While the Windows operating system continues to dominate in the corporate world, small and mid-sized businesses have been slow to adopt Microsoft’s latest operating system, Vista, according to reports.

Perhaps companies are waiting for the kinks to be worked out or better compatibility with existing productivity software. Or perhaps the upgrade cost is a big pill to swallow.

But now it’s Apple’s turn. After delaying its release, the new Mac OS X version 10.5 -- a.k.a. Leopard -- has hit the market with much fanfare. With its advertized 300+ new features, Leopard is touted as the most significant upgrade over its predecessors, at a relatively inexpensive price point of $129.

Better browsing and file sharing

This sixth major release of the Mac OS platform offers many new bells and whistles over its predecessors including:

  • a redesigned Finder to better browse and share files between multiple Macs
  • Time Machine, a simplified way of backing up data
  • a new 3-D Dock with Stacks that lets you better organize and access your files on your desktop
  • Quick Look, an efficient way to instantly see files without having to open an applications
  • Spaces, used to create groups of apps and easily switch between them
  • enhanced mail and chat applications
  • and integrated Boot Camp to run Windows on Intel-based Macs.

So what do the experts advise about whether upgrading is in the best interest of small businesses that rely on the Mac platform? Or are there compelling reasons to switch platforms if your business has become a frustrated Windows user environment?

Whether to upgrade or not

“Right now most of the apps are Windows-based, so I think the new Mac OS is a hard sell to businesses,” says Gary Chen, senior analyst for Small and Medium Enterprise IT Infrastructure and Applications at the Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group. “This is the biggest hurdle for the Mac -- even though the hardware and OS are great -- but the apps are really what is most important" to the small and mid-sized business user.

Not every analyst agreed. Some advised looking at other compelling features to switch your business to the new Mac OS.

“The first thing you need to ask yourself is if a Mac is right for your business, and many will say ‘yes’ because of overall stability and security, not having to deal with viruses and malware,” says Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at the New York-based Jupiter Research.

As for the upgrade to Leopard, it’s a “no brainer,” says Gartenberg: “Basically, for $129 you’re getting a new Mac, which offers many enhancements and new features.” Gartenberg says he likes the simplified back-up utility called Time Machine, better e-mail, and the ability to run Boot Camp natively, giving users “best of both worlds.”

Chen concedes Windows might not have much of an edge over Mac for much longer as the world moves to Web-based software applications. “Plus, I have seen Apple pick up ground lately" among small and mid-sized businesses, Chen says. He credits that "mostly due to the halo effect of their other consumer successes,” such as the iPod and iPhone.

Regarding Leopard’s adoption, Gartenberg says so far it has been “well received” among its core Apple install base: “Put it this way, you’re not going to see businesses ask to be downgraded to an older operating system as we saw with Vista owners.”