Apple’s release today of the developer preview of its latest Mac operating system — called Mountain Lion — has analysts buzzing about what it might mean for Microsoft, which has its own Windows 8 consumer preview coming out Feb. 29.
Mountain Lion — or, formally, Mac OS X 10.8 — brings in more features of its mobile operating system — iOS — including iMessage, Notes and Twitter integration. It’s also designed to integrate with apps easier through iCloud.
The preview release is currently available only to Mac Developer Program members; the general public is expected to be able to upgrade to Mountain Lion in late summer 2012.
That means it will likely vie with Microsoft’s Windows 8, which is expected to be released to the public in the fall.
Both Mountain Lion and Windows 8 have the similar goal of aligning a mobile/tablet platform with a desktop platform, said Wes Miller, an analyst with the independent research firm Directions on Microsoft.
What’s very different is that Microsoft is mandating a new Metro-style start page across all of Windows 8, for both tablets and PCs, while Apple isn’t requiring an iOS-like start page in Mountain Lion.
“Apple is much more carefully dipping their foot into the water with the Mac. They’re not taking as big a risk as Microsoft is,” Miller says.
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with research firm Gartner, characterizes it this way: While both companies are working to harmonize their mobile and desktop operating systems, Microsoft is going in the direction of making the OS’s look the same, while Apple is trying to make them feel the same.
The user interface is not duplicated between iOS and Mountain Lion, Gartenberg says. And the way gestures work on the two are different – “but they feel similar.”
With Windows 8, Microsoft is playing catch-up in the tablet market. What makes Windows 8 unique is that it’s expected to run both the new user interface — one called Metro style that incorporates tiles that update — and, in some capacity, the old desktop Windows style as well.