Steve Jobs is gone, Windows 8 is coming and Apple panics

I was surprised Apple announced the developer preview of OS X 10.8 yesterday. There is something curiously odd how they went about this, and I believe it has everything to do with the company everyone loves to hate on -- Microsoft.

Anyone following Apple for any length of time should know they are the king of secrecy. Products are announced when they're ready (there are few public betas), usually during invite-only media events. But not this time. Apple claims they did not want to overdo the whole "announcement event" especially having just hosted the iBooks event. That sounds like a pile of crock to me.

According to those in the know, the company hosted private demos among pro-Apple bloggers and journalists -- and as long as two weeks ago. Apple more typically announces a new OS version months before it's made available to anyone, typically during their Worldwide Developer Conference. But with 10.8 things are different. The timing allowed Apple to preempt the release of Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which Microsoft announced in January would be the end of this month.

PC-plus Era

What is so different about today that caused such a drastic change in the way Apple announces and delivers a new operating system? They saw what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8 and panicked.

Say what you want about Microsoft’s Windows 8 strategy, there’s no denying it is aggressive and constitutes one of the biggest shifts in computing the tech industry has seen in almost a decade. Microsoft knows the personal computer's relevance is declining -- hence their use of term "PC-plus" when describing this new era of computing. What we know about Windows 8 and leaked information about Windows Phone 8 confirms their PC-plus mentality. As we will see in Windows 8, the PC becomes a key player along with the phone and TV (Xbox) in productivity and communications.

Apple and Microsoft are attempting to arrive at the same destination from different directions. That destination is mobile computing through device agnostic services and software. The goal: That we as users be able to consume and create content regardless of whether we are mobile or stationary.

Microsoft and Apple have invested much resources in developing continuous services such as sync, continuous communications like FaceTime and Skype and powerful mobile computing capabilities. Microsoft, in making Windows the hub for their PC-plus strategy, instantly has an advantage: Incumbency. Add to that cloud connectivity and sync, parity with Windows Phone and Xbox and ability to run powerful applications, and multiplayer gaming among devices.

The Cat Behind Windows

Take a look at the 10 features Apple revealed about Mountain Lion and compare those Microsoft boasts about Windows 8. Apple is trying to do everything in their power to keep Mac, iPad and iPhone relevant. If that means going to market quickly with features that were planned further down the pipeline, then that’s what they have to do.

Notice how much of iOS they are integrating into OS X: Game Center; Messages; Notification Center; and Reminders. Microsoft has already demoed or mentioned similar services in Windows 8. Game Center is the most telling. Apparently Apple is planning for real-time multiplayer gaming between Apple devices. I don’t believe they are simply copying Microsoft here because this seems to be the way the industry was headed.

My theory is that Apple needed to do something quickly to respond to what Microsoft is doing with Windows 8. This is why we are seeing this new operating system announced as a developer preview in February with a general release in “late summer”.

Windows 8 and its bundled services suddenly makes the iPad, and Mac look less attractive. This smells of panic on the part of Apple, who wants to stay ahead or at least have parity with Windows 8. I think what Microsoft demoed about Windows 8 in September and what has been leaked so far about Windows Phone 8 caused many people to realize OS strategy is not only on the right track but is moving quickly and aggressively to advance the platforms.

Apple will probably release OS X 10.8 long before Windows 8 ships. I can already hear the Apple pundits screaming about how Microsoft overtly copied features of 10.8 that had already been announced for some time. It seems odd to me that the company that coined the term “Post-PC era” is suddenly so “PC-plus” in their strategy.

Photo Credit: Vlue/Shutterstock

Robert Johnson is a user interface developer specializing in the user experience (UX) of .NET-based web applications. He has been working in some form of web development and graphic design for 14 years. He loves technology in general, particularly that of Apple, Google and Microsoft. He is a Betanews reader.

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