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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

The Mysterious Case Of The Free Mac OS X Upgrade That Will Cost You US$20
August 31st, 2001

I have gotten personal confirmation on something from Apple that has been eating away at me for some time. Based on that confirmation, I decided it was high time I spoke out. So, what is this about which I have to offer such a preamble? I am talking about the free Mac OS X 10.1 update that is going to cost you and me US$20. That's right, Apple is going to charge us US$20 for a free update to Mac OS X, and at this point there just isn’t any possible way for you to get that free upgrade for free. That doesn't quite add up to me, and it shouldn't to you either. There are lots and lots of issues that are involved, and I want to offer equal time to all of them, so let's dive right in.

First of all, Steve Jobs introduced Mac OS X 10.1 during the MACWORLD Expo New York keynote last month. Mr. Jobs called it a free upgrade, and said that we would be able to get that update on CD for US$19.95. I wasn't worried at the time, because it was obvious that getting the CDs were going to be an *option*. We would be able to download the update for free, but if we wanted to, we could get it on CD for twenty bucks. Or so I thought. The howl immediately went up from Mac users around the Web who were outraged that they would have to pay for this update, and it turns out that the less optimistic were actually right. Here’s my beef:

Mac OS X 10.1 is what Mac OS X 10.0 should have been. Most of the early adopters of Mac OS X bought the new OS knowing and understanding that it was really the 2nd public beta of the OS. Many of us had bought the official Public Beta as well, paying US$29.95 for the privilege of helping Apple to test the beast (Apple eventually offered Public Beta buyers a coupon towards the purchase of the full version). We really didn't care anyway, because we wanted to use this new and beautiful OS, and it wouldn't take that long for Apple to really clean it all up and make it right.

Apple has done just that, too. Mac OS X 10.1 seems to be all that, and a crinkly package of crispy fried potato slices. It's fast, it's stable, and it has some of the interface issues fixed. It is all that Mac OS X 10.0 should have been had Apple had the luxury of waiting until now to release the 10.0 version. They didn't have that luxury, however, and they had to release 10.0 when they did in order to spur X application development. Those of us who supported the company by buying it at that time are now being told we have to pay another US$20 to run the real version. To use the vernacular, that ain't right.

This is above and beyond the fact that Apple has never charged for a .1 and .6 version upgrade of an OS. That doesn't even figure into this issue because it is completely overshadowed by the fact that we should not have to pay an additional twenty bucks for having had faith in Apple's ability to make Mac OS X all that it could be.

For it's part, Apple's official line is that there were so many things changed in this new version that it requires a full install from a boot disk in order to make it happen. Because that disk is so large, the only way Apple can ensure that its customers have uniformly positive upgrade experience is by shipping it on CD. After all, for most people a 650 MB download isn't a pretty thing. Add to that the fact that we would all then have to burn the disk image as a CD, from within Classic, even if we did get the image downloaded successfully, and you can possibly see the nightmarish hell that Apple Support might be in for. Dave Hamilton and I have been going over this issue, and he pointed out that the mainstream press would have a field day with the idea of Apple requiring people to download a disk image, boot up in Classic, and then burn a CD, and the company doesn't need any bad PR. The same thing goes if Apple were to make the files downloadable as an unsupported way to upgrade. The press would rip them to shreds for that.

Ask me if I care. I don't. I understand the issues; I just won't justify Apple's potential for support and PR difficulties with the notion that I have to pay more for the OS I should have been paying for in the first place. Apple is all grown up and can figure out a way to do this right.

How about that price, too. As a point of reference, I can get CDs pressed in lots of 2500 for 35 cents each. With the three CDs included in this update (9.2.1, 10.1, and Dev Tools), that comes out to a nice round buck-and-a-nickel it would cost me to get these things made. Throw in another 3 bucks for shipping and handling, and I am stuffing these things in a CD-envelope and shipping them out for less than US$5. Apple is dealing with hundreds of thousands of units, however, and their costs would be a fraction of that. US$19.95 is just plain highway robbery, even if Apple was justified in not offering a free avenue. If the company was charging US$4.95, I wouldn't be in such a tizzy. Heck, if Apple was charging a ten-spot, I would be a lot less tense. That's not the case, though, and Apple is clearly looking to profit from this upgrade in terms of material-costs. That ain't right.

I hope the mainstream press picks up on this and roasts Apple over blue-hot flame. I hope Walt Mossberg stands up on his pulpit at the Wall Street Journal and shakes his massive editorial finger at Apple yelling "Shame, shame, shame!" at the top of his lungs (are you listening, Walt?). I hope that Apple gets a hundred thousand letters from irate customers who let Apple know that they are highly offended that Apple has the nerve to charge US$20 for a free upgrade (are you listening, Observers?). I hope that Apple does the right thing before this is necessary. You see, I have a solution to go with my complaint.

For one thing, Apple could let us burn our own CDs at the Apple Store. You don't live near an Apple Store? Sorry about that (I don't live near one either), but my point is for Apple to provide a free *alternative*.

An even better idea is for the company to charge less, and include a coupon for that (lesser) amount that is good towards the purchase of Mac OS X 10.5 or something else from the Apple Store. Charge me US$5 for the disks, or even US$10, but let me get that money back the next time I buy. That way Apple's costs are covered, but I don't feel like I just spent a night in prison bunking with a big guy named Spike. As a customer, I don't feel that's all that much to ask.

You can write to Apple at this Web page: http://www.apple.com/macosx/feedback/

As always, if you choose to write to Apple, you should be respectful and polite. Flames will never get you anywhere as you will be ignored.


began using Apple computers in 1983 in a high school BASIC programming class. He started using Macs in 1990 when the Kinko's guy taught him how to use Aldus PageMaker, finally buying a Power Computing Power 100 in 1995. Today, Bryan is the Editor of The Mac Observer, and has contributed to the print versions of MacAddict and MacFormat (UK).

You can send your comments directly to him, or you can also post your comments below.

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