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The Back Page
by Bryan Chaffin

The "Free" OS X 10.1 Update: The Implied Contract & Other Replies
September 10th, 2001

I recently penned a piece called "The Mysterious Case Of The Free Mac OS X Upgrade That Will Cost You US$20." It really brought out the Apple apologists and some bitter criticism of my piece, my writing in general, my character, and quite a few suggestions for various lewd acts I could either perform or have performed on me. We Mac users can be an ugly lot. While this is all really a day in the life for my esteemed colleague Rodney O. Lain, I decided that I needed to answer those criticisms with a follow-up column.

First up is Bite.org, a commentary site we have linked to at Mac OS News Around The Web. Bite.org is run anonymously by a person calling himself General Lee. General Lee said that I was "prebitching," without any idea at all of what Apple would actually be doing. From Bite.org:

[…] He does not know what will happen in late September. Nobody does. Apple may find a way for the update to be a download. Apple may decrease the CD ordering price to just what it costs for the CD/handling/shipping. This guy doesn't know what's going to happen because it's in the future and he's already bitching about it in a column.

In reality, my commentary was based on what Steve Jobs said, and an Apple spokesperson from Apple's PR department confirmed with me via phone call and e-mail. It seems that the "General" is the one who offered commentary without checking his facts. I wrote to General Lee and explained his error of assumption, but I received no reply and there has been no correction at the Bite.org Web site.

I only mention Bite.org's criticism because it offers the excellent opportunity to point out that it is important to offer feedback to Apple *before* 10.1 is released. Since the return of Steve Jobs, Apple has shown it *listens* to its users. The Apple Menu and Finder functionality in Mac OS X 10.0, the G4 pricing debacle, Mac OS X Server pricing, FireWire licensing fees for manufacturers: these are all examples of Apple listening to its customers and making changes to accommodate them. The price of this update to Mac OS X will be another such example, if you tell the company what you think.

Next up are the many people who said that US$20 was a small price to pay for the wonder that will be Mac OS X 10.1. Some cited comparisons to Microsoft's OS pricing, others said that we should willingly pay it to support Apple, and still others said that because the update is SO MUCH BETTER, it is worth many times US$20. To these critics I say that you are missing the point. I couldn't care less about the US$20 itself. I'll probably buy it at some point even if I can download it first just to have it in "the collection."

No, the real point here is the implied contract that Apple laid out when Mac OS X 10.0 was introduced at MACWORLD San Francisco and released on March 24th. At that time, there were a few missing features such as CD burning and DVD playback that weren't included. Steve Jobs told us that they would be included in an update to Mac OS X that would be released in the summer. That is an implied contract. Apple in effect told us that if we bought Mac OS X 10.0, the things that were missing would be provided to us in a few months. Mr. Jobs merely confirmed that implied contract when he called Mac OS X 10.1 a free update at MACWORLD New York. I took that contract to heart, and that is why I am so upset that we can't (as of yet) get the "free" update without paying US$20.

Let me offer an analogy:

A guy comes to paint your house. You know this guy and have done business with him before. He paints everything, but he doesn't have the right paint to finish the windowsills. He gives you the bill and asks you if he can come back next week to finish the windowsills. Hey, this guy is honest, does great work, and is trustworthy. You pay the bill knowing he will be coming back to finish the job. Besides, the house looks great, the unpainted windowsills aren't really noticeable, and you can ignore them until he comes back.

The last thing you expect is that he is going to come back, finish the job, and then charge you an extra US$20 because he had to buy an extra tank full of gas to get back to your house.

That's how I feel about this whole thing, and that is how we have consistently written about it at The Mac Observer. This segues to the last criticism I wish to respond to. Matt Deatherage wrote a scathing condemnation of my column in his subscription-only service "Mac Daily Journal." I said at first that I couldn't care less what Mr. Deatherage said about me or TMO, but the fact that I am responding to it shows that I was apparently mistaken about that. Mr. Deatherage's comments can be read at MacCentral's forums where a reader there posted the editorial. The analysis of my piece is filled with weak arguments and unrelated issues. For instance, in response to me saying I could ship out the three CDs of OS X 10.1 for US$5, Mr. Deatherage said:

He thinks that because he can stuff CDs in an envelope and mail them for under US$5, Apple isn't justified in charging any more than that, despite the need to hire temporary workers (or pull others off their normal jobs), process credit cards, and incur the other costs of shipping _large_ quantities of disks around the world.

It doesn't work like that. Apple either already has the facilities to ship CDs in-house, or they outsource it. I didn't check, but I imagine they outsource it. They certainly aren't going to start pulling secretaries or engineers (or whomever Mr. Deatherage meant) off their normal jobs. Plus, the more you ship, the cheaper it gets per shipment. This is common sense.

More to the point, I was including labor and other costs when I said I could do it for US$5. It just doesn't cost that much to ship this sort of thing. On the other hand, he rightfully busted me for saying that Apple had never charged for a .1 or .6 OS update when System 7.1 was a paid upgrade. Then again, he didn't mention that Mac OS 7.6 was also a paid upgrade, so I guess he can make a mistake every once in while too.

When I challenged Mr. Deatherage to debate the issue of 10.1 pricing, he refused saying (among other things) that he didn't have time, and that I had not shown where he was wrong in my limited rebuttals to his piece (which until now was true). His main complaint about my thoughts on 10.1 pricing was that he thought I was being inconsistent. To paraphrase Mr. Deatherage: by saying that Mac OS X 10.0.X was good, we had no right to say we are owed a free upgrade to 10.1. He just couldn't be more wrong. We have said all along that Mac OS X is a great OS, but that we looked to version 10.1 for it to be complete. For instance:

Wincent Colaiuta, who was also criticized by Mr. Deatherage, said:
My argument here is not that Mac OS X is perfect -- there is undoubtedly a long way to go yet -- but rather that many of the paradigm shifts it brings with it are actually exciting opportunities for the future and not scary departures from the past.

Kyle D'Addario, also targeted, said:
While an outstanding product was shipped on March 24th, it was not a perfect product. Apple is aware of this, and we expect them to continually improve the product through the MACWORLD New York release in July.

I made these comments in the Spin of an article by John F. Braun:
This update will help fill in some of the gaps in functionality that have prevented many from totally switching over to Mac OS X, such as DVD playback and CD burning.

I also made these comments just before Mac OS X shipped:
In any event, not being able to burn CDs might be a reason for some people to wait before buying OS X, but we think that most early adopters will still want to do so. Mac OS X is a great OS, even without the missing features. Once the updates comes, even those issues will be quickly behind us. It's been a LONG wait for OS X, and we can deal with these little speed bumps.

This is the kind of thing we have been saying since Mac OS X Public Beta was released. Mac OS X has not been perfect, but it is still damned good. It has been a great main OS for me and tens of thousands of other Mac users, and we have all gotten around the missing features as needed. The missing features and performance issues seem as if they are being corrected with Mac OS X 10.1, and all I want now is for Apple to honor its implied contract and give us *a* way of getting the "free" update freely. If the company does that, it can charge whatever it wants for the updates on CD.

The best thing about this whole debate is that I think Apple will definitely do the right thing. It's just a matter of us letting the company know what we think the right thing is.

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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