Apple Delays Leopard, Sky Doesn't Fall

Tuesday Apr 17th 2007 by John Welch
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The excessive handwringing about the Leopard delay is really due to the egos of Apple users, argues Mac guru John Welch.

On April 12th, Apple announced that the next major release of Mac OS X, version 10.5, aka "Leopard" would be delayed until October.

As Apple explained:

iPhone has already passed several of its required certification tests and is on schedule to ship in late June as planned. We can't wait until customers get their hands (and fingers) on it and experience what a revolutionary and magical product it is. However, iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price -- we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned. While Leopard's features will be complete by then, we cannot deliver the quality release that we and our customers expect from us. We now plan to show our developers a near final version of Leopard at the conference, give them a beta copy to take home so they can do their final testing, and ship Leopard in October. We think it will be well worth the wait. Life often presents tradeoffs, and in this case we're sure we've made the right ones.

Of course, the Mac market being what it is, this is quite the tempest in a teapot. You have the requisite "So much for making fun of Vista's delays" postings, as if this was on a par with the near half-decade of Longhorn/Vista delays. It's not, and everyone knows it, even the Windows fanboys strutting about like peacocks on the prowl.

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You have the "OMG, Apple is abandoning the Mac for consumer toys." That's nonsense too. The iPhone is running Mac OS X, and while it's going to play nice with Windows out of the box, (where's the Mac version of ActiveSync?), what do you think is going to be the preferred device for iPhone syncing? The Mac. What's the linchpin for the iLife concept? The Mac. What's the hardware center of all the new Final Cut announcements from NAB? The Mac. Apple is hardly abandoning the Mac and Final Cut Pro for the iPhone.

There's the "Apple can't do two things at once" line. This is ridiculous. Apple pulling people from a product that had nothing more than a vague release time (spring), that didn't have contractual obligations to other companies, to one that had a definite release date (June), with partners who have contractual and business partners who need that product done and ready to go on time, (AT&T, et. al), is not a sign of "inability to do two things at once."

It is a sign that Apple knows how to properly triage a problem, and deal with it in the here and now. It's not like Apple isn't trying to hire more people, check out Apple Jobs if you don't believe me. But just adding more people doesn't speed things up that much. Really.

Apple is quite able to do more than one thing at a time, but there is no such thing as perfection.

Of course, there's another cry here, and that is the one about how somehow, this is crippling the ability of IT managers to make purchases. While that might be true, I'm not sure as to if it's more than an annoyance.

I can tell you that in my workday world, I was planning nothing even resembling an immediate rollout of Leopard upon its release. That's just not how IT works. Heck, there's no plans to roll out Vista before 2008 in a lot of places. The truth is, you can only do light testing prior to actual finished code. I don't mean bug-testing as much as procedural and workflow testing: How will this new release change things? What do "normal users" think of it? What kind of internal documentation will we need?

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This isn't a fast process. It can take months, many months, depending on the size of the organization. At some of the larger organizations I've worked for, we were lucky to get done with testing and start rollout in under a year.

So from that perspective, the delay in Leopard has no real effect. But what about a hardware purchasing effect? What about people who want to get Leopard pre-installed on their machines to save the license cost?

Well, um, if you delay a thousand or more dollars worth of hardware just to save a hundred and thirty bucks on an OS license, I think you have your priorities sub-optimally calibrated. You base most of your hardware purchases on what you need today, with an eye for the future. Therefore, all I would care about in upcoming hardware purchases is will it run Leopard when I'm ready to run Leopard?

Since I don't see Apple requiring brand new hardware for Leopard, I'm not worried. But I'm not going to delay someone getting a new box that they need today until October or later just to save a couple bucks on the OS license. In fact, given Apple's tendency to make hardware released after a new OS release only run that new OS version, I'd rather buy new hardware just prior to the Leopard release date, so that I don't have to run Leopard at all until I'm ready.

There's a lot in the educational arena who are fussing about this delay, because summer is when they traditionally do most of their upgrades. But again, the downside is, it's harder to test when there's no one around using the stuff the way you need it to be used. However, all things being equal, releasing new OSes between January and May is much easier on the educational market than September to December. They have probably the more legitimate beef. But nothing close to the thorax-thumping you see on the Mac web.

What's the big reason behind most of the hue and cry? Steve's "Top - Secret" features mostly, and the desire to have a new OS to compare to Vista. That's a long way of saying "ego".

No one likes having the sparkly pulled farther away, and much of what you're seeing is the reaction to that. As I said in another forum, "Steve didn't shoot your dog, he delayed an OS." Had he done this, say, a week from the release date, that would be one thing. Had he already delayed Leopard a few times, that would be different. But it's a single four-month delay on a product that was still almost two months from release when the announcement went out. It's really not that big a deal for anyone.

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