One of the world's leading software companies just released a major upgrade to its flagship operating system. It's missing key features, and its decision to use an all-new kernel means that application developers have to scramble to fix major compatibility issues. It's doomed to failure, right?
The OS in question was Mac OS X. The date was March 24, 2001. And despite that rocky start, it's been a success by just about any measure. Joe Wilcox of Jupiter Research tells the story and connects the dots admirably:
Apple continues to evolve the operating system. Perhaps Mac OS X's evolution is another lesson for Microsoft. While Microsoft struggles to make each new Windows version leaps-and-bounds better than the last one--and has some trouble getting new releases out the door, in part, because of this approach--Apple goes for incremental improvements. No question, each new version of Mac OS X improves on its predecessor. But the improvements aren't colossal changes either. They are refinements that extend something familiar.
All the hand-wringing and lamentations over the latest delay of Windows Vista miss the much larger point: This is a platform shift. The initial release of Windows Vista may - indeed, almost certainly will - have bugs, missing features, and compatibility problems. Those sorts of issues are part of the package when you introduce a fundamental shift in the PC landscape.
Anyone who bought OS X in that first few months after it was released was a brave soul indeed, but in the intervening years it's proved itself as a worthy platform for development. If Microsoft does a good enough job with Windows Vista, the platform will be solid enough to support a decade's worth of incremental updates and improvements.
And for anyone who thinks this is another case of Microsoft copying Apple, go back one year earlier than the launch of OS X to the debut of Windows 2000 (aka Windows 5.0). That release served as the core for a wave of incremental releases that each added significant value. Windows XP in 2001 layered a new user interface onto the core OS. The Tablet PC edition in 2003 added ink support and handwriting recognition and has sold more than 4 million copies. Windows XP Media Center Edition (updated in 2002, 2004, and 2005) is arguably the best available 10-foot interface for digital media - better than TiVo. It's now the default consumer version of Windows on most new PCs. Windows XP Service Pack 2 (2004) added much-needed layers of security to the core OS.
Windows Vista (aka Windows 6.0) is filled with platform improvements, from a new user access model to improvements in mobile computing (wait till you see auxiliary displays, aka Sideshow) to media features. That initial release in 2007 will be interesting, but it will be even more interesting to see what kinds of software, hardware, services, and updates appear in 2008, and 2009, and 2010...