Mac Scope

Microsoft's Holding Pattern

Stephen Van Esch - 2003.10.15

Is it just me, or is Redmond in a holding pattern? It seems that all the innovation is happening elsewhere in the computer industry these days.

Apple is a prime example of this. It continues to update OS X and other software packages at a good clip. Panther contains a boatload of new features that will make the upgrade (even paid) worthwhile for Mac users.

Hardware also seems to be coming along nicely. After a couple of years of its own holding pattern with the G4, the new G5 is a welcome relief. The iMac and PowerBooks are also on a reasonable refresh cycle.

If you consider the amount of software that Apple is also constantly updating, it would seem that the tech heads at Apple are working double shifts.

While it would be a simple matter to point derisively at Microsoft's slothful movements, I'm starting to feel a little bad for my PC using counterparts. Take Internet Explorer, for example. While friends and family wade through pop-ups and stacks of windows (no tabs, you know), Mac users are enjoy the svelte and robust Safari. Pop-ups are a thing of the past and tabs make browsing much much easier.

Of course, PC users have access to more modern browsers, but the fact that the vast majority of Web users use Internet Explorer indicates that most are content with mediocrity.

The snail's pace of Microsoft's development has its negative effects, though. Because Internet Explorer is tied to the OS, it won't be updated until Longhorn ships in another two or three years. [The latest bet is late 2005 or sometime in 2006. ed] This leaves Web designers in the relative coding dark ages, because the vast majority of users are using an extremely out of date browser.

I've been wondering lately where Apple and other nimbler players will be when Longhorn finally ships. What new features will we be seeing? At the current rate, I'm pretty chuffed about what we may see as the years roll by. We may see OS X 10.5 or 10.6 before Longhorn ships.

I'm less confident that Windows users are as excited. Perusing a few sites that have reviews of alpha versions of Longhorn leaves little to be excited about. Now I understand that alpha versions will look nothing like the final product, but new features in Longhorn alpha seem like features that have been available for OS X for at least a year or more.

To be absolutely fair, Apple has a bit of an advantage with OS X. Because it's new, development is probably a bit quicker than on the Windows side of things.

But it's nice to be on riding with Apple this time around. There's still a feeling of possibility when I start my Mac.

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Stephen Van Esch is the founder and president of the E-learning Foundry, an online training resource for Mac users. Steve loves the Mac and is doubly bilingual, since he's also fluent in Windows and French.

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