So it appears that some bloggers are waking up to the fact that a fair number of not-so-old Macs will be unable to run OS 10.8 Mountain Lion. Although the system requirements were published early on based on information presented by developers, and Apple made them public after the WWDC last month, it seems some of you expected things to change. But history shows that, when preliminary system needs for a new version of OS X are posted, very rarely will those requirements change to any significant degree.
Once again, here they are:
- iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
- MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
- MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
- MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
- Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
- Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
- Xserve (Early 2009)
But why should perfectly serviceable and powerful Macs that are as little as 3.5 years old not be eligible to run Mountain Lion?
Well, according to developers who have looked at the situation, it’s all about kernels, kernel extensions and graphics hardware. Among the big improvements beginning in Snow Leopard was enhanced use of graphics hardware to boost performance. But that requires compatible chips, and a number of entry-level Intel-based Macs sported basic Intel integrated graphics, which aren’t really up to the task of supporting such features as OpenCL. OpenCL, also part of Lion and Mountain Lion, allowed some processing functions to be offloaded to the graphics hardware. Clearly Apple hopes that more apps can take advantage of this feature if all Macs deliver the needed hardware support.
It’s also about the ability to load a 64-bit kernel and 64-bit graphics extensions. Arcane stuff, but not something millions of older Macs can do even though they have 64-bit processors. So these are the lines of demarcation.
Now I suppose there may be ways to trick Mountain Lion into installing on older Macs. But I also expect performance will be subpar, and, in the end, not worth the effort. I also realize that Apple will, once again, be criticized for a supposed arbitrary approach to removing older Macs from the supported list, though you can see that it’s not at all arbitrary, and it’s not just about greed, the desire to sell you a new Mac.
On the other side of the tracks, you will be able to install Windows 8 on very cheap older PCs. But that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll experience acceptable performance. So either Microsoft assumes Windows users will be just pleased as punch to be running Windows 8 to overlook any performance lapses, or maybe they are used to tepid performance. Maybe that’s why all those companies with online tools that promise to magically put your PC on steroids are doing so well, even though what they do may only be snake oil.
Regardless, I can understand that Apple will be criticized no matter what they do. It comes with the territory, particularly when they are doing so well financially these days. I also expect that, at $19.99, Mountain Lion will be a roaring success. Unless there are serious bugs in the early releases, expect 10.8 to be a far better release than Lion, which struck me as somewhat ragged about the edges because of the efforts to integrate OS X with the iOS. There are still blogs online where you get detailed instructions on how to de-iOS Lion, although I find most of this a little extreme. Other than the scroll bars that normally appear only with a mouseover and reverse scrolling, most of the other iOS elements can be ignored.
You do not, for example, ever have to use Launchpad or Mission Control. I grant Apple’s Auto Save and Version features were in need of fine tuning, but the real problem is that few apps really support those features. Even though Microsoft Word 2011, for example, now supports Lion’s full-screen capability, that’s little more than lip service. Word also has its own automatic saving capability, as do other apps. So while Apple took a step in the right direction, requiring app developers to use special system hooks — rather than have it just work — merely means that compatibility remains hit and miss.
While I cannot really say much about Mountain Lion, what I have seen really promises better performance. Lion, for the most part, was essentially the same as Snow Leopard for most of you when it comes to apparent system snappiness. I also see indications that Apple took the iOS integration process more seriously this time, which means the new features are delivered in a more tasteful fashion, without detracting from the traditional Mac user experience. And that’s a very important thing, because it means that you don’t have to waste lots of time trying to figure things out. Most things will work as they did before.
Contrast that with the Windows 8 situation, where so much has changed that many long-time users will be confounded trying to make some sense of it all. It’s not that Microsoft shouldn’t try to deliver a more relevant OS, but changing features that work and adding features that require retraining is not the answer. You buy a personal computer to run apps, and anything that puts up a wall between you and that goal is a bad thing. This is why I embraced Macs early on. I am not someone who spends all day fiddling with system settings. I just want to get my work done and get on with my life. That’s something Microsoft, with their Windows everywhere obsession, can’t understand.