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The Almost Final Leopard Upgrade Pitch!

It seems that every time Apple is close to a new release of Mac OS X, I’m here begging and pleading for a decent upgrade path for recent purchasers of new Macs or the previous Mac OS upgrade box. Of course, Apple doesn’t pay attention and they do what they planned to do anyway.

However, I think my argument becomes ever stronger with each upgrade, for various logical reasons, at least that’s what I believe.

When Mac OS 10.0 became 10.1, of course, the upgrade was essentially free, unless you ordered for shipment direct to your home, in which case a $19.95 “shipping and handling” fee was required. Lest we forget, that fee was the subject of lots of heated arguments about Apple’s alleged profiteering ways.

Regardless, 10.1 was sort of usable, but still slow as the devil, even on the fastest Mac of that era. Come 10.2 and 10.3, and things got a whole lot better. Now, though, you had to pay the full $129 for the upgrade, unless you bought a new Mac after the shipping date was announced — usually at the latest possible moment — in which case you’d be eligible for a special upgrade plan for a brief period of time. How long? A few months or maybe longer, depending on when the next version of Mac OS X was due.

In each case, however, the upgrades were well worth the money because an almost usable operating system became better and — unlike a certain company headquartered in Redmond, WA — faster and more stable. Come 10.4, Mac OS X finally realized its industrial-strength potential, and it became a mainstay for millions of Mac users, both new and converted.

Now it’s fair to say that, despite the promise of over 300 nifty new features in Leopard, it’s not going to be an easy sell. For one thing, just what Macs will Apple leave behind? Officially, the final system requirements have not been announced, and I won’t take any of the comments in rumor sites as gospel. Besides, things are apt to be in flux until Apple begins to take orders.

But it’s fair to say that Leopard’s new graphic eye-candy, such as Core Animation, is apt to require a decently-fast G4 with a powerful graphics card, which probably means that most anything Apple produced in the last four years or so should be compatible.

In the scheme of things, that doesn’t seem too bad, considering that the full Aero 3D interface for Windows Vista barely runs on many of today’s PCs, and far fewer models that are more than a year old.

Apple, however, has said nothing about whether Leopard will be faster, although I would assume they’ll try to make it more stable, particularly the Finder. While the Finder’s new look and features may seem sexier to tout in ads, if it is subject to fewer multithreading slowdowns, that would be just as important, if not more so.

However, does all that, plus Time Machine, Spaces and the other new features, total up to sufficient justification to buy yet another operating system upgrade from Apple at full price? My decision is clear. I will order a family pack the day it goes on sale, and install it on all my Macs as soon as it arrives, although separated by a few hours, to make sure that the setup process works reliably.

But I’m an early adopter, despite the well-known risks. If you depend on your Mac to help you earn a living, you can’t be so cavalier about installing a brand new operating system version, even if Apple makes the installation process nearly foolproof.

What, for example, about the applications you need? Will they be compatible, or crash with abandon or function in a crippled fashion. You probably won’t know until the dust settles, and that may take at least a few days before the Mac troubleshooting sites report the news you need to know.

In the meantime, if I were in the driver’s seat at Apple, I would want to do whatever I could to encourage you to buy that upgrade. If this meant having, say, a longer grace period for recent purchasers of new Macs and Tiger upgrade kits, so be it.

Personally, whether Leopard comes out at the beginning of October, the end of the month, or somewhere in between, I think Apple should begin to accept orders for upgrades right after Labor Day. Yes, I know they apparently plan to unveil new iPods that week, but that’s beside the point.

What’s more, on that day, anyone who buys a new Mac or Tiger box ought to be eligible a free Leopard upgrade for, say, $9.95 a copy. No questions asked, and no installation restrictions, which means they send the same DVD that the full retail purchasers receive.

Of course, as usual, Apple never listens.