The nonstop criticism of Vista has been getting me down, and Apple’s release of Mac OS 10.5 “Leopard” has been greeted with so much overhyped enthusiasm that I began to wonder if I was missing something.

As always, what’s missing from the Apple hype is perspective.

Mac OS 10.5 is a fine operating system, with several incremental improvements over Mac OS 10.4 “Tiger,” although even the most ardent Mac fans are a little embarrassed over the list of “300 new features,” which adoringly describes really, really trivial changes. (The DVD player can stay in front of other applications! There’s an included dictionary of Apple terms!)

Before you’re seduced by glowing press coverage, read Paul Thurrott’s review of Mac OS 10.5. It’s not critical or unfair, but it brings a sense of balance and points out the obvious things that should be said – like how many “new features” in Mac OS 10.5 are already in Vista or Windows XP. His review is long and detailed, with interesting tidbits about most of the changes in Mac OS 10.5 – the good, the bad, and some limitations you might wish you had known about ahead of time.

His conclusion feels right:

“The biggest problem with Leopard is that it doesn’t really offer enough of an advantage over Vista to make anyone want to switch. For all the baloney news stories about Vista’s supposed problems, Microsoft’s latest operating system is actually a solid effort that finally closed the gap with Mac OS X. Leopard was Apple’s chance to once again leapfrog Windows, and given the five years of delays Microsoft put us through, it should have been a slam-dunk. That Apple was only able to come up with something that’s roughly as good as Vista is both surprising and telling, I think. Leopard just isn’t better than Vista. And it should be.”

Which gets us to the constant news stories and blogs about Vista’s “problems.” I’ve had way too many people tell me lately that they’re buying a Windows XP computer out of a vague feeling that it will work better. “Is Windows XP too good for Microsoft’s own good?” asks a Microsoft-oriented blogger. “Why Microsoft must abandon Vista to save itself,” says a CNet writer.

I’ve been using Vista for a year and supporting it for almost that long and I couldn’t make sense of the vitriol. It didn’t help to see unconfirmed reports that huge numbers of people were buying Windows XP over Vista – “PC Advisor surveyed its readers and found out that 67% would prefer their new computer come with Windows XP over Vista,” said one particularly ridiculous report.

The complaints will die down and be replaced with the next obsession in due course. In the meantime, some perspective is provided by Microsoft’s quarterly earnings report (poetically released the same day as Mac OS 10.5) in which it again reported growth at rates that should be impossible for a company that size – among other strong numbers, Microsoft beat analysts’ earnings estimates by more than a billion dollars.

It was the Vista report that stood out. Microsoft has sold 88 million copies of Vista, and achieved more than 20 percent growth in Vista sales for three quarters in a row. Those are remarkable numbers, far higher than anyone expected, far more than Windows XP sold during a comparable period (even taking into account the increased number of computers in the world).

Mere numbers don’t answer the question of whether Vista is good or bad, better or worse than Mac OS 10.5, but perhaps it will help correct the perception that Vista is failing in the market. You might not know it from the newspaper but it’s still a big Windows-dominated world out there, and Vista is the best Microsoft OS yet. Forget the terrible ads and look forward to your Vista computer!

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