Apple this morning released Mountain Lion, the next version of the Mac OS X operating system, as a $19.99 upgrade in the Mac App Store.

Many of the most attention-grabbing features will be familiar to iPad and iPhone users, including a new Notification Center and Game Center, in addition to Twitter integration. But what’s particularly interesting from a competitive standpoint is the timing of this release.

Compared with the major changes in Windows 8, the upcoming version of Microsoft’s operating system, Mountain Lion is an incremental update. That reflects Apple’s strategy of releasing new versions on a shorter turnaround. The previous version, Lion, came out a year ago.

Microsoft is still on a three-year turnaround cycle for major new versions. You can debate whether service packs count as updates, but Windows 7 was the last major release of the operating system, and it came out in 2009.

Microsoft exec Steven Sinofsky makes the Windows 8 release announcement at an internal sales event in Atlanta.

Apple also has the advantage of owning its own hardware ecosystem. Microsoft expects to release Windows 8 to computer makers early next month, but the operating system won’t hit the market until October — a gap of nearly three months to give PC makers time to get machines with the new Windows on the market.

Microsoft has already put a toe in those waters with the unveiling of its own computer, the Surface tablet.

Here’s the next question: When will we start seeing yearly Windows releases?

One of the big hurdles to this would be Microsoft’s big enterprise focus. Depending on the degree of change, IT departments would tend balk at major new versions of Windows each year.

Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe and Mary Jo Foley have also explored this topic. One theory is that the company could start with yearly updates of WindowsRT, the version for tablets running ARM processors.

Whatever the case, in this world of instant updates, three years is starting to seem like a very long time.

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  • Kee

    I guess that RT would be updated like OS X or even like WP8. That would be neat. While desktop OS could definitely be used as 2 year-cycled w/ service packs

  • Guest

    We hope that given the poor takeup rate of Lion, Mountain Lion can convert more Apple customers and bolster Apple’s disappointing earnings.

    • davidgeller

      Lion had one of the highest take-up rates of any OS X release due to it being available in the App Store. Apple’s “disappointing” earnings were only a disappointment to analyst who had pegged higher numbers. Apple is still outperforming other competitors in their markets. To me, yesterday’s numbers have led to a fantastic buy opportunity.

      • Guest

        Best of luck with your investment!

  • guest

    Microsoft can’t even make a compelling upgrade every three years. If they had to ship yearly, you’d be lucky to get more than bug fixes.

  • dcavanaugh

    Mountain Lion is Apple’s “Vista”. I have 2 MacBooks, a little over 4 years old. Mountain Lion says it can’t be installed on either of them. Both have 4G of memory, 500G of disk, 2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, so it should be no issue. Unfortunately, I have Intel video hardware, whose drivers seem to be the problem. IMHO, Mountain Lion is a total fail. This is not how a premium brand retains customers.

    • Guest

      Same here: my perfectly working MacBook is not compatible with 10.8. This “upgrade” is nothing other than planned obsolescence. For a company that prides itself on its commitment to the environment, I find it appalling that I am expected to throw away a perfectly good computer just because it uses a slightly older processor.

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