In the wake of revelations about the notorious SSL bug last month, there was plenty of fear-mongering. One online commentator suggested that Apple knew about the "gotofail" bug since Mavericks first came out in October 2013 but, unaccountably, failed to fix it. That was never proven, and it's not at all certain that the commentator in question actually has sources deep within Apple that would — or could — have confirmed any such thing. My feeling is that he doesn't.
Yes, the bug existed, but lots of bugs exist, security and otherwise, and they remain undiscovered. Often it requires a third-party group of security "white hats" to locate the problem and confirm its possible severity.
In any case, the bug was fixed, so let's move on. Or maybe not, depending on your point of view.
So along with news of this fix came news of the fact that there was no corresponding fix for users of OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, which was originally released in the fall of 2009. Indeed, there hasn't been a security fix for 10.6 in a while. Why? Is Apple abandoning support for Snow Leopard even though nearly 20% of Mac users are still running it?
But this bug didn't impact Snow Leopard users.
Sure, nothing is forever, and I suppose Apple does have an internal timetable about when OS 10.6 is history, but convincing Mac users to leave the confines of Snow Leopard may not be so easy. It may be impossible in many circumstances since the hardware isn't compatible with more recent versions of OS X. The other key issue is Rosetta, the utility that allowed users of Intel-based Macs to continue to use PowerPC software.
The simple solution is supposedly to just update those apps. But that may require a paid upgrade, or may not even be possible for apps that can't or won't be updated for a variety of reasons. Besides, Macs are quite reliable, and Snow Leopard was the last OS X version released before Apple began its alleged iOS/OS X interface convergence initiative. While the minor look and feel adjustments aren't important in the scheme of things, OS 10.6 is regarded as a "pure" Mac experience, uncontaminated by the influence of the mobile universe.
To make matters more troubling, however, some bloggers have posted lurid articles with lurid headlines about the alleged 20% of Mac users that Apple has abandoned. In this vast wasteland, they say, millions of Mac users may continue to run computers with unknown and unfixed security leaks that may, potentially, endanger the sanctity of their data.
Or maybe not.
You see, there's a very slight shortcoming to this logic. Not only has Apple never officially stated that support for Snow Leopard has been discontinued, it remains on sale! I'm serious. As I wrote this article, I checked Apple's online store, and there was the physical installation DVD available for $19.99 with free shipping.
So if an OS is about to be — or has been — discontinued, why would Apple continue to offer it for sale? Indeed, that approach essentially commits Apple to support Snow Leopard with critical updates for quite some time yet, perhaps as much as a few years. It's hard to believe Apple would sell a product for which support is about to be terminated.
In contrast, does Microsoft still sell Windows XP?
Besides, Windows XP is the real albatross. As of last count, nearly 30% of the Windows users tallied in an online survey were still using Windows XP. That doesn't count the tens of millions of XP installations on computers that do not connect to the public Internet, such as ATM and point-of-sale systems. They aren't counted on those online tracking reports, so the real number may be far larger.
Microsoft, however, doesn't seem to have a clue how to persuade these Windows users to move onto a newer system. One pitch I read talked about all the wonderful features of Windows 8 that make little or no difference to XP users. While it appears Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella, is moving to make key decisions in company strategy and personnel, a solution to the XP dilemma is still not in the cards.
Just saying support is about to be discontinued may force businesses to make a decision, but what decision? Will they simply dump Windows and move to Macs, assuming compatible software is available? What about iPads? What about just making do?
And if they do choose to do an OS upgrade, how? Even if the hardware will do a decent job of running, say, Windows 7 in a satisfactory fashion, what about the software? Will the critical vertical apps many businesses require even work with Windows 7? Forget about Windows 8!
If Microsoft can deliver a seamless and affordable transition scheme for Windows XP users, and it could include special offers of a new PC from Microsoft partners I suppose, it would mean billions of dollars of needed revenue.
Meantime, Apple hasn't yet rushed to dump Snow Leopard, and 20% of Mac users are not suddenly vulnerable to doom and gloom and the end of life as we know it. Well, no more than anyone else.
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