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Com­puter wars ramp up

PRE­PARE your com­puter: The soft­ware war is about to be­gin.

In one cor­ner, Ap­ple is poised to launch a Moun­tain Lion on Mac users for just $ 20.99.

In the other cor­ner, long- time ri­val Mi­crosoft is in the fi­nal stages of test­ing Win­dows 8, which it will de­liver for $ 39.99.

But there’s much more at stake than an up­grade fee.

Both ma­jor soft­ware re­leases are de­signed to lock users into one sys­tem over the other, fuelling the Mac v PC bat­tle, and also to boost flag­ging com­puter sales.

Users will have a big learn­ing curve to climb, how­ever, as the Win­dows Start but­ton and even close boxes will be ca­su­al­ties in this war.

Aus­tralian com­puter buy­ers ap­pear to have been de­lay­ing pur­chases be­fore the new soft­ware, as com­puter sales dropped 12 per cent in the first three months of the year, says re­search firm IDC.

IDC’s Amy Cheah says eco­nomic un­cer­tainty, high in­ter­est rates and an end to ‘‘ ag­gres­sive’’ mar­ket­ing of the past year also played a part in the sales drop.

But fig­ures show that Ap­ple main­tained its strong share in the Aus­tralian mar­ket, claim­ing 14 per cent of sales and sec­ond only to Hewlett Packard with a 19 per cent share.

Ap­ple may gain an­other boost when it re­leases its Moun­tain Lion soft­ware later this month, with its fi­nal ‘‘ golden mas­ter’’ edition al­ready re­leased to de­vel­op­ers.

Mi­crosoft is also putting the fin­ish­ing touches on its soft­ware. Win­dows 8 is now in its fi­nal stages of beta test­ing and is expected to be re­leased to man­u­fac­tur­ers next month and to the pub­lic in Oc­to­ber.

Mi­crosoft’s new soft­ware is a com­plete Win­dows over­haul that will look and work dif­fer­ently.

The home screen will now fea­ture a Metro lay­out that of­fers pro­gram short­cuts inside coloured tiles, a main menu will ap­pear from the right side of the screen, ap­pli­ca­tions can be

Mac launches its new com­puter up­grade this month while PC users will have to wait, writes

Jen­nifer Dud­ley- Ni­chol­son

closed by slid­ing a fin­ger down the touch­pad, and users can flick through open pro­grams with more touch­pad ges­tures.

Win­dows 8 will work much the same on a com­puter screen as it does on the up­com­ing Win­dows tablets; a de­sign Mi­crosoft group project man­ager Anan­tha Kancherla says will unify mo­bile and desk­top com­put­ing.

He ad­mits the new de­sign will present a learn­ing curve for older users, but ‘‘ within three days of us­ing it you’ll be pro­fi­cient’’.

Ovum chief tele­coms an­a­lyst Jan Daw­son says the dis­ap­pear­ance of Win­dows’ main­stays, in­clud­ing the Start but­ton and close boxes, could re­quire more ef­fort from users than Mi­crosoft es­ti­mates.

‘‘ There are other things to adapt to also, like how do you switch from one pro­gram to an­other?’’ he says.

‘‘ There are stan­dard short­cuts that will no longer work and the new ones are not ob­vi­ous. There will be a big learn­ing curve and that may turn off some users.’’

Re­gard­less, Daw­son says Mi­crosoft’s new oper­at­ing sys­tem should ap­peal to new users and those more ac­cus­tomed to us­ing tablets, and the rest of the com­put­ing pop­u­la­tion may sim­ply wait to read re­views of the fi­nal prod­ucts.

‘‘ It’s go­ing to be a fresh ver­sion of Win­dows and they al­ways sell pretty well,’’ he says.

‘‘ It just will be a case of whether it over­takes Win­dows 7 rapidly or not.’’

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