Computer operating systems have historically cost a boatload of money.
When Microsoft launched Windows 95 18 years ago, it was $US210. Apple’s Mac OS X operating system for Mac computers went for $US129 when it launched in 2001. That means in order to keep your ~$1,000 machine up to date with the latest and greatest software, you had to shell out a few extra hundred bucks.
But things have changed.
As computing habits shift from pricey desktop computers and laptops to more affordable mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, we’ve become spoiled by free operating system upgrades. Apple typically supports iPhones and iPads for three-ish years with new updates to iOS, its operating system for mobile devices. Google and Microsoft do the same with their respective mobile operating systems.
That’s why Apple’s announcement yesterday that its new version of Mac OS X, which it calls Mavericks, will be available to most Mac users for free is a swift kick in the gut to Microsoft’s old-fashioned way of charging you about one-fifth the price of your PC for the latest and greatest operating system.
Mavericks will work on many, if not most, Mac computers out in the wild today. In fact, the 2007 iMac, a six-year-old machine, can get the update even if it isn’t running the last version of Mac OS X.
Windows 8.1 will work on a lot of older machines too, but unless you’re already running Windows 8, which cost $US200 for the pro version, you still need to pay to get it. And even then, you might not want to. Windows 8.1 reviews have been rather lukewarm and it’s really only useful if you have a computer with a touchscreen. Regular desktop computers are better off sticking with Windows 7 or earlier.
Apple’s decision to make Mavericks free signifies that the company realises the massive shift in our computing habits. Its own Mac business is being cannibalised by iPhones and iPads, which are cheaper, more portable, and easier to use than traditional computers. Apple’s Mac sales have hit a wall, just like Windows PC sales. Apple will be lucky if it sold 4 million Macs last quarter. (We’ll find out for sure when Apple reports earnings next week.)
By giving away Mavericks for free, Apple is rewarding Mac owners with the best software it has to offer. Microsoft is putting a $US200 tax on its customers for a so-so operating system.
Microsoft fans will disagree. They’ll say it’s really nice of Microsoft to give Windows 8 owners version 8.1 for free. But Windows 8.1 is a different animal, an admission by Microsoft that it didn’t quite get it right with the first version of Windows 8 last year. It addresses some of the concerns Windows 8 users had, but it’s still a wonky OS with an identity crisis. I still can’t tell if it’s a mobile OS or desktop OS. I don’t think Microsoft knows either.
Mavericks, on the other hand, improves a desktop OS that’s already really, really good. It provides up to an extra hour of battery life for laptops, even older ones. It manages memory and graphics better. It has some useful redesigned apps like a new Calendar program. (It also includes Apple Maps, which I guarantee is a stinker. Oh well.)
And Mavericks is free for virtually any Mac out there.