Apple 2.0

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Did Apple unveil OS X 10.8 last week to preempt Windows 8?

February 19, 2012: 12:07 PM ET

The timing may be suspicious, but the OS looks more to Google than to Microsoft

"Apple Speeds Mac 'Mountain Lion' to Take On Windows 8" Bloomberg Businessweek

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

As predicted, the tech press spent much of the rest of the week trying to make sense of last Tuesday's news that the latest version of the Mac operating system, Mountain Lion, is due out before the end of summer.

Most of the speculation had to do with the way Apple (AAPL) handled the announcement, privileging some reporters with previews and not others. (Why MG Siegler, who doesn't usually write reviews? Why not Andy Ihnatko, who does?)

Many wrote it off as Apple's way of keeping the press firmly under its thumb. "Access isn't an entitlement," Ihnatko tweeted philosophically. "I've gotten things early, I've not gotten things early. I can only do my job, day to day."

Some, as the headlines quoted above suggest, smelled something even more Machiavellian in the annoucement -- the first time in memory that the press got to test a Mac OS before Apple the Mac development community could. According to betanews' Robert Johnson:

"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."

Was Mountain Lion announced prematurely to take the wind out of Microsoft's (MSFT) sails?

Click to enlarge. Data: Wikipedia. Chart: PED

The timing is curious. Even if Mountain Lion's release doesn't happen until the last day of summer, developers will have less time to prepare for it than for any OS X since Panther in 2003. (See chart.)

But as John Gruber and John Siracusa pointed out in Friday's The Talk Show podcast, the new features being added to OS X -- messaging, notifications, app synching, etc. -- are all about integrating the Mac more tightly with iCloud.

Google (GOOG) is the master of cloud-based computing, not Microsoft. So if Apple had any competitor in its sights with last week's Mountain Lion announcement, it's Google.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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