This week, both Apple and Microsoft have announced new operating systems which take full advantage of 64-bit processing power. Stephen Cole spoke to Apple's Brian Croll about the release of Tiger, Apple's latest version of OSX, which has more than 200 new features.
Tiger was first released in Japan
Mac users' devotion towards Apple is legendary, certainly unrivalled in the world of tech, and with few parallels elsewhere.
Hundreds queued patiently outside Apple stores around the world just to be among the first to get their hands on the upgrade.
Come six o'clock the evangelical Apple hype machine was in full swing.
Then Tiger was unleashed, the boxed copies flying off the shelves and the tills ringing sweetly to the tune of $129 for each purchase.
Tiger is the fifth version of Mac OSX since its launch four years ago. It follows in the footsteps of Apple's other cats - Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, and Panther.
The first big new application is Spotlight, which allows you to easily locate material on your own computer - files, documents or even words within documents.
Because the application keeps track of everything you do on your Mac it can instantly retrieve it for you so you don't have to hunt around.
Brian Croll, one of Apple's most senior marketing men, says it will change the way you interact with your computer.
"For example, if you're trying to find an application, you typically have to dig and rummage through the file system to find something.
"Now with spotlight, you simply type in a couple of letters and you can find an application and launch it.
"Another thing you typically do - I do this all the time - at the end of the day, I'm looking for something that I was working on in the morning, and for the life of me I can't find it.
"Now I have a thing called a Smart Folder, which is part of Spotlight, that shows every file that I've touched today. So I can always see what I'm working on right now."
Clever though it is, desktop search is not in itself a new idea. Several similar third-party developers have been offering desktop search tools for both Windows and Mac users for about a year.
But Brian Croll says: "We are really proud about Spotlight, because it's something really different.
"Others like MSN and Google sub-searches are all add-on applications that sit on top of the operating system.
"Spotlight is built right into the very fabric of the operating system, at the lowest level so it's a core piece of the operating system.
"As a result, it's blindingly fast and incredibly accurate.
And because it's in the core of the operating system, other applications can use it as well.
We've also made it very easy to find all the system preferences, to change for instance your desktop image, or things like that."
Apple says Spotlight has the edge being built in at the very core level
The other trumpeted innovation - Dashboard - reflects OSX's undeniable style and graphics capability.
Dashboard is basically a program giving you access to lots of small, easily accessible applications in a self-contained environment.
These mini-programs (widgets) can range from pre-loaded applications like world clock and weather, to others which have yet to be dreamed up.
But here too, this is not exactly an entirely new idea. Just ask the guys who have long been making a great little piece of shareware called Konfabulator, to which Dashboard bears a striking resemblance.
Brian Croll says: "Dashboard is an absolute descendent of the original Mac. In the original Mac there's a really interesting feature called the Desktop Accessory. What we've done is taken that same concept that was around in 1984 on the original Mac and updated it for Mac OSX.
"We also noticed that the dashboard widgets are just beautiful and gorgeous. So the other goal we've had with Dashboard is to really raise the aesthetic quality of an application.
"I think people are going to love it."
Few would deny Tiger is full of delightful aesthetic touches, something the Mac community have long taken as a given.
Take iChat, where videoconferencing has been given a facelift with subtle effects like the reflections of the conference participants.
No doubt there is a "wow" factor, and for some that is good enough. But it does leave you wondering whether lots of small touches amount to something really big, something which Apple claims will "change the way you use a computer".
Brian Croll says: "There are a couple of really big features in the 200 list. But there are also a lot of little ones that people are going to love.
"And it's those little details that really make Mac OSX great. It's those conveniences that people really appreciate
The fact is, for many Mac users, there's no real need to do a hard sell. They are already sold on the package of Tiger.
Some will appreciate the fact that the web browser Safari now supports RSS feeds; others, that the mail client Mail 2 has had a makeover.
And hard-core techies will also doff their caps at an operating system which is Apple's first to be truly 64-bit.
The fact is that the devoted legions of Mac fans make up only a tiny fraction of computer users.
The big question is whether Tiger will be enough to persuade PC users to come into the Mac fold.
Paul Newman, the editor of iCreate magazine, has his doubts about this.
He says: "I don't think it's going to draw a massive amount of Windows users in. They are more likely to be attracted by the iMac G5, the iPod and the Mac Mini which will launch later this year."
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