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It was an eighteen month head start on Microsoft.
Apple blew it. They had what everyone thought was an eighteen month head start on Microsoft. A year ago they proclaimed 'Redmond, start your photocopiers', but now it is more likely Redmond will take their sweet time and sharpen their swords instead.
As so often before, Microsoft will win by walkover as the challengers give the game away.
The media, always in need of copy, were intent on comparing the soon to be existent Tiger with the possibly existent Longhorn; the feature sets are roughly equivalent; but Microsoft don't plan to show anything until December 2006 and Apple already have shown what they have.
Never in the history of personal computing have such a loyal fan base reacted so strongly to what a vendor were firmly convinced would be a resounding success. The forums of the net are awash today with discussions about not only how one turns the dysfunctional features of Tiger off, but also how one can get a copy of the Panther release to use instead on new boxes with Tiger pre-installed.
It Doesn't Just Work
Spotlight won't behave: it races to index attached disks regardless of whether the user previously told it to leave the disks alone; it spits up tens of thousands of hits on trivial words like 'the'; it crunches the hard drive as if it's contracted asthma; the system grinds to a halt; the spinning beach ball rears its ugly head.
Dashboard is a mobile vulnerability waiting for a worm outbreak to happen, and confronted with the rather obvious truth about all the holes in its design, Apple released what must be one of the lamest patches ever. The outbreak hasn't happened yet but it can, and given enough time and enough dedicated hackers it will.
Thus people are wondering not only how much Apple tested their code but how much serious questioning of the overall design took place before the decision was made to write it; soon the talk about how all Apple execs are yes men for Steve Jobs is bound to take off again.
Apple users aren't often pissed, but right now they're mightily pissed. Apple are experiencing a PR setback of potentially devastating proportions.
Coup de Grace
And in the meantime, Bill and the Boys sit calmly in Redmond and watch. Jobs and Company have succeeded in taking the public pressure off Microsoft. Suddenly Apple are the buffoons, the villains; Microsoft can now calmly work towards their goals for Longhorn, with more than enough time to re-calibrate their marketing plans.
Microsoft don't have to plug all the holes anymore - all they have to do is plug enough of them. Microsoft don't have to come out with the perfect search technology - all they have to do is come out with something better than Apple. And they have Apple's mistakes to learn by.
And by the time Longhorn blows around, desktop searches might not be trendy anymore and Microsoft can hit the market where the new focus is instead. They can above all take their time.
Their opponent is down for the count; there is no hurry; they can administer the coup de grace anytime they please. They have a year and a half to fully capitalise on the mistakes of Cupertino and maneuver themselves back on top.
Redmond, start sharpening your swords. Cupertino, start saying your prayers.