Snow Leopard = Apple’s XP SP2? It better be.
- Update: Today a few people started talking about Snow Leopard’s supposed new features, including a report on dramatically reduced file sizes. I think it’s pretty obvious how they accomplished that – no more fat binaries with PowerPC and PowerPC/64-bit support.
As I read the initial details about Apple’s “Snow Leopard” release (ostensibly called OS X 10.6), I got to thinking… What do they mean that they’ve taken the focus away from new features?
Taking a break from adding new features, Snow Leopard — scheduled to ship in about a year — builds on Leopard’s enormous innovations by delivering a new generation of core software technologies that will streamline Mac OS X, enhance its performance, and set new standards for quality.
One word was striking to me, not for its presence, but for its absence. That word is “security.” A few years ago Microsoft was more or less caught with its pants down when it came to the wild world of the web. But a couple years after Windows XP was released, Microsoft “got religion” on security and made some deep changes. Those culminated in the release of XP SP2 – which consisted of a top-to-bottom review of the XP code and a major security-focused overhaul of its code. It’s been said many times that certain high-level Windows execs thought XP SP2 should have been an entire OS release instead of a service pack. That’s how big the changes were. But who would ship a new OS with basically zero new features? Well, now we know.
That has me wondering… why is Apple taking the focus off of new features for 10.6. Especially when Leopard wasn’t exactly brimming with new hotness. I think there are three reasons:
1) iPhone. Jobs has shown a great ability to focus the entirety of Apple on a “north star” and drive toward it full-steam-ahead. That’s what the iPhone is doing now, and to great effect. However, this is not without cost. Apple’s focus on the iPhone has left it with fewer resources to devote to other projects, particularly when it comes to software development. Thus I have a feeling the crew working on OS X these days is a good deal smaller than the group that worked on Panther and Tiger.
2) Embedded devices. Apple says they’re going to slim-down OS X in 10.6. That makes sense, especially when you consider their affinity for flash-based devices. If we’re going to see a Mac sub-tablet / super-sized iPhone device, this will be the OS for it. It’s also likely a way to leverage some of those iPhone-focused resources in order to ship a version of OS X timed to counter Windows 7.
3) Security. Apple’s PC marketshare is growing. This is great for them, but only if they can hold onto it. An onslaught of security nightmares, like those suffered by Windows XP a few years ago, would be disasterous. They can’t afford to risk it. Apple knows that they won’t be spared by attackers for much longer, not when their market is growing. The untested nature of its software (untested by the “hacker” community) and its increasing prevalence on machines will make it a very tempting target soon enough.
So why is number 3 so important? Because Apple can’t keep claiming that gaping holes in their software aren’t important. They have an opportunity to have their XP SP2 without having their MS.Blaster / Code Red / Slasher / etc. They can do something now to prevent malware from becoming as rampant on Macs as it was on Windows XP systems. If they aren’t doing this, they’re being foolish, and they’ll get little sympathy from those who keep telling them to get their act together.
So how much time does Apple have left to figure this out? I think not long. Heck, the first shots may already have been fired.