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Articles: WWDC 2008 Report - The Really Good News

Having just returned from Apple's 2008 World Wide Developer Conference, I reflected about what I feel is the really good news lurking in the background.

And it wasn't about the new iPhone.

Sure, most of the keynote was about the iPhone, and most of the press is about the iPhone, but the really good news is about Snow Leopard, the next OS in the pipeline. At first glance, Snow Leopard is kind of an awkward name for an OS. It doesn't really roll off the tongue, and it's just a variation on the current OS name, Leopard, which might bring up questions as to just how much of an advance it is over the current OS. But it's not really an advance as much as it is a reflection of the genius that is Apple.

What Apple is doing is rather than get caught up in "feature wars," where the thinking is in order to sell a new version of software, you pile on tons of new features, some of which are just graphical gloss or features no one really needs. Instead, Apple is focusing on making sure their software is simply fast, stable and secure. When Snow Leopard ships, presumably in 2009, if Apple stays true to their current thinking, it won't be the usual release with feature-rich fanfare. I don't think it'll even be a $129 upgrade. The plan is for it to be more of a maintenance release, with Apple engineers focusing on making the programming tighter, more bug-free, and more secure than ever.

Compare that to Microsoft's release of Vista, or most of their software for that matter. Vista has been the biggest marketing boon for Apple there could ever be: it's bloated, bogged down and demands higher-end hardware than most users have. Microsoft has a real conundrum. Most Windows users would just as soon stick with XP, but XP doesn't make Microsoft money. They need people to go to Vista, but the groundswell demand for continued support (and sales) of XP has made Microsoft flip flop on the issue like a waffling politician trying to get votes from a polarized constituency. And now they have this gigantic set of code that will take years to unravel, or fix, or perhaps eventually just give up on. That doesn't sound likely given the market share dominance Microsoft has, but make no mistake, Apple is on a huge tear as a result and is chipping away at market share like they never dreamed possible.

I'd often wondered, as another example, where Office's development would lead if Microsoft were to continue to play the feature wars, and keep piling on feature after feature until the thing got so bloated it would be like trying to fish for trout with equipment designed to bring down a blue whale. Office 2008 illustrates that Microsoft doesn't get it. Not only did they make it bigger and slower with features that just get in the way of what most people want to do (like just writing a simple letter or putting some figures in columns), but they even took out some features, such as the very-critical macros in Excel (perhaps just so they can put them back in the next release and have another new reason to sell the next over-bloated version).

Apple is smart enough to stay out of that game, and that's the genius behind Snow Leopard. They've taken a step back, and said "Let's keep our OS the tight and snappy, so we're going to focus our engineers on good programming, not make it a contest as to how many new features can be crammed in."

Meanwhile, I have no idea what Microsoft is doing with their OS, but it's pretty clear their hands are tied with this big behemoth that already shows what results from their efforts to start from scratch. I seriously doubt they'll put another five-plus years into starting from scratch again. In response, Apple does the most ingenious and sensible thing imaginable. Instead of gunning for another $129 incremental upgrade, they're simply making their product better, with only that goal, and for only that reason.

There is a very large chance history will show 2008 as the turning point in the "desktop wars," where Microsoft first relinquished it's stranglehold on the personal computer. I can see a time when Microsoft is the dominant OS in corporations and major networks, but where most users are logging on to that network with a personal computer made by Apple.

There is an alternative name Apple could have used when naming it's new OS: Snow Vista. You know, as in, "It's Snow Vista" (say it out loud slowly if you don't get that groaner). But more than that, it's a sign that Apple "gets it," and continues to work on making a better mouse trap, instead of getting mired in a big corporate culture that worries only about gaining revenue from new releases.
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