So, a formal release date for Mac OS X 10.5 aka ‘Leopard’ has been set now, 26th October or just over a week away. Really it should have been out by now, this represents a 4-month delay on the original release schedule which was to see it released with the ‘Santa Rosa’ Macbook Pro line - slightly disappointing but keeping it in context, it could have been a lot worse.
The pricing is kind of interesting - for a single license it’s £85, which places it smack in the middle of the Vista price range (OEM versions of Vista range from £60 to £100, ignoring the pointless Home Basic), but far more interesting is the ‘family pack’, which can be installed on up to 5 machines in a single household for £129. Now, I’m doubting that very many households actually have 5 Macs, but even if you have 2 it’s a saving, and it starts looking very attractive indeed at 3. I’m actually surprised Microsoft hasn’t done something like this to encourage the flagging sales of Vista, although I’m guessing the demand would still be stunted somewhat by the upgrade requirements in a family environment where apart from little Johnny who perpetually salivates (or worse) over Crysis screenshots, the rest of the household are likely to be running sub-par machines.
Also, I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice that ‘upgrade’ versions of operating systems seem to have quietly become irrelevant. OEM versions of Vista are cheaper than buying a retail upgrade from XP, and Apple don’t even seem to offer upgrade deals for Leopard; the price probably doesn’t warrant it. Hopefully this is an increasing sign of commoditisation in the operating system market, which can only be a good thing. The days when you could sell an operating system based on whether it did ‘true’ multitasking or whether it crashed less or not are finally over - consumers rightly just expect these things as standard. The differentiating factors in commercial operating systems now are not so much major core features (although they can still be a factor, like Time Machine), but style and ease of use. Application compatibility is still a factor to some degree, especially given the considerable success Microsoft has had over the years wooing developers to be single-platform with easy to use tools & frameworks (starting as far back as the first version of VB), but in the wider industry more and more application stacks are now cross-platform, thanks in no small part to the open source community; so you’re rarely stuck without a good application option on any platform now. So without style/flair or ease of use, you have no real need to buy a commercial operating system anymore, there are plenty of free ones that will give you the same thing with perhaps a little more coaxing (e.g. the next version of Ubuntu, which has Compiz enabled by default).
This is where Vista failed in my view. Style wise it’s stuck in a difficult situation - you can’t change too much without alienating the existing user base, but at the same time when you don’t have that many core new features that people need (hence the artificial welding of large chunks of the Dx10 featureset to Vista when most of the major features could have been delivered in XP, a transparent shoring up of the value proposition) , you have to try to do something interesting. The interface changes in Vista feel mostly derivative and ‘bolted on’ in a way that makes them entirely discardable - necessary perhaps to scale back to people who can’t run Aero, but it also saps the value right out of them. I can happily run Aero on my machine, I just choose not to because I don’t see the point, my user experience is not enhanced in any substantive way by having it turned on, as opposed to my battery life and ‘lap temperature’ which certainly benefit from having Aero off. Because OS X was built with the assumption that hardware graphics were available everywhere, the effects that are there feel like they have more of a core purpose. They also don’t toast the machine constantly ;). I have no idea how much actual usability benefit Compiz brings to Linux in everyday use since I’ve never tried it, perhaps others can comment on how well that works.
Still, I’m not going to be rushing out and grabbing Leopard because although there are a few things I like the look of (particularly XCode 3), I’m not champing at the bit, and I have plenty to keep me busy for a couple of months anyway. I’ll let it bed in a bit first and perhaps upgrade early next year.