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Commentary: OS X, an unfolding epic

Mac OS X is Apple's attempt to ensure that the company is in the forefront of innovation. But the story won't have a happy ending until more business applications arrive.

By Michael Silver, Gartner Analyst

Mac OS X represents Apple Computer's attempt to ensure that the company is in the forefront of innovation. But the story has unfolded slowly, and it won't have a happy ending until more business applications arrive.

The success of Mac OS X is critically important

See news story:
Adobe cozies up to Apple's OS X
to Apple. Mac OS X represents the biggest change for the Macintosh since 1984, and its acceptance is vital to the company's future. Before the March 2001 release of Mac OS X, the Macintosh platform had been missing some features that were key to improved performance and reliability.

Based on Unix, Mac OS X added virtual memory, protected memory, symmetric multiprocessing and pre-emptive multitasking, which improved performance and stability. Aside from those improvements, Mac OS X's new Aqua interface nicely hides system intricacies behind a striking and engaging countenance.

Despite its many technical merits and years of delays, many industry observers feel that Apple released Mac OS X prematurely. Its "classic" mode of operation gave it compatibility with the previous release, Mac OS 9.1, but did not offer enough to make people go out and buy OS X en masse.

At its release in March, Apple ran an advertising campaign that heavily promoted its multimedia capabilities. Curiously, though, the initial release of Mac OS X offered no support for analog video, DVD playback and authoring, and CD burning (as did Mac OS 9.1).

Apple vowed to rectify those omissions by the time Mac OS X was bundled with its computers. In September, Apple introduced Mac OS X 10.1, a free update with CD-burning capabilities, DVD playback and authoring, better support for advanced graphics cards, improved performance and printer support, and some improvements to the interface. About the same time, Microsoft shipped its version of Office for Mac OS.

Although the latter makes a good start, productivity applications provide Mac users only with basic tools to ensure productivity and compatibility with Windows users. Business applications in Apple's key areas of strength such as production graphics will prove more important to Mac OS X's success. Yet these have also arrived slowly. It has taken a long time for Adobe Systems to write its applications to run in native mode.

To take advantage of Mac OS X's advanced features, developers need to update or rewrite key applications with the Carbon or Cocoa programming tools. However, Mac OS X still has relatively few native applications.

Accordingly, Gartner advises companies not to plan on moving large production deployments to Mac OS X until three months after the consumers' most important applications are available (and proven) in native mode.

(For related commentary on the potential impact of the proposed Microsoft settlement on Apple, see Gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.