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"Shorthorn" and Innovation

This is pretty funny:

Despite the removal of WinFS from Longhorn, Allchin was adamant that the new OS will contain enough features to be compelling for consumers and PC makers.

"There's no question -- we made some trade-offs here. I couldn't do everything that everybody wanted from the customer perspective, and they were very clear in what trade-off they wanted us to make," he said.

Still, he said, dubbing Longhorn without WinFS as "Shorthorn" is "derogatory," because the operating system "is packed full of capabilities." Some of the features he mentioned were "great roaming support," .Net Framework 2.0, "new browsing capabilities," the "fresh" user interface, improved migrations and deployments, "more resilience to malware" and "a new photo experience."

So Jim Allchin is upset because people are making fun of the scaled-back feature set of Longhorn? Am I supposed to be sympathetic?

Meanwhile, Apple is about to ship Tiger, and from the looks of it, Tiger might have just as many new features -- if not more -- than Longhorn. And since releasing OS X 10.0 four years ago, Apple has been averaging about a year between major operating system releases. In other words, it's entirely possible that they could have another new version out by the time Longhorn ships.

A reasonable question to ask is why Apple is able to innovate so much more quickly. I don't believe the average IQ is any higher in Cupertino than it is in Redmond, nor do I believe Apple has some secret project management sauce that Microsoft lacks. My assumption is that the difference is in the hardware base. Apple writes software only for its own hardware and can be ruthless about not supporting machines that are past their prime. Microsoft writes software for a vast and diverse universe of hardware and assumes people are going to try to install new operating systems on pretty much anything they can plug into a power outlet.

I honestly don't know which is the superior approach. I'm fundamentally attracted to distributed systems, like the PC hardware market. But do distributed systems always win? It depends on how you measure winning. The Wintel platform has overwhelming market share, true. But Apple -- one little company with just over a third of the market capitalization of Dell alone -- somehow seems to consistently create new hardware that runs rings around anything done by Wintel manufacturers. How can that be?

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