Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X Snow Leopard: competitive origins
January 20th, 2009
Prince McLean, AppleInsider
The tech media is working to pit Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7 release against Apple’s new Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, but the two products aren’t really direct competitors.
The operating system most users end up with will depend upon what hardware they choose to buy, not the specific feature details of the software that system happens to run. History reveals that the hardware decision isn’t going to be based primarily upon features.
Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X Snow Leopard: competitive origins
Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard: Microsoft’s comeback plan
Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X Snow Leopard: Apple ups the ante
How Microsoft inherited Apple’s crown in the 90s
In the 90s, Microsoft and its entourage of Windows PC makers came to largely view Apple as nearly irrelevant, but once Mac OS X arrived and began to catch the attention of users with its slick and sophisticated graphics compositing, its malware-free computing experience, and its unique and consistent interface features, Microsoft was pressured by its licensees to catch up so they could offer a competitive product.
Mac OS X essentially reset the clock for Apple, turning back time to 1990, when the company commanded a greater than 10% share of the entire PC market and dominated nearly all graphical desktop computing. Back then, the remainder of the PC market was running DOS, making it fairly easy for Apple to distinguish its graphical, easy to use product. Windows 3.0, the first version to ever ship installed on a new PC, hadn’t yet arrived.
Perhaps things were too easy for Apple; rather than aggressively competing against DOS PCs, Apple used its technical superiority to extract higher prices for its machines. The problem was that Apple’s boutique market lacked a boutique outlet for sales. The company was forced to sell its Macintosh models next to cheaper DOS PCs in computer stores and general retailer such as Sears, where they sat at the mercy of retailers who had no incentive to sell Apple’s product, as they were making higher margins on the DOS PCs.
Microsoft’s command-line DOS operating system.
Windows 3.0 was the third major release of Microsoft Windows, released on May 22nd 1990.
A diagram of Copland’s runtime architecture based off of one from Apple.
At the beginning of the 2000s, Microsoft had just released Windows 2000 (aka Windows 5.0), a mature and stable revision of its new Windows NT operating system that was developed to replace the DOS Shell version of Windows it had sold as Windows 95/98/Me. Microsoft’s competition was all but gone, with Apple down to a roughly 2% share of the worldwide market for all PCs and servers, and IBM’s OS/2, NeXT, BeOS, and other desktop operating system competitors out of the picture entirely.
Windows 95, released Aug 24, 1995 (left) and Windows 98, released Jun 25, 1998 (right).
Windows 2000 was released February 17, 2000 and targeted business desktops, notebook computers, and servers.
Windows XP vs. Mac OS X
Microsoft’s Whistler, delivered as Windows XP, was internally Windows 5.1, a minor update to Windows 2000. However, with the security work Microsoft had to assume, XP would end up being the company’s primary OS throughout the decade. Even two years after the release of Windows Vista (6.0) in 2006, which sprang from Longhorn but took far longer to complete than planned, nearly 80% of Microsoft’s installed base remains on XP, and the company’s hardware partners continue to advertise their systems’ ability to revert back to XP as a feature.
Released on Oct 25, 2001, XP was Microsoft’s first consumer OS built on the Windows NT kernel and architecture.
Mac OS X 10.0 “Cheetah,” released Mar 24, 2001 (left) and Mac OS X 10.1 “Puma,” released Sep 25, 2001 (right).
Mac OS X 10.2 “Jaguar,” released Aug 23, 2002 (left) and Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther,” released Oct 23, 2003 (right).
Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger,” released Apr 29, 2005 (left) and Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard,” released Oct 26, 2007 (right).
Vista vs. Mac OS X
In contrast, Microsoft has had to keep Windows a general purpose, one-size-fits-all product that it can license to every PC maker on earth apart from Apple. Microsoft’s business interests often fail to align with those of its licensees, resulting in skirmishes with its OEMs. These broke out particularly with the release of Windows Vista in 2006. For example, Acer was irritated by Microsoft’s price hike on Vista and its strategy to sell the OEMs a crippled Home Basic version that users would have to upgrade directly with Microsoft in order to get the same features they had with XP. Dell and HP pushed back when Microsoft tried to cancel XP and make Vista the only option.
Vista ended up a colossal failure due to the way it was sold by Microsoft, its problems with existing hardware, incompatibilities with software titles, and its poor performance relative to XP, despite offering new features and, in particular, strong new efforts to bolster Microsoft’s security reputation. Not even Microsoft’s most loyal pundits could defend the release of Vista after months of sales data proved beyond any doubt that consumers didn’t care about the new operating system’s features or its security advancements; they were only upset that their existing software and hardware ran worse under Vista than it did under XP, and that Vista cost more.
Windows Vista was released Jan 30, 2007 to horrid reviews.
Windows 7 vs Snow Leopard
With that background, the game is set for a rematch between Apple and Microsoft, with the Mac maker’s latest Snow Leopard due in the first half of the year and Windows 7 aggressively scheduled to arrive shortly afterward. The next segment will look at how Apple plans to reward loyal Mac users while tempting Windows users to switch with Snow Leopard, and how Microsoft plans to correct its mistakes with Vista to regain the upper hand with Windows 7.
Windows 7 build 7000 was released publicly on January 7th, 2009.