10 OS lessons Apple could learn from Microsoft

Read time 5min 40sec

Now that Apple's battle with Psystar is coming to a close, an important realisation has emerged: Apple believes that its operating system, Mac OS X, is the foundation of its intellectual property and a treasure that must never be degraded by allowing the formation of a competing Mac-compatible computer market. If it didn't believe that, it would have licensed the operating system a long time ago. But that hasn't happened in more than 25 years, and to all appearances, it never will. Now that we know Apple's intentions and strategy are firmly rooted in its operating system, there are some things the company must learn if it wants that OS to gain even more market share. And although some might not like to hear it, many of those lessons can be learned from Microsoft.

Windows is in no way a perfect operating system. It has been ravaged by malware, giving Apple the high ground on the security front. It has also suffered from design issues in the past that have allowed Apple to gain ground in the operating system market. But it's not all bad. Microsoft has made great strides with Windows that Apple could learn from. Apple can also learn from all Microsoft's mistakes.

Here are some of the lessons Apple can learn about the OS market from some of the good and bad ideas Microsoft has had in the past.

Security is crucial

I'm not convinced that Apple truly realises the impact security can have on the success of its operating system. The company consistently sweeps malware under the rug, while taking Microsoft to task for all of Windows' security problems. As Apple gains more market share, more malicious hackers will be taking note. Apple needs to realise that.

The enterprise matters

Mac OS X is, for now, an operating system that's ideally designed for the consumer. But if Microsoft has taught Apple anything, it's that the real money can be made in the enterprise. If more Mac OS X-based machines are brought into the business world, more employees will try out Macs, making them more likely to buy them for the home. It's a strategy that Apple needs to consider.

Design is important

Microsoft has made far too many mistakes with operating system design. The company stuck with the 'classic' Windows for too long, only recently opting to ditch the Start menu and try something new. In the meantime, Apple was consistently coming up with neat design ideas both on the software and hardware fronts to entice consumers. It worked. The company can't stray from that.

Honesty is the best policy

Microsoft over the past few years has made a business of being brutally honest with users. If the company is to blame for a security outbreak, it admits it. If not, it defends itself until the bitter end. That's commendable. Apple doesn't have such a stellar track record. Steve Jobs believes that 'radio silence' is best from time to time. It isn't. Admit mistakes, Apple. You will earn more respect.

Get patching

As damaging as it might be to Windows on the PR front, each month's Patch Tuesday is vital to the security of Microsoft's platform. Apple, on other hand, releases security fixes far less frequently than Microsoft. Of course, some Apple fans say that's because Mac OS X is more robust. That might be true. But it's also relatively untested. The more patches Apple can work on now, the more likely it is that the inevitable security problems that will impact the OS won't be so damaging.

Play nice with developers

One of Apple's biggest problems is that it has never worked well with third-party developers. The company's mentality is such that it wants as much control over the operating system as possible. But if it wants to increase market share and appeal more to consumers, it needs to play nice with those developers. Will more trouble erupt? Sure. But the benefits of more third-party software will far outweigh those problems. Just ask Microsoft.

Stick to being the underdog

As the leader in the space, Microsoft has a target on its back. The company is the first to get pelted by the Web community if and when things go wrong. But as the underdog, Apple is in an enviable position. If things go wrong, it's considered unfortunate. If things go right, they're blown out of proportion. Apple should stick to being the underdog as long as possible. You can bet Steve Ballmer wishes his company could fly under the radar us much as Apple does.

Be transparent

Apple is a closed-off, secretive company. If a security issue impacts its operating system, the company provides as little documentation as necessary, while providing a fix. Microsoft, on the other hand, provides detailed data on the severity of the outbreak, what to expect, and much more. For now, it's not such a problem. But going forward, more malicious hackers will target Mac OS X and the more secretive Apple is about it, the more likely its users will rebel.

Stay true to the core

Apple has an extremely loyal following that will apologise for the company no matter what it does. Microsoft doesn't have such a rabid following. The main reason for that is simply that the software giant lost its way, abandoned its core and entered into markets it probably shouldn't have (I'm looking at you, Zune). Apple needs to stay true to its core competencies. If it does, its following will stay true to Apple.

Keep to one version

One of the biggest mistakes Microsoft made yet again with Windows 7 was to release several versions of the operating system. It doesn't make any sense. Apple, which currently offers one version of Snow Leopard, needs to keep doing that in the future. Users don't want to be confused at the store. Companies don't want to guess which version of the OS they need. Simplicity is money.

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