As Apple's 'Leopard' Launch Nears, VARs Spot Opportunities

An Apple spokeswoman declined to address speculation on some Web sites and in some Web forums that the Cupertino, Calif., company may start shipping Leopard as early as March. Apple has spent more than a month providing extensive, secret briefings on Leopard to developers and solution providers, but the company is sticking to its line that Leopard would ship sometime in the spring. Leopard will mark Apple's first new OS release since the company switched to the Intel platform from PowerPC chips.

Gary Dailey, president of Daystar Technology, an Atlanta-based Apple solution provider, said he doesn't believe a March launch of Leopard is likely, given Apple's decision to hold its World Wide Developer's Conference from June 11 to June 15. "To release Leopard 90 days ahead of the WWDC seems a little unrealistic," he said.

Still, interest in Leopard is on the rise, as is the market for Mac hardware, according to Dailey. "Half of the Macs we're selling now are to new people [who haven't used Macs], and they want [Windows] XP installed, too," he said. "But the bigger selling point is backup. We're replacing five to 10 failed drives per week. Eighty percent of those do not back up. It only takes once for them to get religion about backup."

Leopard, he noted, is set to score points with its automatic backup capabilities, which copy the contents of a system's hard drive to another partition on the drive or to a separate drive.

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Apple is coming off a strong year. In 2006, the company it grew its U.S. computer shipments by more than 30 percent and its U.S. market share from 3.7 percent to 5.1 percent, according to research firm Gartner. That growth occurred during Apple's transition to Intel processors, even though significant Mac applications -- such as Adobe's Creative Suite -- weren't yet optimized for the Mac-Intel platform. So whether Leopard ships in March or June, Apple channel partners say they think the strong growth path will continue.

Sonny Tohan, president of Mac Business Solutions (MBS), a Gaithersburg, Md.-based Apple solution provider, said he doesn't think Apple will wait until the late spring to launch Leopard because the company will want to exploit the rising tide of users who are more amenable than ever to switching platforms.

"One of the things things we're seeing is a lot of people who were waiting for Vista have realized it's not the solution they want to go with," Tohan said. "We're seeing a larger number of PC people looking at Apple than they have before."

David Salav, president of Webistix, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider and Apple partner, said he has personally been using Vista since December and has been impressed by its security improvements and look and feel. But as a solution provider, he said, "I have not sold one single Vista license."

Yet Salav said Apple will benefit more from the release of Adobe Creative Suite native to the Mac-Intel platform than from the release of Leopard. "Most of our customers can't wait to get Creative Suite running on Intel-Mac natively," Salav said, noting that he believes the market will respond less to the OS and more to the overall solution.

The Adobe Creative Suite software is expected to ship around midyear.