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Are Tiger to Snow Leopard Upgraders Violating the User License?

As some of you have discovered, there is nothing to prevent you from using the $29 Snow Leopard installation DVD to setup 10.6 on an Intel-based Mac running Tiger. Apple probably didn’t cripple the installer for the simple reason that it would prevent you from erasing and restoring your hard drive should the need arise.

Or maybe they just want to be nice about the situation.

At the same time, there is a $169 Mac Box Set, a bundle that includes not just Snow Leopard but iLife ’09 and iWork ’09. That is indeed the official method of upgrading from Tiger, on the theory, I suppose, that you should have these two app suites to complete the collection. In essence, that makes the cost of Snow Leopard a mere $11 above the usual list price for these products.

However, what is one to do if you have already purchased these two suites? Would Apple give you a discount on Snow Leopard, or just expect you to purchase the entire package anyway?

Of course many of you know that, from a practical point of view, you can take that Snow Leopard DVD and it’ll work fine on a Mac running Tiger, so long as it is an Intel model. There will be no warning screens, requests for special activation and 10.6 doesn’t even come with a serial number. Many of you have already performed that installation with great success.

At the same time, Apple has something called an EULA, an End User License Agreement, that specifically states that the Snow Leopard DVD can only be installed on a Mac that’s already running Leopard. Obviously that excludes Mac OS 10.4, right? So, in theory, if you don’t obey these restrictions, you are violating the license. You should be using the installer from the Mac Box Set instead.

To a large degree, it appears that a hefty number of Mac users are being totally honest about this. The Mac Box Set sits just behind Snow Leopard in the sales charts at Apple’s online storefront. I don’t for a moment believe that everyone who opted for this package truly believes there is no other route to installing Snow Leopard. They simply want to be honest about it, and if you don’t have the latest iLife and iWork, it happens to be a pretty good deal.

The other legal alternative, I suppose, would be to pay $129 for a Leopard upgrade kit, and $29 for Snow Leopard. At $158, however, you are only getting two operating system DVDs, one of which you won’t actually ever use, so it would be a waste of money.

So what’s the reasoning behind Apple’s peculiar upgrade licensing policy, other than to sell more product? Well, maybe that’s all of it, and I’ll grant them their right to earn an honest income, and certainly a policy of this sort is perfectly legal, if wholly impractical.

As much as Apple is accused of resembling Microsoft in many respects, the facts are often otherwise, however. Apple’s consumer-level software products, including the operating system, don’t carry serial numbers. The exception would be when you upgrade, for example, iWork ’09 after running the demo version and upgrade via an online purchase. Then a serial number is required to unlock the software.

The high-end products, such as Logic Studio and Final Cut Studio, do carry the normal user licensing requirements, and that certainly makes sense considering the pricing of those products and the fact that they cater to people who, for the most part, earn a living from content creation.

Compare that to Microsoft, which has a serial number attached even to the very cheapest, almost unusable, versions of Windows. Worse, if you happen to perform too many upgrades to your PC, Windows often requires that you reactivate your operating system. I suppose the software’s fuzzy logic assumes that, after a certain point, you’re not just upgrading one computer but acquiring another one, for which you need a brand new user license.

Yes, I realize there is a high percentage of piracy around the world, focused particularly on Microsoft software and products from other major developers, such as Adobe. Obviously, these security measures are designed to ensure that each and every copy is being run by someone who actually has the right to do so. Unfortunately, anti-piracy policies that are too draconian can often have the reverse effect. Ask the entertainment industry.

It also helps to price the products affordably, so there’s less incentive to pirate. While it lacks visible feature enhancements for the most part, Apple no doubt invested hundreds of millions of dollars to redo the plumbing in Snow Leopard. That’s something that will play out over time, as more and more developers release products to support the new speed enhancements. Despite the development expense, they charged a shareware-level fee for the upgrade.

In turn, the price for Windows 7, while lower than Vista, is still no less obscene; that is, unless you’re a PC maker and you can buy a few million licenses all at once and take advantage of quantity pricing.