means that not only will Snow Leopard not work on the hardware most people use, it won’t even work on much of the hardware used by current Mac OS X users.
2. Incremental vs. Monumental: Despite the hype, Snow Leopard is not a new operating system. It is a performance update with some feature tweaks. Microsoft does those as well- they’re called Service Packs and they’re free.
Windows 7 is a new operating system. The “I’m a Mac” crowd might suggest that Windows 7 is simply a flashy update of Windows Vista, but Microsoft already provided Snow Leopard-like updates to Windows Vista- twice. Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and Service Pack 2 already addressed Windows Vista issues.
Windows 7 has a similar UI, but delivers a completely new operating system. Ask anyone who has used Windows Vista and hated it, but fell in love with the Windows 7 Beta and see what they think of comparisons between the two.
Snow Leopard has a significant number of feature enhancements and updates, but with the exception of the built-in support for Microsoft Exchange none of them is really blazing new territory. In fact, contrary to surpassing Windows 7, many of the features seem to just catch Mac OS X up to the capabilities of Windows Vista.
3. Netbooks. Sorry, Apple fanboys–netbooks are a very attractive platform for the core Mac market. College students, the young, hip market that the “I’m a Mac” dude is supposed to represent, are generally broke. Its hard to justify investing this semester’s beer book money and rent to purchase a Macbook when you can get a netbook for peanuts just by signing up for a contract with Verizon or AT&T.
Rumors have gone back and forth about Apple possibly developing a netbook of its own. History seems to guarantee one thing: any netbook Apple will make will be more expensive than its competitors and proprietary in nature. A Mac netbook might allow Apple to put a finger in the dike, but cost-conscious users will still struggle to justify the steeper investment in an Apple alternative.
Snow Leopard seems to be a relative success. Like Apple’s sensational claims about the number of Safari downloads earlier this year, the sales volume of Snow Leopard is a tad dubious though. Microsoft would be able to report fairly significant operating system sales if they sold Service Packs as new versions as well. It’s a ‘captive audience’.
At $29 Snow Leopard seems like a reasonable investment for existing Mac OS X users fortunate enough to have hardware compatible with the upgrade and who will not be significantly impacted by the various application incompatibilities introduced by Snow Leopard. As far as the desktop market goes, Windows 7 probably faces more of a threat from Linux operating systems like Ubuntu or Fedora that run on the same hardware and are available for free.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as
and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at