Enterprise Unix Roundup: Leopard's First Leap

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Aug 11, 2006

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Will Leopard leap ahead of Vista? The Mac faithful rally around the cause. Also, we ready ourselves for next week's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo as Freespire goes gold.

Amy Newman
Brian Proffitt

We'll take our lumps for saying this, but when we think of the Mac community we often think, "nice place to visit, but wouldn't want to live there.

This week, thanks to the company's Worldwide Developers Conference (WDC), it was the place to be. As expected, CEO Steve Jobs offered a preview of Leopard, and the faithful rallied. After all, what other product maintains a faithful following despite an operating system that has so many point releases it feels as if it's in perpetual beta.

Underneath the sizzle coming out of San Francisco, however, the mood was tempered, from both the blogger and the mainstream press. There were criticisms about Job's potshots at Vista and Microsoft, and grumblings that Leopard will not go gold until next spring -- right around when Vista is now scheduled to ship.

There were also concerns over the what some described as uninspired innovation. A feeling that Job's Top 10 new feature highlight didn't sate.

Some of the niftier features that will be found in Leopard include the following:

  • "Web Clip," a new way to create Widgets (those mini applications that are easily accessible from the Mac desktop), where users can grab any part of a Web page and turn it into a Widget.
  • "Time Machine," a feature similar to the Windows System Restore feature that lets PC users find old files or call up an earlier system in a GUI environment. Unfortunately, Time Machine also requires a second hard drive.
  • A new version of iChat video conferencing software that adds backgrounds to the screen, so users can appear to be conferenced in from a home office when they're really at the beach. Users can also have a video or presentation.running in the background.
  • "Spaces" enables users to move groups of applications or files into windows or "spaces" that can be moved off screen then recalled with the click of a mouse, so the user gets more screen real-estate.

A preview of the release is available on Apple's site.

It's no surprise that Apple is positioning Leopard against Vista. Windows is its direct competitor, after all. We just don't have it in us to get into the whole, who-is-better, who-got-there-first debate. Windows currently leads in OS market share.

Linux stands to eventually change this. We doubt Leopard will.

We're not into bloatware or nifty features that don't do much for us. We've no doubt that there will be some among the Mac faithful who will eagerly load up with the latest and greatest. We just can't get excited about something that feels substantively like a point release and that will likely feel like a perpetual beta for its entire release cycle.

We suspect Apple's biggest hurdle isn't Mac OS X and its feature set, but the fact that it must redefine itself. No longer is it the exclusive club of one operating system on one hardware platform. With Apple Xserve poised to compete on price, it is yet another player in the x86 space. A player whose customer base will remain faithful, but who hasn't quite blended the secret sauce to take it to the masses.

In Other News

» As everyone in the Linux community gets ready for the big hoopla at LinuxWorld Conference and Expo next week in San Francisco, there's the usual slowdown of news coming out as everyone holds their big announcements for the first day or two of the show. This is fine by us, since we are getting ready to attend the show ourselves, and we could use the time to figure out how many suitcases we need to haul back the requisite amount of Ghirardelli.

One exception to the pre-show lull was the announcement this week of the first gold release of Freespire, the free community-driven version of Linspire, the Debian-based distribution that seems intent to fill the desktop Linux niche from the enterprise on down to the home user. Like its commercial cousin Linspire, Freespire is heavily focused on desktop usability, but very unlike its progenitor Debian GNU/Linux, it's willing to use proprietary software applications to achieve its goals.

As you might expect, this does not sit well among the free software community, who see Freespire as a distribution is leveraging Linux for purely commercial gain. Yes, like Red Hat and Novell aren't either. Still, it was a valid enough concern that when Freespire was announced last April, the Linspire team revealed it would come in two flavors: a completely open-source only version, which will not have any proprietary software packages, and a version that contains the legally licensed versions of proprietary software.

The decision to offer these two versions represents Linspire's desire to give end users as much functionality as possible. "iPods, DVDs ... Linspire embraces all of that," Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony stated at the time. He's not just targeting end users, either. Carmony's plan is to land a much bigger fish: developers. Linspire's contention is that developers are not as attracted to Linux development because of the perceived lack of codecs and drivers.

Is the plan working? The jury's still out, to be honest. There is still much grumbling in the open source community about Freespire's non-free code, though not as much as one would have seen a few years ago. And, there's no denying the fact that Freespire is out earlier than originally planned, although that could simply be a case of underpromise, overdeliver.

» Speaking of LinuxWorld, next week's show, slated to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of the creation of Linux, may be revisiting many technological themes this year, too. A pre-briefing this week has led us to believe that the big news coming out of San Francisco this month will be virtualization and interoperability.

We are tempted to yawn, but the fact of the matter is, many companies are looking to Linux to solve just exactly these problems, so they remain popular topics. It will be nice to see if any presenters or exhibitors give us a look ahead, instead of re-hashing the status quo.

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