Since January of this long, very long year, Microsoft has been the target of all laughs and criticism. Vista is late, the Zune is a disaster, the company does not innovate… The list of all they do not do, in the eyes of the public, seems to grow daily. Yet, we seem to have forgotten to ask ourselves what we, in the Mac world, have done.
This year, Apple has talked about innovation like never before. The iPods are better, brighter thinner. The iTunes Store (notice the new name) sells movies. Intel chips are in every Mac and Mac OS X now runs smoothly on them. Countless improvements have been announced to the next version of the operating system, both in its server and client versions. The future, as marketing sees it, has never been so bright.
Yet, I have never so much been bored out of my mind with Mac news. Mac OS X is still Tiger, still the operating system that is so revolutionary we have reached new heights in Tiger-only security patches. iPods may be thinner and shinier but they have, fundamentally, changed little. Intel chips may be into every Mac but they have been into every PC for a long time, without anyone cheering or applauding innovation. Leopard certainly looks awesome but it has not yet been born and it comes with just too many features to be reassuring. In fact, a lot of people attending Mac conferences this year have reported a feeling of gloom and doom, of standstill, they had not felt for years, despite the glitter and glamour of trade show marketing.
Of course, far from me the thought of denying Apple what they did do. They did release some great products. The iPod Shuffle is a jewel, the built-in iSight in laptops a great little add-on, the iTunes movie service a sound improvement. None of these things however are revolutionary or, in any way, really “new”. Components get smaller, thinner and more powerful. Internet connections have become faster: did we need bold banners and bad puns (”Hasta la Vista, Vista”, anyone?) to tell us that?
Maybe the Zune is a disaster, maybe Vista is a bad copy of Mac OS X. But maybe not. When did we become self-sufficient enough to take such things for granted? How many of us have actually held and used a Zune? Used a stable release of Vista? And how many of those have have held the first iPod or used Mac OS X v. 10.0.3, the operating system that could not burn CDs?
Microsoft has spent the past year taking first steps. Apple has almost arrived. Problem is, of course, that the market happens on more than one road and we do not know where we stand on all those that extend beyond the iPod, the iPhone and the iTV.