HUA HIN, Thailand - Apple's latest operating system, Snow Leopard, went on sale
this week, earlier than its expected release date in September. It is likely
that the move was made to get the jump on the release of Windows 7 on October
22 by rival Microsoft.
The Apple release is more of an upgrade to the latest version of Mac OSX (10.6)
than a full new operating system. The California-based company will be charging
US$29 for a single license only available to existing OSX, or Leopard,
consumers. The price jumps for users of Intel-based computers, those who want
to install it on more than one machine, and owners of older Macs.
The latest iteration of the Apple OS has a few new features and tweaks but it
has been criticized on a number of tech websites for an overall lack of
innovation, a concept with which most Apple
aficionados are not familiar. On the positive side, it now comes with malware
protection as Apple has finally realized that its operating systems are not
bullet proof after all, and some crash prevention for Safari plug-ins.
In addition to being speedier, it also claims to take up half the space,
enabling the liberation of seven gigabytes of hard disk. Support for
Microsoft's popular e-mail, contacts and calendar server, Exchange, has been
added for business users and a new version of QuickTime is included.
Other features include a 64-bit platform, which actually puts the operating
system about three years behind Vista on that front, and some supplementary eye
candy and window manipulation functions on the Dock (Expose); these will have
trouble competing with the goodies that Microsoft has included in Windows 7.
In its defense, Apple has stated that this release is not about adding hundreds
of new features, but more of a product evolution phase. In that respect, Snow
Leopard ticks all the right boxes.
Yahoo made an announcement this week that came as a bit of a surprise in the
light of its recent partnership with Microsoft (see
Yahoo says 'yes', Asia Times Online, August 1, 2009). The Internet
stalwart stated that it had revamped its search technology to compete with
Microsoft's Bing. The company also plans to revamp its e-mail and messenger
"We are Yahoo and that will continue ... We collaborate on the back end, but we
are competitors on the front end," a senior vice president said at a press
conference at the company headquarters at Sunnyvale, California.
Microsoft responded by touting that Windows Live was already superior and that
the company had "already made a big bet on e-mail and its role as people's core
communication vehicle". It seems the two companies will remain locked in
rivalry when it comes to e-mail users and service subscribers but will share
search technologies and revenue to battle the Google beast.
It appears obvious to the industry observer that all three major players in the
game - Google, Microsoft and Yahoo - are trying to achieve the same goal. They
want to be the Internet portal in handling the way people connect, work and
entertain themselves online. They all offer a customizable portal home page,
e-mail services and a search engine, and they all have vested interests in the
online social networking craze.
The ultimate purpose of all three players is the collection of consumer search
patterns and online behavioral profiling; the more consumers you have using
your services and the more data you can collect on them, the more powerful you
become. Google is a prime example of this, as 97% of its revenue comes from
online advertising on the back of its hugely successful search engine.
Microsoft has its cash cows, namely Windows and Office, but it has seen the
power of search and it wants a bigger slice.
If Google is not worried, maybe it should be. Microsoft has very deep pockets -
it is throwing $100 million at marketing Bing, and plans to spend 5-10% of its
operating income on search over the next five years, a total of around $10
billion per year. Yahoo has four times more e-mail users than Gmail, so
Microsoft and Yahoo together could be a force to be reckoned with.
Naturally, Google is aware of this, though it is unlikely to publicize it - the
company has so far largely ignored Bing. Its foray into new tech territories in
recent years, including mobile applications such as Android, browsers and even
operating systems, namely Chrome OS, is testament to the fact that no company
can afford to keep all of its golden eggs in the same digital basket. Google's
ultimate goal with these new ventures is to get people back to its search
engine, where it can continue doing what it does best; bombarding them with
advertising. Microsoft and Yahoo no doubt have the same intentions.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.