Apple has gotten a bad rap for high OS upgrade prices. It all started in the early days when you could download the latest and greatest Mac OS free of charge, or just get your blank floppies copied at a local dealer or user group. If you wanted the full package with all the user manuals, you did have to buy the retail package, but few bothered.
One day, back in the days of Mac OS 7, Apple decided to stop giving the crown jewels away, except for the usual maintenance fixer-uppers. Although Mac users complained bitterly about the inability to get what used to be available free, it's not as if Microsoft gave away copies of Windows.
So Mac users became accustomed, grudgingly of course, to shelling out $99 for Apple's latest and greatest operating system.
Then came Mac OS X.
In the fall of 2000, you were afforded the "privilege" of buying a copy of the Mac OS X Public Beta for just $29.95. In responses to protests about then having to pay the full $129 retail price for the "final release," sometimes known as 10.0, Apple relented and allowed you to deduct what you paid for the Public Beta.
Well, that made sense, until Steve Jobs admitted, during the official March 2001 rollout media event, that the first official release of Mac OS X was meant for early adopters and power users. Yes, my friends, it was still a beta, feature limited to the extent that you couldn't even burn a CD.
When 10.1 arrived, which was largely a bug fix and feature restoration release, Apple's $19.95 shipping and handling fee was the source of loads of complaints. Why should it cost so much to mail a CD and a tiny booklet? Apple must be cleaning up. Of course, you could also go to your favorite Apple dealer and get a copy — or two or three as I did — at no cost, so this wasn't such a big issue.
From then on, the reference releases of Mac OS X remained $129 for 10.2 through 10.5, but then came Snow Leopard.
According to Apple, Snow Leopard wasn't so much a feature release in the sense of sporting 200 or 300 flashy goodies. Instead, it was meant as a slimmer, trimmer OS, without the code for PowerPC Macs, which were no longer supported. New features were intended to create the foundation to allow developers to build more powerful and speedier apps. That is, when they got around to adding support for the new features, and that situation is still very much a work in progress.
Since Snow Leopard wasn't intended as a full feature release, Apple exacted a modest $29 for a copy for 10.5 users. If you are running 10.4, there is a special Mac Box Set, the latest version of which, recently released, adds iLife '11 and iWork '09 to the mix, and sells for the standard $129.
That takes us to Lion.
It's widely expected that Mac OS X Lion will cost $129, same as the standard issue Mac OS X upgrade. Or maybe not. You see, Apple has been busy reducing the prices of consumer grade software of late, so the latest and greatest iLife is now $49, rather than $79. Does that signal a trend?
Now I fully expect that Lion will sport the usual 200 to 300 brand new features, a few of which will be sexy enough to entice you to buy the upgrade however it’s priced. But I do not include much of that iOS-inspired stuff that, frankly, doesn’t light my fire. It's a bit like all the additional features of a landlord insurance policy; there's no harm in them, but you're really interested in covering the main perils. Yes, auto-save and auto-resume are useful, but I don’t think Apple can hang a full upgrade on those two. There will have to be lots more.
At the same time, with tens of millions of Mac users now accustomed to paying $29 for OS upgrades, do you think they are ready to shell out $100 extra for a single-user copy of 10.7? Talk about being spoiled. It's also true that Apple exacts only a small part of their revenue from the sale of OS upgrades. Mac OS X is meant as a feature enhancement for Macs, which is what Apple really wants you to buy.
This situation is quite unlike the Windows world, where there are several flavors of Windows, and even though your new PC has the latest version preloaded, it may not be the "lesser" Home Premium version. If you want all the advertised features present and accounted for, prepare to shell out an extra $100 for Ultimate.
Yes, it costs far more to upgrade your Windows box than a Mac. However, Windows power users will generally geek out dealers who offer the "OEM" version, the one allegedly available strictly to manufacturers. But if you're crafting a home-built PC, technically you're a manufacturer and thus qualify for pricing that's far less than what regular consumers pay.
After all is said and done, I expect that Apple will probably not return to the $129 price point for Lion. It'll be something closer to $79 or $99 a copy, which will simply allow Apple to sell even more copies. But they'll still prefer that you buy a new Mac, so they can enjoy the full profit experience.
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