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  • Attention Apple: Please Make Snow Leopard Free!

    February 9th, 2009

    Notice, gentle reader, that I use the word please, since I don’t want to make this request seem closer to a demand, although I certainly feel strongly about the subject.

    Now why should I make this request? Well, in one sense, the 10.6 release is similar to 10.1, in that it cleans up the system and makes it function faster and more reliably. Of course, the original 10.0 was, according to Apple, meant to be a product for early adopters and folks who might be considering the possibility of moving their companies to Mac OS X.

    Those of you who tried it at the time realize it was quite messy. Features were missing, including CD burning. It was slow as the blazes, and you had to wonder whether this fancy piece of eye candy was really worth it. Indeed, I kept using Mac OS 9 for my “real” work, other than writing books about Mac OS X of course. Even 10.1 took us only part way there, and I didn’t transition completely to Mac OS X until 10.2 arrived.

    But the situation with Leopard is vastly different. Mac OS 10.5 is a fully-realized reference release, in use by millions and millions of Mac users at home or in the office. While I realize some of you still regard it as too buggy, most of you seem to be generally satisfied, although it’s the right of Mac users worldwide to complain loudly when they feel it’s appropriate.

    As you probably know, Leopard’s successor, Snow Leopard, is clearly meant as a strong under-the-hood refinement. The visual changes are apt to be extremely minor. You won’t see enhanced support for Microsoft Exchange (it’ll just be there when you need it for your email setup), and even if the Finder migrates from Carbon to Cocoa, the changes won’t necessarily be visible either. That assumes, of course, that there will not be any significant visual changes, and a few will be welcome. But that’s yesterday’s column.

    This doesn’t mean that Apple isn’t working, in secret, on a few hundred significant interface alterations, but I really doubt it. For one thing, except for a few highly-competitive issues, developers need to have full access to a forthcoming operating system release in order to test their products, present and future, against it.

    Indeed, Snow Leopard seeds have been available to the programming community since last year’s WWDC. While they are provided under strict confidentiality agreements, Apple knows that some folks who don’t believe in contracts will nonetheless rush to a Mac rumor site and spill the beans. The one significant issue to be disclosed so far, beyond what you can read on Apple’s site, is that the prereleases are only designed to run on Intel-based Macs.

    Of course it’s also true that the last PowerPC model, the G5, was retired in the summer of 2006, so there’s less incentive to continue to invest in R&D, except for security and critical hardware support issues.

    But the main reason I suggest that Apple give away Snow Leopard is because operating systems are strictly a means to sell Mac hardware, from which Apple makes the lion’s share of its profits. Despite the demands of some uninformed media pundits that Apple is missing the boat in refusing to open Mac OS X to PC clones of all kinds, such a boneheaded maneuver would only destroy Apple’s earnings and profits, as anyone with a calculator at hand will realize after examining the financial statements and doing the math for themselves.

    Up till now, Apple has sold Mac OS X upgrade kits on the basis of large numbers of visual feature enhancements. Snow Leopard is the catch-up release, where the underpinnings are cleaned up and performance is enhanced. True, that may itself be sufficient reason to pay $129 for the privilege of getting a copy, but it’s not going to seem terribly sexy from a marketing point of view.

    On the other hand, telling loyal Mac users that they can get Snow Leopard as a free download, or on a DVD for, say, $9.95 shipping and handling, would be a great publicity ploy.

    Compare that, for example, with Microsoft’s approach for Windows 7, which is also presented as mostly a performance and reliability enhancement for the failed Vista release, along with a few interface flourishes. However, Microsoft can’t give up its greedy ways, because they have already announced the usual half dozen confusing variations, and even if pricing is reduced, I doubt it will be by very much.

    Of course, Microsoft doesn’t sell computer hardware, other than input devices, so they can’t just give a new operating system away, or can they? After all, 80% of the income generated by Windows comes from the licenses they sell to computer makers. That business plan doesn’t have to change for them to offer upgrade kits to existing PC owners for a relatively cheap price.

    Such a thing won’t happen of course. But I can see good reason for Apple to confuse and befuddle Microsoft yet again by providing Snow Leopard free and clear. Isn’t that a terrific idea?

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    50 Responses to “Attention Apple: Please Make Snow Leopard Free!”

    1. Billy Offspring says:

      Sure, Apple will have spent 12-18 months developing Snow-Leopard, then will come the marketing and some people think they shouldn’t recoup some of those R&D and marketing dollars? Give me a break. Don’t be fooled by the lack of whistle and bells and the choice of cat names, this will be a strong and desirable Mac OS X update. How many times does system software get released that actually takes advantage of your hardware’s (Intel) existing power and delivers a faster machine? Please stop whining about something you haven’t seen not being free, you can only make that judgment when Snow – Leopard is available.

    2. DaveD says:

      Mac OS X version 10.5 is not as bad as 10.0. It was good PR for Apple to provide the free 10.1. Microsoft should do the same for Vista users.

      A lower-priced version of 10.6 for Leopard users would be nice with the regular $129 for all other Mac OS X.

    3. Lachlan says:

      Some charge is justified if new features are there. I’m happy to pay a fee for development costs associated with new features. Otherwise it’s just a point update which should be free.

    4. Andrew says:

      Changing the basic plumbing and adding full Exchange support is hardly a point upgrade.

      I would pay the $129 just for iCal to sync with my Exchange server

    5. Duncan says:

      You say make Snow Leopard free so that Apple will sell more hardware. How will making Snow Leopard free sell more hardware? The $129 price tag, on the other hand—once Snow Leopard is out some people are going to go, oh what the heck, I’ll save the $129 by buying a brand new Mac now so I can get Snow Leopard free…

    6. JJIrons says:

      Free is already here! Obama’s stimulus program will show us what “free” looks like. Bail outs, tax hikes, free healthcare, etc. Don’t hold your breath for great results though and even though Apple strongly supported Obama, something tells me they ill never do anything for free. Free doesn’t work.

    7. John says:

      Apple should charge $129 for SL. Just because it doesn’t add some eye candy is no reason to deprecate the utility of the software. Presumably this will add speed and free up disk space while adding new functions. Where do I line up? I’m ready. If SL really does run faster it may actually postpone hardware sales as users are happier with their machines than they were. In addition there is the rumor of the cocoa finder, at last.

      Apple spends something like $500M a year on product development (not all or even most on the OS). If they can cover the cost of development and actually make some profit I’m all for it. It means Apple stays strong and lasts longer.

      Finally, as you point out, we don’t know the final picture yet. I’d wait till I saw what they actually produce before calling for it to be free.

    8. Richard says:


      A lower cost upgrade for existing Leopard users makes sense (with a full price purchase from earlier OS versions), but I wonder how many Leopard users have the requisite hardware to use Snow Leopard? Surely there will be a lot of Macs which are end of lifed with Leopard (and an even greater number with Tiger).

      Still, it is the best way to get the installed base up in a hurry to encourage the software developers to “get with the program”. Sooner than later, many of us will be upgrading to new hardware which comes with Snow Leopard.

      In my view, the most important aspect of Snow Leopard is the (reported) ability to make better utilization of multiple cores and, of course, full 64 bit implementation. I can readily see the benefits of the OS assigning one or more cores (and the video card) to processing video in the background while other cores are being utilized to do other things independent of those activities.

      The downside is still Photoshop. It is still unclear when, or even if, Adobe will be committing resources to bring the Mac version up to date to take advantage of all this. Failing that, professional photographers may accelerate the already existing trend of moving away from Apple products.

    9. Tom Andersen says:

      It seems to me that Apple is lining this up to be ”Free” or ‘Almost free’.

      A) It is still Leopard. If they wanted to charge more they should have had a whole new name.

      B) I saw a slide somewhere that said the number of new features would be 0, where Tiger had like 200, leopard had like 300. Is that not the biggest hint? All the stuff like OpenCL, etc is ‘just’ under the hood things we developers are waiting for.

      C) How many intel computers were sold running Tiger? (Millions, I know…) but still ‘most’ intel boxes have paid for Leopard already.

      I think that they could charge some reasonable delivery / DVD fee, like $29 which was the cost of Quicktime Pro. (so its like it was free!).

    10. gopher says:

      Andrew wrote:

      Neurotic Nomad:
      First off, 10.4 was available as a stand-alone, I bought a copy for my 12? PowerBook and did not need to buy new hardware.
      Exchange support WILL be added to Snow Leopard. It is mentioned on Apple’s site.

      Why should I pay for a feature I don’t even use?

    11. @ gopher: Well, if you look at it that way, there may as well be 200 versions of Mac OS X, with a mix and match of features that would appeal to different classes of users.

      In the case of Exchange, it’s possible some people might not need it now, but would later join a company where that sort of access is required.


    12. hmurchison says:

      Make it Free ….and they will come.

    13. Richard says:

      DaveD wrote:

      Mac OS X version 10.5 is not as bad as 10.0. It was good PR for Apple to provide the free 10.1. Microsoft should do the same for Vista users.

      A lower-priced version of 10.6 for Leopard users would be nice with the regular $129 for all other Mac OS X.

      Let’s face it, 10.0 was really a beta.

      10.5 still has a lot of rough edges. I think that 10.4.11 is, in many ways, a better, more stable OS.

      As a PPC user who expects to be left behind by Snow Leopard, I wish that Apple would clean up some of the mess in Leopard before abandoning us to our fate.

    14. MichaelT says:


      Let’s not forget that Apple is very generous when it comes to installing the OS on multiple machines. Sales of family packs, which by the way are very attractively priced, are next to nothing compared with the single copies because people know they can use the same disc to update all their Macs. Sure it’s against the license agreement, but how many people out there have actually read it? (David thanks the 7 of you who put up their hands).

      Six of those people were just putting up their hands to ask what a license agreement is.

    15. Chris says:

      After reading over the comments, I feel that those people who directly compare Microsoft’s business to Apple’s business are missing a piece of the picture. In my opinion, you cannot compare Apple to Microsoft, or apples to lemons (pardon the pun on both counts) because as many of you have said, Apple is a hardware company, with a killer OS and included apps to boot, and Microsoft is merely a software company who aspires to steal the iPod’s market share with failed devices and dreamy ideas of future retail chains. That being said, Apple probably could afford to fulfill our wildest fantasies and just handout Snow Leopard to the masses for free, while Microsoft has their normal fiasco of trying to sell the consumer a horribly overpriced OS, that comes in so many flavored SKUs as to confound us all away from the fact that Windows 7 is really just Vista 1.0 (or as it should have been). I believe that Apple should indeed be charging for this upgrade, for their time put in, and the strides they are making in setting an example for the industry by implementing Open-CL, Grand Central, etc. Not to assume that I strictly mean the normal $129 entrance fee, but perhaps a meager $49, or even $99 cost for existing Leopard users. As it seems that the PPC architecture will not be supported by SL, buying a new machine after SLs release would ensure the best of both worlds that Apple has to offer, but for the people still using Tiger on their earlier Intel machines, I believe that the usual $129 fee would still be a bargain. All I know is, I’m running a 2008 Mac Pro (3.1), and I wouldn’t think twice having to pay $129 for SL, knowing what I could unleash under the hood of this beast. It’s all opinion until Apple makes the announcement, so until then…

    16. ME says:

      I think it should be free anyway because the entire system is based on a free bsd kernel. Steeling work from the people and selling it to them at high prices. Just as bad as Microsoft.

      • Robert Werz says:

        @ME, This. They have no right to sell it on those absurdly high prices when they used a free language to make the application. It really should be free.

        Not $100, not $50, not even $25! They should give it free. Otherwise, they’re just milking every MAC users’ cash around the world for a software they don’t fully “own”.

        • @Robert Werz, You need to bone up on the subject, because you have a few fundamentals wrong. Although Apple uses open source software as the core of Mac OS X, there are loads of proprietary additions, including their development tools. They have every right to charge a fair price for their work.


          • Robert Werz says:

            @Gene Steinberg, Sure, they might have bundled up some additions but it’s still wrong to price it that high.

            I may be wrong on saying that it should be free, but at least they should make it more affordable for the general public.


            • Sorry, man, what you call “some additions” is all the proprietary code that makes Mac OS X unique. Compare the price of Mac OS X to a Windows consumer license, and you’ll see how lame your suppositions are.


    17. ME wrote:

      I think it should be free anyway because the entire system is based on a free bsd kernel. Steeling work from the people and selling it to them at high prices. Just as bad as Microsoft.

      No, Apple isn’t stealing anything. They are legally using open source software on putting their own proprietary stuff on top of it, which is their right. Leopard is also certified as Unix.

      You are free to use any open source operating system you wish, of course, but Apple’s enhancements make all the difference in the world. Besides, a standard $129 price for an upgrade kit is not “high,” particularly compared to what Microsoft charges for Vista Ultimate, which is the full-featured version.


    18. hmurchison says:


      Apple’s kernel is a hybrid. Darwin is open source but there’s far more to an OS than just the kernel. Try again.

    19. John says:

      First of all, we haven’t seen SL released so we don’t know what features it will bring.

      Apple should charge what they think is right for SL. To make it cheap or free devalues the product. If you really don’t want to pay for it either don’t use it or get it for free somewhere. Find a friend who bought it and use their install disk. It’s not like Apple is forcing you to pay for this. It is all on the honor system.

      Contrary to what was stated above, SL may do a lot even for existing 3rd party software. I don’t have current stats but some time ago I read that something like 60% of a program’s execution time was spent executing the OS. In other words, the application software is frequently making calls to the OS to accomplish something. If the OS becomes faster and more stable that helps an existing app. Might even make Adobe apps run well.

    20. Richard says:

      “Might even make Adobe apps run well.”

      Now there is an optimist!

      Photoshop CS 5 still needs a lot of work to make use of the number of available cores. Lloyd Chambers has run tests showing how PS actually runs better with some cores disabled!

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