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  • Another Look at the 10.6 Value Equation

    July 2nd, 2008

    Since I wrote my first article suggesting whether Apple should just give away Snow Leopard or make it a low-cost upgrade, many of you have written some cogent comments on the subject. You see value in what Apple is doing to improve Mac OS X, even if there aren’t a lot of surface changes or enhancements.

    Indeed, I’m sure Apple is probably spending as much in developing 10.6 as they’d routinely invest in a standard feature upgrade, and some of its new capabilities may be far more meaningful in the areas where it counts, and that’s being able to get your work done faster, with greater stability.

    Besides, with Mac OS X taking up more and more gigabytes of storage space, it would be real nice to save some of that and use it for other purposes. If you have a MacBook Air, for example, you have to watch what you’re doing as the hard drive can fill up real fast. In fact, one of the reasons my son didn’t consider one as a graduation gift was the storage constraint. His original note-book, a PowerBook G4, suffered through 80GB and he had to work hard to archive old files on a fairly frequent basis.

    Then again, even if Apple manages to save a gigabyte or two, that won’t be a significant issue, unless your MacBook Air has the solid state drive, which currently tops out at 64GB.

    More important is the promise of superior performance. Although Mac OS X has gotten faster over time, the performance differences among the last three releases haven’t been significant. Some of you feel Leopard is actually slower in some respects, though that’s not been my experience. Maybe on a PowerPC Mac, but that’s becoming yesterday’s news faster than you might have expected.

    However, even though I only went all Intel this year, I don’t think Apple is going to suffer severely if they truly ditch the PowerPC with Snow Leopard. Understand, though, that even if the reports about the system requirements of the developer preview are true, that doesn’t mean Apple isn’t going to roll in PowerPC code between now and 10.6’s release date.

    But I doubt it. This no advantage in spending extra millions to incorporate support for an older processor platform that can scarcely benefit from Snow Leopard’s enhancements. Not a lot of multiprocessor Macs were sold in those days, and the only dual-core G5’s arrived real late in the game. The numbers just aren’t significant, and the people who bought those G5 workstations will probably move to Mac Pros by this time next year, assuming they even do the sort of work that benefits from multicore processors.

    Besides, just because Apple will deliver the tools to allow developers to build faster apps doesn’t mean you’ll much action right away. Indeed, one set of software that would benefit greatly, Adobe’s Creative Suite, will hit its CS4 cycle way before Snow Leopard is released, so you’d have to wait until CS5 or later to benefit. That assumes, of course, that Apple will make it easy for programmers to harness these extra features and that stuff that depends on standard Mac OS X functionality will benefit automatically.

    The same holds true for OpenCL, the emerging standard that will hand off some processor-intensive tasks to the graphic chips, to allow them to crunch the ones and zeros a whole lot faster.

    In short, Snow Leopard is, in large part, a harbinger of the future. As more and more Mac users have it installed, the developer community will be more inclined to update their products accordingly. Unless the release date coincides with a publisher’s own release cycle, the key benefits may still be months or years away.

    That assumes, naturally, that Snow Leopard will arrive in the middle of 2009, and not a few months later. Indeed, Apple is being especially vague about the release, saying it’s “scheduled to ship in about a year.” So if it takes a few more months, Apple’s reputation won’t be seriously injured. It’s not as if the delay in the original release of Leopard — ostensibly to finish iPhone development — hurt Apple’s sales much. In fact, the conventional wisdom is that there was no impact whatever. People still bought Macs in droves.

    When it comes to the Snow Leopard upgrade policy, commentator Daniel Eran Dilger had it right in his blog in a recent commentary. You see, Apple’s main business is selling hardware. So even if a lot of you don’t buy 10.6 upgrade kits right away, it’ll be rolled into newer generations of Macs and millions of you will be using it before long. Even then, the lure of a new Mac OS would surely be sufficient to encourage some of you to pay full price even if the upgrade doesn’t have a whole lot of fancy new features.

    Personally, I still think Apple has to cope with user psychology. For years, new versions of software that exacted a full upgrade price contained new features to justify the purchase price. While the work Apple is doing admittedly carries equal or better value, I expect many people won’t agree.

    If Apple were to provide Snow Leopard free, almost free, or for a modest purchase price, say $59 or $79. it wouldn’t diminish the Mac OS value equation. Apple would simply deliver the appropriate spin, claiming it is their gift to millions of loyal customers who have embraced the Mac platform over the years. And they’ll still make a bundle regardless.

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