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  • The Lion Report: Letting People Off Gently

    July 6th, 2011

    As you might expect, I am already receiving letters from friends and readers wondering when they should upgrade to Mac OS X Lion. A notable example came from someone who publishes books about making money from a home business, and I suppose that is a hard sell these days. Regardless, he had read Apple’s puff pieces about the joys of Lion, and was ready to buy that upgrade as soon as it’s released.

    I had to let him down gently.

    Yes, he has a speedy broadband connection, a prerequisite unless you can find a nearby Wi-Fi hot spot, a library, or an Apple reseller to download the installer. But his Mac is way, way out of date. Seems he has an early generation Mac mini, a model with a PowerPC chip, whereas Lion requires a 64-bit Intel processor. But it’s not as if he didn’t have the opportunity to get a new computer. A couple of years ago, the hard drive failed, and a local dealer offered him a decent discount on a refurbished Intel model, or he would end up paying roughly half that amount to replace the hard drive; a lot of that price was the installation fee, since he was not about to mess with the innards of a Mac mini.

    He chose the inexpensive solution against my suggestion that he replace that computer, and it was a decision that has now come back to haunt him, since the version of Mac OS X he is running now is the last he will ever be able to run, until his Mac is replaced.

    At the same time, the sort of work he does isn’t going to be made that much more efficient on a new Mac. Other than email and Internet surfing, he has to process orders for his self-help books, but that doesn’t require any special software. His older version of Microsoft Office is also perfectly suited to his needs. Worse, the upgrade to a new computer — and Lion — will mean that his few PowerPC apps won’t run, since Lion reportedly won’t support the Rosetta translation software. That’s the utility that allowed you to run PowerPC software on an Intel-based Mac.

    Now as far as my friend is concerned, he doesn’t have to do a thing until his Mac fails. Apple doesn’t care about him until he buys a new computer, and they will do nothing to help ease the migration to Lion for such customers. Besides, the vast majority of Mac users run Intel hardware anyway, and a hefty portion of that group can upgrade to Lion if they choose to do so. Sure, some don’t have Snow Leopard, and may have to perform a double upgrade (to Snow Leopard 10.6.8, then to Lion), assuming that Apple doesn’t relent and provide a a more favorable upgrade scheme, such as a physical installer DVD. Whether that happens depends on customer demand. If only a small number of users complain, Apple won’t budge.

    Now I did get one other interesting letter, from someone who bought one of my computer books 10 years ago, wondering if I planned to write an Lion update. Well, I haven’t written computer books for several years, and I don’t plan on looking for such an opportunity now or ever. That market is well served by a number of excellent authors. I did, however, provide the basic information about Lion to that reader; also the advice that some of the material in that old book is probably still somewhat useful.

    As the Lion user base grows, I expect I’ll receive more and more inquiries about upgrades. But you have to regard a $29.99 price for a downloadable installer as largely an accommodation to existing Mac users. Apple really wants you to buy new hardware, which is their primary source of income. Sure, enough copies of Lion will be purchased to more than compensate for the R&D expense. Apple, being way more efficient than Microsoft in such matters, doesn’t have to squander billions of dollars of cash to create every single major OS upgrade.

    And even though tech pundits continue to want to put Apple and Microsoft in the same business, they’re not. Apple offers an operating system as part of the whole widget, a full-blown user experience. Microsoft expects third parties to build the hardware, which is good or bad depending on your point of view. That Apple delivers a more elegant, more reliable and predictable user experience is the end result of avoiding model proliferation and making sure that everything works well together. Adding iOS-inspired elements to Lion will also ease the transition from one gadget to the other. You buy Apple, you can depend on a consistent experience, only altered to cater to the exclusive needs of a specific platform.

    Microsoft craves Windows everywhere, even on a tablet, without compromise or alteration. But the public has already decided that’s not where they want to go. Unfortunately, Microsoft remains too obtuse to understand.

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