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Apple officially launches its new Leopard operating system Friday. But the first major release of the Mac OS in nearly two and a half years has been the hottest download for months on peer-to-peer networks, rivaling at times even the most popular movies and songs, a P2P tracking firm said.
Apple has already started selling Leopard in Japan, where hundreds of fans lined up at stores to buy the OS. In the United States, Apple stores will close at 4 p.m. local time, and reopen at 6 p.m., giving away T-shirts to the first 500 buyers. The store closure is to give employees time to turn the outlets into party central, and to prepare for the higher traffic.
But all the fanfare is anticlimactic for P2P users who have been downloading Leopard in various forms of beta for about a year, Eric Garland, analyst and chief executive of Big Champagne, said. The highest traffic occurred after Apple distributed the release candidate in September. At that point, the number of Leopard downloads was comparable to those of the most popular movies and songs.
"It's a little bit like kids on Christmas Eve," Garland said. "They just can't stand it. They know they're not supposed to peek, but the excitement is just too much for them."
Illegal copies of a new OS showing up on P2P networks are not unusual. Leopard's rival Microsoft's Windows Vista, which was released to consumers in January, was also available over the Web before the OS shipped. Microsoft, however, uses a serial-numbering protection system that hackers had to penetrate first before the OS started showing up, Garland said. Apple doesn't use such anti-piracy technology.
"It's really as simple to acquire and use a pirated copy of Leopard as to install and use a legitimate copy," Garland said.
Interestingly, Apple's strategy of less protection for Leopard, officially known as OSX 10.5, actually works to the company's advantage. People downloading illegal pre-release copies often say in chat rooms and discussion forums that they plan to buy a legitimate copy, which was not the same for Windows Vista thieves.
"There's a commonly expressed sentiment among the community to go buy Apple," Garland said. "Many of the people who have downloaded and installed pirated copies have also pre-ordered legitimate copies."
People who downloaded Windows Vista, however, tended to take offense at what they viewed as draconian measures on the part of Microsoft, so felt less inclined to buy a legitimate copy, Garland said. In addition, Mac lovers view Apple's price tag of $129 a better value than the $399 Microsoft charges for its most feature-rich version: Vista Ultimate.
Nevertheless, because Apple's OS accounts for a sliver of the PC market compared to Windows, the amount of P2P traffic the operating system generates is extraordinary. "It really points to the cult of Mac," Garland said.