Apple Leopard Pre-Orders Doubling Last Launch, Some VARs Say

Apple is set to launch Mac OS X 10.5, also known as Leopard, on Oct. 26 -- after a more-than-three-month delay but amid a year-long hot market for Apple computers.

"We've probably doubled the backorders of Leopard, compared to what we did with Tiger," said Patrick Brown, CEO of Brown Computer Solutions, a Brattleboro, Vt.-based solution provider and Apple specialist. "With the Intel Macs, Apple has significantly increased the installed base. We do expect a very successful launch."

Apple is expected to begin sending channel partners Leopard launch kits ahead of the release. This is the longest period of time between major releases in the OS X line. Apple had originally planned to begin shipping Leopard in the spring but pushed it back to October so it could, at the time, shift resources to cover late development of the iPhone.

Solution providers say the delay did nothing to slow down Mac sales. Apple itself said its last quarter sales of Mac systems showed 33 percent growth, more than double the PC industry as a whole.

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(Apple announced Thursday that it would report earnings for its most recent quarter on Monday, Oct. 22 after the stock market's close.)

Unlike previous Macintosh operating system launches, Apple's hardware platform is now based on Intel processors after a migration from the Power platform last year. The new OS is set to display several features considered significant from the previous OS, including a "Time Machine" automatic backup function.

Chris Gear, marketing director for Macforce, a Portland, Ore.-based Apple specialist, agreed with the assessment of brisk pre-ordering for Leopard and said a combination of the long upgrade cycle, plus tepid reviews for Microsoft Vista, has created a strong sales environment.

"More than anything, it has to do with the biggest growth coming from 'switchers' -- people switching from the Windows platform," Gear said. He noted that a feature in Leopard, Boot Camp, will allow a Windows OS to run on an Intel-based Mac system and means, for some, the decision of "Mac or Windows" doesn't even have to be made. But Gear also noted that it's been more than two years since the last Mac OS upgrade, "Tiger," and the market is ready.

"The marketing campaign started over a year ago," Gear said.

Some last-minute rubs could remain, though. Apple, which is traditionally stingy at providing the channel details about its products until the very last second, may have to deal with some kinks in the supply chain between now and next week.

George Ehrlich, owner and CEO of Macheaven, a Chantilly, Va.-based solution provider and Apple service provider, said that his distributor, Ingram Micro, was not even able to provide his company a part number for Leopard as of Wednesday. "We've had trouble ordering it," Ehrlich said.

Supply issues aside, some solution providers were beginning to discuss an almost festive atmosphere building around the Leopard launch. Gear said his company was planning a launch party. Brown said his company was planning an event and was considering giving away stuffed leopards.

And Yukio Tezuka, owner of Apple specialist MacSensei, Drexel Hill, Pa., said he would give away leopard-skin computer mice. "Many people are calling us," he said, asking questions about Leopard and showing interest in the Os. Still, Tezuka was displaying a cautious side about the early days of the OS' adoption.

"When Tiger came out, there was a lot of code being re-written (afterward.)," Tezuka said. "Those are the kinds of things we're afraid of."