Apple OS Pricing Sting

Apple ComputerApple is at it again.

It seems every other week they’re revolutionising the world with another gadget, program or system that they wrap in a beautifully designed casing, whack an ‘i’ in front of and release with a flourish.

But after calling their operating systems after predatory felines for this long, there’s been a development that could leave users with a hairball. Mac OS 10.3, dubbed Panther, will hit the shelves towards the end of the year. But it’s not going to be a free download patch, or even one with an upgrade price. It’ll be a brand new shrink-wrapped operating system at a cost of $229.

That might sound fair enough, but don’t forget that Jaguar — Mac OS 10.2 — cost $229 as well, and it wasn’t available as a cheaper upgrade from its predecessor (Cheetah — 10.1 of the Mac OSX, which was the upgrade from the original release) either.

So, as calculated in a story in The Australian last week, Apple users who have kept completely up to date with new versions of OSX since its inception have parted with between $900 and $1000.

Even Windows users (who paid $675 for XP Professional and $463 for an upgrade) get off easier in the long run as it’s usually several years between each new Windows OS (and even then, Windows is all the same — ask any Mac user).

Apple Australia declined to comment officially, except to maintain that the pricing (and lack of ability to upgrade cheaply from previous versions) was fair because the feature set of each new Apple OS has been so comprehensive, packed with the sorts of features Steve Jobs thinks is going to change the world (or at least the iWorld). At San Francisco’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference, he promised 100 of them.

Despite criticism directed at Apple for the move, Martin Healey, Managing Director of local Apple dealer Desktop Applications, can’t see a problem. “When companies are willing to pay, for example, $300 a year to keep their application software such as Photoshop or Pagemaker up to date, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to pay $229 for the best operating system on the market,” he thinks. “People get a little bit tied up on version numbers, but all that sort of thing is a bit by the by. What’s more important is what’s in [the software].”

But aren’t Mac users going to get jack of Apple hitting them with bills of hundreds of dollars to upgrade their OS time and again? Particularly when — as it seems from Apple’s recent behaviour — Panther will be superceded again by Cougar, Lynx or Leopard six or twelve months down the track?

“We deal mainly in the corporate area, Healey says. “Commercially, less than $5 a week to maintain your operating system isn’t much of a problem. And if you have more than 10 licenses, there’s a structure of maintenance plans available anyway. The Apple maintenance plan gives you three years worth of major upgrades”

“Even if you’re a home user, the cost of spending a couple of hundred dollars a year on a OS upgrade isn’t much. Not when you consider the costs of most games, putting cartridges in your colour printer, or getting an ADSL subscription. It’s just one of the costs of computers, and not the highest one”

But will it be a different story where it counts — among Macophiles? Steven, a marketing and design consultant who asked not to be named, started his business around the time Mac OSX first appeared, upgraded straight to 10.2 from System 9 and is still more than comfortable on it.

“The Unix core was the true revolution,” he says, “everything Apple have put into new versions of OSX since then have been expensive bells and whistles like messaging software and iTunes updates. I’m not going to bother upgrading my OS now until the software I need to run my business isn’t available for it anymore.”