Apple’s Misguided Lion Upgrade Scheme

June 9th, 2011

When Microsoft announced that you had to do a “clean install” to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7, even so-called Microsoft fans complained, and loudly. This meant they’d have to basically backup, erase, and restore their hard drives. Only Windows Vista offered a direct upgrade path, and it wasn’t a pretty picture, although I suppose lots of people just went out and bought new PCs, or used a third party utility, called the IT department, or summoned an outside repair person to handle the chore.

Maybe it is true that Microsoft was in collusion with the PC makers to make the XP upgrade process so difficult, most Windows users would just buy new computers; maybe.

Now I have to say that Apple’s upgrade process for Mac OS 10.7 is nowhere near as involved, even if you never upgraded to Snow Leopard. But I don’t really think it makes a whole lot of sense either, even though I realize the fact that Apple might have wanted to make the Lion installer as simple as possible.

A positive; Hardware support for Lion seems pretty extensive. Just about any Intel-based Mac released since the middle to latter part of 2006, meaning an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or better, will work with Lion. A five-year Window is pretty good for Apple. At the same time, I expect that the $29 upgrade price for Snow Leopard, plus loads of new Macs sold since 10.6 arrived in August of 2009, only leaves a small number of eligible Mac users still using Leopard or Tiger.

However, to upgrade to Lion from Leopard, it’s a double installation at best. First they have to upgrade to Snow Leopard, and upgrade that initial installation to 10.6.7 (Mac App Store debuted in 10.6.6). The reason is that Lion will only be available via that route. There will be no retail upgrade kits, no DVDs. That’s the price you pay for convenience, assuming downloading a 4GB file is convenient for you.

Once you’ve running 10.6.7 or later (and there’s a rumor of a 10.6.8 under development as we speak), you can then install Lion. Does this make sense for the company whose products “just work”?

At the very least, Apple ought to consider a combo installer DVD in a retail package at a special price, say $39. Forcing non-adopters of 10.6 to buy two upgrades to get one just isn’t fair, or reasonable so far as I’m concerned. As a matter of fact, not having a physical disc is a bad idea, for it forces millions of Mac users to undergo an extra expense and upgrade process to get the latest and greatest Mac OS.

Certainly Apple raised the bar here by adding a rich set of useful features, plus the promise of better security and reliability, for an extremely low price of admission. Even if only a small number of the other 250 fancy new features are useful to you, you’ll probably benefit from the $29.99 Lion upgrade, assuming there are no serious bugs with your existing software.

Now with Lion’s official debut only a few weeks away, it’s not as if Apple should be expected to change their ways overnight. Even if there is a physical Lion DVD, once the installation is done, updates will be tied in to the Mac App Store. This is part and parcel of Apple’s plans to assume control of most of the software purchase process via the online route. They already boast selling more Mac apps than the largest consumer electronic retailers, and the season is young. Once more and more Mac enjoy have the benefit of the Mac App Store, the number of software publishers who consider selling their products separately will be reduced considerably.

Yes, I realize there are shortcomings to Apple’s curated ecosystem. Certain apps, particularly those that would normally require Administator’s access with a password, or install background apps and kernel extensions, are still prohibited. But if Apple hopes to make it worthwhile for all developers to get involved, they will have to bend. Hopefully Lion is offering the features that developers need to adopt to allow for a wider range of apps to be offered. I’m sure the developers in our audience may want to chime in, insofar as their confidentiality agreements with Apple allow.

As far as Lion is concerned, I realize Apple’s marketing plans are probably set in stone. But they can be persuaded to change their ways, if customers say they need an alternative. Maybe Apple doesn’t expect to sell that many Lion upgrades to 10.5 users, and thus they don’t feel the pressure to offer a more flexible upgrade option. Certainly restricting Lion to the Mac App Store probably costs somewhat less in development dollars, since there’s no need to build a retail upgrade package and waste trees. But is that the most practical alternative? I don’t think so, but I don’t know how many of those 54 million Mac users on the planet are running Leopard and are eligible to upgrade to Lion.

None of this impacts me, since I’m using 10.6.7. At the same time, I like to think that Apple can sometimes be flexible when it comes to what’s best for Mac users. I hope you’ll agree.

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28 Responses to “Apple’s Misguided Lion Upgrade Scheme”

  1. Russ says:

    At this time, we still don’t know if the App Store is the only way to install Lion. Apple says that this is the only way to install Lion on Day 1. However, there is wiggle room to offer other alternatives down the road. Although I can’t say what Apple plans, perhaps they want to give users who have upgraded to Snow Leopard a brief exclusive period with Lion as a reward. Later on they will offer a DVD for sale at a slightly increased price that can be used by anyone. I can’t imagine that the App Store will be the only way to install Lion – too many isues associated with it.

  2. MacHobbes says:

    Slightly off topic –

    but why did Apple chose to ask 29.99$ rather than 29$ for Lion?
    This is bad style and absolutely tasteless.


  3. jsk says:

    I’m still dumbfounded by the 4GB download. Especially since Jobs himself spent time in the keynote talking about how sending multiple GB’s of data to the cloud would take days or weeks (when comparing iCloud to Amazon and Google’s offerings). Where, exactly, does Apple think we’re going to get this magical bandwidth? Considering the speed of my cable modem (the ONLY option available in my area), it would be literally faster to drive down to Cupertino and burn a disk there and drive back (days faster, in fact). Or do all execs at Apple have T1 or better connections at home?

    • Vavatch says:


      Huh? It’s 4GBs… Gigabytes, not TERABYTES… It’s about the same size as a a typical 2 hour movie download. Less than a typical HD movie. If you can stream HD movies, then you will have the Lion update downloaded in well under two hours typically. Do you live within 2 hours of Cupertino? If not, then stop whinging.

      • You need to spread your wings a little bit and realize that there are places in the U.S. and elsewhere where even a “trivial” 4GB download is a major problem.


      • jsk says:

        Wow. That was one seriously hostile response. Did I pee on your Grandmother or something? For your information, I HAVE tried downloading 4GBs before. It took 17 hrs. 39 min (cool weather, kiddies in school not taking up bandwidth) (yes, I timed it).

        P.S. I live 3 hrs. 45 min. from Cupertino.

  4. What about the folks still on phone modems and other narrow bandwidth pipes? And what happens when the hard drive goes out or wherever the OS will be located? How does one recover?

    I’ve had my fill of online software only. When the drive dies, there is no recovery unless the software vendor remembers you – and what happens when you switch boxes? Is there a n one-time transfer?

    They didn’t think this through from a troubleshooting standpoint.

    • Vavatch says:

      @Robert-Leigh: Pritchett,

      Geez… seriously? Anyone on dial-up needs to upgrade their internet connection MORE than they need a new OS!

      If you have installed Lion and your hard drive crashes, replace the drive and using the recovery disk or USB drive (the latter comes with the current MacBook Air), reboot the computer and do a restore usinga time machine backup (You aren’t stupid enough to not do backups, are you?) and everything is restored exactly as it was before the crash.

      If you are stupid enough to no do backups, well, first of all, it’s YOUR fault for being stupid (I suppose you blame your parents for not having an abortion – I know I would blame them for it if you were that stupid), but you could simply use the recovery disk (USB drive) to reinstall SNow Leopard and then use Software Update to get to 10.6.7 or later and go to the Mac App Store, log in using your Apple ID and simply re-download the already purchased Lion upgrade.

  5. David says:

    Apple doesn’t care about selling Lion upgrades to Tiger and Leopard hold outs. Those people do not represent where the puck is going and are small enough in number to be safely ignored. It is quite likely that people who ignored Snow Leopard will also ignore Lion making a DVD or USB stick release even less valuable. Apple knows that anyone still using Tiger isn’t a lost Lion sale any more than someone still running a downloaded copy of Photoshop 7 is a lost sale for Adobe.

    Apple really doesn’t care about collecting $29.99 for Lion upgrades from anyone. The fact that you can pay once and then download the installer to every computer you own just by entering your Apple ID is proof that it’s not about the money, but getting Lion on as many Macs as possible. They could easily afford to give Lion away, but doing that would send a message that the software is worthless. Instead they want people to feel like they’re getting a really good deal.

    At the end of the day Apple is a hardware company and those Tiger hold outs will eventually buy an iDevice and/or Mac and both parties will be happy.

  6. Endless Loopee says:

    Should software manufacturers be surprised when some people react to this kind of tyranny by doing things like making (or even selling) pirated disks?

  7. Vito Positano says:

    Hi Gene,
    Not just you, but saying “Apple is…” is standard usage, not “Apple are….” Geez. Geek writers trying to sound all literate like novelists and all and overdoing it but getting number wrong.

    If you want to use “Apple are,” then you should have been talking and listing more than one part of the company as in “Apple’s software and hardware divisions are always in close communication so they succeeded. Apple are…,” but even then the style sounds forced. Better to say “they are.” Know what I mean?

    By your rule, then commenters should begin with “I dunno Gene. Apple don’t care about selling Lion upgrades….” and “I upgraded to Lion which are too many.”

    Also think of it this way. If I say “Apple are,” then I should also mix number when I use the pronouns such as, “It are….’ Sounds and reads all whacked out.

    Also, Gene, if one of your friends remarks, “But, Gene, you are of two minds, undecided,” then a subsequent sentence should agree: “Gene are…” You know that I, being multi-faceted, are right.

  8. hswylie says:

    So far I have not seen my issue with OS X 10.7, Lion, addressed by anyone. I just read in MacWorld online that the Lion download will be a 4GB monster. Since I am already running 10.6.7 on my primary computer that’s not an issue.

    The problem is I live in the country and the only two internet connections available to me are dial-up or Verizon wireless. Verizon already charges a $50.00 monthly access fee with a bandwidth limit of 5 GB. Over 5 GB is 25¢ per MB. Just downloading Lion would devour 4/5 of my monthly allowance. There is no way I am going to do that.

    How is someone in my situation supposed to obtain Lion. It seems to me the simplest solution would be to go to the nearest Apple Store and have them download the installer and/or make a DVD copy so I can install it on other computers. Is Apple even thinking of it’s rural customers when it comes up with a upgrade scheme like this?

  9. STIG says:


    I feel this article is a bit misguided and shows some lack of understanding. There are minor and major upgrades to operation systems like for example Windows moved from XP to Vista, and next from Vista to Windows7. These major upgrades are when the underpinnings change in a significant way so it would be detrimental to the overall progress as an OS to make it as a normal update to run on top of the old OS installation.

    I the MAC world this shift did not happen between Tiger and Leopard, but rather between Leopard and Snow Leopard where the latter became a true (still 32bit compatible) 64bit OS that faster and leaner because Apple’s software engineers made the decision to break compatibility with older hardware and make the Snow Leopard forward looking towards the future. This mans that there were more similarities between Tiger and Leopard than between Leopard and Snow Leopard. Still, unlike Windows, Apple made it very smooth to upgrade sequentially from each older version to the next newer version (as long as you had hardware with the spec to support it).

    For this very reason, it is understandable that the machine needs to have the latest Snow Leopard (with App Store capability) in place in order to be ready for Lion. This is not even unfair to anyone, because the people who already have bought Leopard and Snow Leopard can easily upgrade to Lion, and those who still have Tiger or non-Snow Leopard, must add the missing step (just like the rest of us) before they become compatible to make the Lion upgrade.

    My first gen Core Duo Mac Pro from 2006 is no longer eligible for the move to Lion, but I am not going to complain about this, because I understand that decisions like these have to be made in order to enjoy an operation system at the leading edge.

    I appreciate the reduced prices of $29 or $29.99 (not an issue about the 99 cents) for an OS that previously used to cost $129 or so. I also think it is great that the server option has been reduced from $500 to under $50.

    So instead of complaining about anything, I am simply pleased and satisfied about the way Apple is going. It is an exiting and enjoyable ride.

    • @STIG, You can take the Snow Leopard DVD and upgrade from Tiger too, not just Leopard, although it is sold that way. You do not really know what obstacles would be faced if Apple wanted to create a DVD installer. Limiting it to the Mac App Store effectively limits it to an upgrade from Snow Leopard, because that’s when the online service appeared.

      I’m glad you’re satisfied. But people who didn’t upgrade to Snow Leopard, and are eligible to move to Lion aren’t going to appreciate the two-step process.


  10. Doug Petrosky says:


    There will be a solution for you! Trust that Apple has your back here.

  11. […] Apple’s Misguided Lion Upgrade Scheme | The Tech Night Owl ??:Apple, Boot Disc, Lion, Mac, OS X […]

  12. arw says:

    The WWDC 2011 keynote presentation was a real letdown for me. This is the first time I’ve ever felt betrayed by Apple in that their vision appears to totally undermine the concept of personal computing. For the first time, thoughts of migrating to Linux are in my head. (I doubt Windows will ever be an option for me.) I totally get the computer as an appliance concept, but I’m just not interested in it. I want to own my apps, my data, my kit, and everything in between. It’s my little technical playground, and I want to keep it that way. I’m feeling really apprehensive, and fearful that Apple and me are growing apart. I’ve been a staunch Apple fan since 1989, but I am afraid of that which might be seen today were the curtain pulled back to reveal the Great Oz. If it could only be Woz with a hand on the controls would I know everything would be right as rain.

  13. javaholic says:

    Frankly I think it’s a daft decision not offering a physical disc for Lion as an optional install. I’m well aware Apple want us all to move at their speed off of optical media and into the cloud, but I’m afraid we don’t all have access to ‘all you can eat’ data. Having a physical disc still has its benefits. There’s some interesting stuff in Lion, lots of ‘swiping’, but I don’t feel I need to leave Snow leopard just yet.

  14. Vavatch says:


    Is it so unfair to ask users to spend a total of $60 on both Snow Leopard and Lion for the few hold-outs? I mean, officially, if you have Tiger, you are supposed to buy the $169 box set, but Apple did not enforce this. That was generous of them as they know darn well the smarter Mac user will do his research – they also know darn well that most Mac users do upgrade to the latest version of the OS as soon as they can (some applications will force us to hold off a few weeks or months).

    Regardless, at $60, it’s a sweet bargain… Not only compared to the official stand on the Tiger to Snow Leopard path, but to the competition – Windows users have to pay AT LEAST $120 – twice what Mac users would have to pay if they skipped Snow Leopard.

    • @Vavatch, Remember, too, that Windows is available in several increasingly expensive flavors. If you want all the features, it’s Ultimate, costing up to $100 more than other editions. With Mac OS X, you get one flavor, plus the server edition, now also in one flavor.


    • Chris 2 says:

      I am currently running leopard, and because of the upgrade path I do not think I will be upgrading until I get a new computer unless it changes.

      $60 is a good deal if it was just the money, however…..

      It is not about the money for me. It is about the messy upgrade. I like to wipe my computer every so often (About once a year.) I just like starting fresh every so often. Each time I will have to reinstall leopard, then snow leopard, then lion. I want a fresh install of Lion. I would pay $200 for this, plus a disk.

      My next computer may very well be a linux box.

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