Apple: Predator or protagonist?

Tiger is Apple's fourth release in five years - and the company seems proud of that fact.

The big news last week on the PC front, at least according to the general press, was the release of a new version of the Macintosh operating system - the one that's been touted by the code name Tiger, as in the hypothetical headline "Apple unleashes Tiger to roam the streets of Redmond."

"We're leading the operating system race and others are following our taillights," Apple's Steve Jobs says. I guess it all depends on how you keep score. To put it into perspective, Apple could double or triple its installed base and still be little more than a tiny blip on the operating system radar. Microsoft still would control the CPU on more than 90% of the PCs in the world.

This is Apple's fourth release in five years - and the company seems proud of that fact. It's like a throwback to the days where competitors were judged based on which had the bigger version number (for example, "New AOL 5.79!"). But what, exactly is new, different or revolutionary in the new operating system?

Last week's San Jose Mercury News said: "It is the first operating system to incorporate and expand upon the intensive hard-drive search popularized by Google. It also fetches the kind of up-to-the-minute stock, weather and flight information typically found on Web sites like Yahoo. Apple even improved on RSS news and blog feeds and integrates them into its Safari Web browser."

These are the highlights, the things that, the story says, "make Tiger innovative, rather than merely iterative." But there's nothing in that list that I can't (and don't) do today from my Windows 2000 desktop, nevermind what you can do with Windows XP Pro on your PC. This is all evolutionary, not revolutionary.

It appears that what Apple has done is to take meaningful, desirable third-party services and applications and "roll their own" inside the operating system, thus presenting users with a fuller package of features. Of course, the third parties that had been providing these services as add-ons now are left out in the cold.

When Microsoft does this, it's denounced as a predator and a monopolist. When Apple does it, it's praised as an innovator. Still, if Microsoft didn't have Apple to point to as "competition," there might be more calls for government regulation of monopoly operating systems. We certainly don't want government bureaucrats designing our server and desktop environments.

Tip of the Week

To see what happens when government bureaucrats do get involved in designing computer environments, read the history of the ADA programming language and pay attention to the timelines.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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