Snow Leopard Comes in the Dark and Kills Your Tiger

Apple’s Snow Leopard (10.6) operating system is due out in the next quarter according to slides shown recently at the LISA conference. It adds a small handful of features but it’s mainly an architecture, performance, and bugfix release. Leopard (10.5) is pretty buggy and Apple readily admits it’s not what an OS should be. So they’re coming out with an update less than a year and a half since the last one, which is by most counts what Leopard should have been. This isn’t really disputed, even Apple’s name isn’t for a new cat, this is the one with all the ‘marks cleaned off’.

OK, so it’s great that Apple’s getting everything squared away so quickly, right? Yeah, it is if you’ve got recent hardware.

But what if you have a computer that was purchased in, say, the first half of 2006? It’s going to have a PowerPC processor in it, and Snow Leopard doesn’t support PowerPC. OK, so then you can run Leopard, which does support PowerPC. But, wait, Leopard is buggy, that’s why they’re fixing it.

OK, so you can run Tiger (10.4). Well, no, if you’re going to be connected to a network you’d be foolish to do that; Apple only issues security updates for the current and previous versions of its OS, and with 10.6, 10.4 will go by the wayside. Within months there will be public exploits for your 10.4 machine available and the time to your machine being compromised is just a roll of the dice.

“Wait,” you may be saying, “my machine is less than three years old and it’s now unsupported?” “It’s still under AppleCare warranty and I can’t even get security updates?”

Yep, and there we see the tactical brilliance behind splitting the Leopard and Snow Leopard releases – Apple gets to book its revenue early on a not-ready OS, beat Microsoft to the market, and save a ton of money really only supporting one majoor version of its operating system. So, this doesn’t really work out well for you? Just buy a new Mac, they’re probably not going to do this again in three more years. Right?

This may be a dangerous gamble for Apple in a recessionary economic period, so perhaps they’ll do the right thing and simultaneously keep their customer base. If not, Ubuntu 8/PPC isn’t eligible for a commercial support contract but it’ll run on your Mac and its security updates will be current for another two years. At that point your machine will be five years old and you can keep it around with debian or netbsd or if we’re coming out of the downturn get yourself a brand new machine. By then you’ll be so used to Ubuntu you’ll have broad purchase options.