Should Apple Rush Snow Leopard?

April 28th, 2009

Since making a low-key announcement about 10.5’s successor last summer, Apple has been, publicly at least, extremely quiet on the subject. The preview at Apple’s site remains substantially unchanged, at least as of the time I’m writing this article. And the expected release date, ” in about a year,” hasn’t been altered.

To the surprise of many, Apple said nothing about it at Macworld Expo. Then again, Snow Leopard is not supposed to be visually distinctive compared to Leopard. Most of the changes, such as improved support for multicore processors, and the ability to offload processing chores to the graphic chips, are under-the-hood and difficult to demonstrate. Certainly the improved ability to support Microsoft Exchange servers won’t do much to the look and feel, other than to alter or add some preference settings in Address Book, iCal and Mail.

But this hasn’t stopped the tech press from attempting to read the tea leaves and coming up with a few possibilities here and there that may or may not be true. Some quote Mac developers as suggesting that the Finder has migrated from Carbon to Cocoa. But the underlying programming isn’t going to impact most users, unless the revised Finder is visibly different, and/or performs far more reliably than the current version. That, however, remains unconfirmed.

Other reports talk of revisions to the QuickTime Player interface and perhaps a new interface color scheme that has been labeled “marble.” But Apple remains silent about that too. This sort of speculation also has it that Apple is actually working on fairly substantial interface changes, but is withholding them from the developer community until the last minute, perhaps until the WWDC.

From a logical point of view, however, if Apple wants to deliver Snow Leopard some time this summer, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to suddenly unleash changes of that magnitude. It would give software publishers precious little time to modify their applications to take advantage of those changes, assuming the alterations aren’t just restricted to the color scheme.

At the same time, Microsoft is supposedly on track to release the final or release candidate version of Windows 7 a few days from now. Early reports indicate that it’s actually a fairly good operating system upgrade, and that it addresses many of the performance shortcomings of Windows Vista. There will also be a new taskbar, one that, in part, largely emulates Mac OS X’s Dock. Another change will be an XP compatibility mode, which will allow Windows users to be able to run older applications without running into difficulty. That feature, which will evidently be available as a downloadable module, recalls the Mac OS X’s now-departed Classic mode.

Well, when Microsoft is going to imitate something, they sure look to a good source.

Assuming that there are few serious issues with the planned last prerelease version of Windows 7, Microsoft is expected to ship the final version late this year or early in 2010. As with Vista, upgrade costs are apt to be exceedingly high. While Microsoft will charge an estimated $50 for OEM licenses to PC makers who will bundle Windows 7 with their new hardware, ordinary customers have to pay several times that figure for the very same product. I suppose Microsoft will argue, though, that any customer who buys a few million licenses at a time is entitled to a special discount.

As for Snow Leopard, while some media pundits suggest that the release may actually come in time for WWDC, the general consensus is that it’ll happen some time this summer, perhaps in August. Regardless, it’ll be out way ahead of Windows 7. Certainly there’s no incentive to push to fast towards release. Apple has plenty of time to make sure it’s well baked before it hits the release stage. Besides, previous versions of Mac OS X, by and large, seem to have been released a little too early and thus they were rather bug-prone.

The other consideration is Apple’s planned upgrade policy, and we’ll certainly know that by WWDC. That seems certain to me. Here the expectations are all over the map. I agree with some, including my friend Adam Engst, of TidBITS, that Snow Leopard should be given away free or, if required by accounting rules, sold for a modest fee, perhaps $19 for a single user license.

Certainly Apple has an incentive to want to get Snow Leopard onto as many Macs as possible, and I presume it’ll be, as has been reported already, Intel-only. It would surely reduce support expenses, and it would also allow developers to move full steam ahead to make their applications fully compatible with all the new features that are guaranteed to improve performance tremendously. That’s particularly true for software that taxes your Mac’s processors.

As to those who have PowerPC Macs: Well, the handwriting has been on the wall for quite some time. Adobe and other companies have already produced Intel-only versions of some of their new products, and that’s a trend that you can expect to increase over the next year.

Sure, these older Macs have plenty of life left in them. They can still run reliably as productive tools for home and business users. But Apple wants you to upgrade. That’s what keeps them in business, and maybe the arrival of Snow Leopard will help speed up the process. That is, if the economy cooperates.

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19 Responses to “Should Apple Rush Snow Leopard?”

  1. Dave Barnes says:

    1. Not rush. Quality is very important.
    2. Windows 7 release is not relevant.
    3. Price should be normal. $200 for 5 machines is only $49/Mac. Reasonable for me.

  2. hmurchison says:

    The seeds for Snow Leopard (SL) are increasing in frequency. WWDC just sold out in one month (a new record ) which is a testament to the OS X platform and the relative interest out there. I believe Apple will be ready with Snow Leopard Retail by September and things appear to be progressing by the plan.

    I do believe that the WWDC build will contain a more unified interface. The changes won’t be major but the scroll bars and shading will be like the new iTunes 8.x and iLife suite. There will be tons of little fixes that Apple won’t even care to mention but will make your life easier (cleaned up menus and preference panes).

    I agree with Adam Engst. Snow Leopard needs to be the OS that everyone on Intel Macs runs. Apple needs to avoid the OS fragmentation that exists in the PC market which stagnates development. PPC users should be running 10.5.7 and Intel users should be running SL and if Apple needs to give the OS away sobeit. The quicker you let developers tap into Leopard and above features the quicker we have a stable and high performing apps. The quicker we have 64-bit apps and better multi-core handling as well as superior media playback (via Quicktime X)

    Macintosh is the platform for people that “enjoy” computing and want to be cutting edge in software. Apple doesn’t need to coax another $129 out of people more than they need a clean transition to SL for Intel Macs. What people are failing to see is that SL is the transition OS that establishes Cocoa as the framework going forward and ushers in 64-bit computing. Everything Apple does in the future for development hinges on the core changes they’ve started with SL. Fast migration to SL is paramount.

  3. kerryb says:

    Here we go again. A decent article until the “Snow Leopard should be given away free” comment. Apple is NOT going to give 18 months OS development away for free. Wait till Snow Leopard arrives, try it out obviously on somebody else’s Mac and make your declarations then. I don’t understand how you can decide a product that you or anyone outside of Apple has little knowledge of is worthless = free. Is it really the use of Leopard in the naming that suggest to you that this is a minor update? Don’t be fooled by a name, Apple has not spent the past 18 months playing around with interface tweaks only. This is an operating system that gets better with each update.

  4. kerryb says:

    Boy you guys are cheap!

  5. tom B says:

    No rush. The best Windows users can expect from Win7 is probably a return to a WinXP level of performance– not a very high bar to shoot for. Remember: Win 7 STILL won’t be UNIX, so MSFT is– really– 10 plus years behind Apple. This didn’t matter in the past, because of their market position, but post-Vista, I think even long time Windows users are seeing Ballmer’s MSFT for what it really is– a company that has never been innovative and now relies entirely on “coasting”.

  6. hmurchison says:

    The statment for a free or at least lower cost Snow Leopard has merit. 18 months of development doesn’t entitle Apple to $129. Each person will assess what the new features offer them and decide on if its worth Apple’s asking price.

    The problem though is that an OS base fractured amongst too many operating systems is difficult for testing (remember people developers may be able to target different OS in Xcode but they still have to run their battery of tests which is time consuming) support and more.

    Microsoft struggles with legacy because people don’t want to move beyond XP. Leopard is a pretty good OS so I think Apple is going to begin to struggle to move people off of future OS.

    It’s not about being cheap. Engst eloquently supports his reasoning with supportive arguments. No one wants to cheat Apple engineers out of due pay but some of us realize that no matter how spiffy the new features in an OS are if the developer cannot use them because it wrecks legacy support then you may as well not even have that feature.

    The question is what is an equitable price for what is a low feature heavy optimized OS?

  7. gopher says:

    If Apple releases Snow Leopard cheap, I’ll eat my hat. Apple has not released an operating system cheaper than Mac OS 9. Apple has charged the same for the operating system revisions each time they released it no matter how long it took.

    March 24th 2001 – 10.0
    September 25 2001 – 10.1 (18 months)
    August 24 2002 – 10.2 (11 months)
    October 24 2003 – 10.3 (14 months)
    April 29, 2005 – 10.4 (18 months)
    October 26, 2007 10.5 (30 months)
    We are now at 18 months. So it is not like they are going to sit idly by when 4 of the last 5 releases were 18 months or less charging us less.

  8. hmurchison says:

    10.1 “Puma” was a free upgrade over 10.0

    I can totally see Apple charging full pop for Snow Leopard though that sales won’t exactly
    be stellar with the current featureset that they’re showing. Most consumer Macs are dual core
    with ok GPU and 4GB or 8GB RAM ceilings. Touting 64-bit, GrandCentral and OpenCL to these
    people won’t have the same effect because their ability to leverage these new tools is hampered by
    the existing hardware limitations.

    I’d love to see them maintain the Mac Bundle Box that currently contains Leopard, iLife 09 and iWork 09 but simply replace Leopard with Snow Leopard.

    I’d also love to see a Snow Leopard/Bento 2.5/ 3.0 bundle (assuming Bento 2.5 or 3.0 will be available roughly at the same time Snow Leopard ships)

    I try to refrain from pretending to be Apple’s CFO. Yes I realize they need to make revenue/profit but Snow Leopard has been optimized and shrunken to the point where Apple’s main mobility thrust and it’s ability to leverage Cocoa Touch and Location Aware Service hinges upon fast uptake of Snow Leopard. At times you have to see the forest through the trees here and forgo instant profits for the ability to deliver core services for your customers.

    Make them an offer they can’t refuse.

  9. Lawrence Rhodes says:

    I have a (crazy) idea for how Apple should support the PowerPC. It should sell ($20-$40, say) a version of Mac OS 9 for the Xbox 360. Presto, current, purchasable hardware for irreplaceable legacy apps, for the minor cost of an obsolete operating system plus a few new video and USB 2 drivers. The Xbox 360 is a constrained, limited variation, CHEAP platform and Apple might be able to take advantage of the same copy protection used by the games. I’m sure both Apple and Microsoft would jump at the chance…

  10. Billy Offspring says:

    Sorry I just don’t buy your argument or excuses for not paying for Snow Leopard and expecting it free or for nearly free. Any developer that wishes to make their products SL ready should expect to factor in the cost $129 and time needed to support SL as the price of doing business. If that amount is still beyond a developers reach I would say they are not very successful developers. As for “fracturing” the OS ecosystem with too many versions would you prefer Apple stood still and released updates to Mac OS X as infrequently as Windows or keep things moving forward and addressing new technologies with what is happening with open source and promoting open standards? The argument about legacy support is nothing new and I would guess the amount of Mac-tels out number Power PC;s out there. Leopard is still the best OS out there for a lot of people and unless SL comes on a new Mac most people wont know, care or want to upgrade from Leopard outside of the really tech savvy. Which brings me back to my initial statement there is too much justification on this site for not wanting to cough up $129 for what will most likely be the most advance OS.

  11. hmurchison says:

    You’re simply sidestepping the issues here.

    OS fragmentation is a burden on support or Apple and Macintosh developers. Apple’s forward momentum and motion is a whole ‘nother subject.

    The point is it is desirous to move the bulk of your installed userbase to the latest OS. Developers get to use new API that enhance their ability to deliver application quickly and make them more stable. Yet what some of you seem to postulate is that this is not worth Apple taking a small cut in revenue/profits up front for enhanced operational efficiencies on the backend.

    Yes the argument about legacy support “is” nothing new because with each new OS release the market because fragmented. There’s a reason why Microsoft doesn’t do OS upgrades on the same schedule that Apple does. Apple’s 18-24 month schedule is a burden on developers yet Apple’s supposed to sit back and reap all the rewards here? Let’s think about the Mac ecosystem on a more holistic level here.

    Intel Macs do outnumber PPC Macs but that doesn’t mean that these Intel Macs will upgrade to Snow Leopard en masse. If Apple wants developers to utilize 64-bit, OpenCL, Quicktime X and other features in SL they have to create a userbase large enough to make the work attractive for developers.

    Those of us wishing for a lower cost Snow Leopard are no more wrong than Apple expecting developers to redo their code on a bi-annual basis. The expenses are considerable for both.

  12. MichaelT says:

    I have to think of my father as more typical than me as a Mac user. Does he care how much RAM his OS can handle? He doesn’t even know how much RAM he has. Does he care about 64-bit access, or a next-generation Quicktime? Not even. Movie screen shots? New Finder? New theme? Better integration between apps?

    These are not the things he worries about. And he would definitely not pay for them. I doubt if he’d even go for a $30 price tag.

    If Apple wants Snow Leopard ubiquity among its OS users, the only way to get that is a free upgrade for Leopard users through Software Update.

    Tiger users I’m not so sure about how to handle. If they don’t see the advantages of Leopard as worthwhile, they won’t see paying for an update to Leopard as worthwhile (no matter how substantial that update is from a technical standpoint).

    I used to think that the full price would be fair, and I as a more technical person would be willing to pay. But from a long-term view, giving users more incentive to upgrade, making future development more profitable, it seems like free is the best answer.

  13. Bill Burkholder says:

    I think the idea of free is a pipe dream. I’d love a free upgrade, and I believe it would hand Apple and its developers a large installed base of SL users ASAP, but it’s an expensive pill to swallow.

    On the other hand, who in the USER BASE would see immediate and tangible benefits from an upgrade? If Apple expects their traditional pricing to hold, they will have to give the upgrade a rather hard sell, and make it really useful and beneficial for the average Joe with a MacBook or iMac or Mac Mini. Those of us with higher-end gear and higher-end needs will upgrade anyway, but someone who only needs Office and a browser and a few other light weight apps may think twice about any upgrade price.

    As for PPC users, there are plenty of us out there. I have two ten-year-old G4 AGP-450 towers for my kids. My wife has a G5 dual 1.8 for her business, and my backup laptop at work is a PowerBook G4-17 1.67 GHz. All of these machines run Tiger, because we all still use some OS 9 apps from time to time. (I very occasionally use PageMaker 6.5, and my wife still uses an old UMAX scanner with SCSI interface, and some Omnis 7 databases from the early 1990s! We need these tools so seldom, we can’t justify replacements for them. They’re like the old, bent screwdrivers you keep in the bottom of the toolbox for use as pry bars, or crude paint can openers.)

    I love my Intel PowerBook, but doggone it, I wish it had an emulator for OS 9! (No, Sheep Saver isn’t a mainstream solution…). It’s nice to have Windoze and OS X in one box, but I would love to use ALL my software on it.

  14. DaveD says:

    I would not like Apple to rush out Snow Leopard.

    Mac OS X 10.6 is not as great as a watershed like the transition from OS 9 to OS X, but it looks to be laying the groundwork for the future of the platform. Who knows what new devices that can be conjured up in the world of multi-core processor, mega-memory and storage, long-life battery, and new type of displays.

    Apple like time, marches on.

    Whenever I upgrade sometime in the next year, it will be a new Mac with Snow Leopard. But, in a tough economic environment a lower-cost OS X upgrade fee would be a nice gift. I like to see a freebie for existing Leopard users and a reduced fee for all others.

  15. DaveD says:

    The latest builds contained QuickTime Pro ($19) with direct YouTube integration and video screen capture. Based on those two things alone – much less how Dave Barnes (comment @1) prices things – Snow Leopard will probably retail for “around” waht Leopard did.

    And I’ll definitely buy it.

    Does anyone really know what the real impact of a true 64 bit system means? Particularly in terms of OS services?

  16. David says:

    The majority of computer users never upgrade their OS or software. Unless, as MichaelT said, Snow Leopard came to them through Software Update they wouldn’t bother with a free upgrade.

    If making something free doesn’t solve the problem (OS fragmentation) then there’s no point making it free.

    Let’s remember that Apple is a hardware company first. They would much rather have you buy a new MacBook than upgrade your existing Mac with Snow Leopard. Almost all the Tiger users are on PowerPC so they’ll get SL free when they buy their next Mac.

    Instead of making Snow Leopard free, Apple really needs to convince everyone on PowerPC to finally make the move to Intel. Snow Leopard itself is one weapon in that campaign, one that already has me looking forward to the move, but alone is not enough. Many of the G4s and G5s still in use are towers and the replacement model is priced far too high. The mini and iMac are such restricted designs that it’s hard to see them as true replacements.

    I have 3 major concerns with the iMac:
    1. The hard drive isn’t user accessible which drives the initial purchase and later upgrade costs up
    2. Like all Macs Apple includes weak GPUs with limited VRAM which says they’re not serious about OpenCL
    3. I’ve been led to believe that iMacs frequently need repairs.

    In 17 years of owning desktop/tower Macs, I’ve only had two hardware failures and both were backup hard drives.

  17. hmurchison says:

    Apple is not a hardware company. That’s a common fallacy but truth is quickly revealed when you ask a Mac user what they like about Macs. 9 out of 10 will claim they love the OS and the way the apps have a consistent and pleasant user interface. Hardware is what generates the profits for Apple but often the hardware is what we must put up with in order to enjoy the software. Thus I don’t view Apple as a hardware company at all.

    I totally agree on the iMac. It needs to offer a much better design. Not only should the hard drive be accessible but there should be, in my humble opinion, two bays for the option of adding more storage or making your data reduntant through mirroring of data.

    Secondly the iMac needs to stop working overtime to be cute. I like the thin shape but it’s not practical when we need quad-core processors to remain current and in fact leverage the features of Snow Leopard to good effect. How about thickening it up a bit and adding easy access to the hard drive[s] and by all means please put in a faster GPU.

  18. tom B says:

    hmurchison wrote:

    Hardware is what generates the profits for Apple but often the hardware is what we must put up with in order to enjoy the software.

    That’s a bit like saying Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest.

  19. Ariel says:

    “Rush”? Are you kidding me? If Apple releases it in August, it will be one of the longest release cycles of OS X (second only to Leopard). Besides, I do not think that there is any strong correlation between when an OS is released and how stable it is. Just look at Vista. It took five years, and it stank on release. The whole point of Snow Leopard IS stability, so I doubt it will be a major problem. Anyway, knowing Apple, you can just wait a few months after the release and snag OS X v10.6.2 which should should be pretty much bug-free.

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