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8/24/2009
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Jake Widman
Jake Widman
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What Snow Leopard Will Really Cost You

The latest upgrade to Mac OS X is widely touted as costing only $29, but that's only part of the story. Paradoxically, the people who end up paying more may actually get a better deal.

The latest upgrade to Mac OS X is widely touted as costing only $29, but that's only part of the story. Paradoxically, the people who end up paying more may actually get a better deal.As reported elsewhere on bMighty today, Apple surprised the Mac community by announcing that Mac OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, will be released this Friday, ahead of the long-announced September ship date. That's when new Macs will come with Snow Leopard preinstalled, and 10.5, aka Leopard, has already disappeared from Apple's online store -- all you can do now is preorder Snow Leopard.

Apple is promoting the $29 upgrade price ($49 for a five-pack), no doubt because it sounds good next to the $120 to $220 list price Windows 7 is expected to carry when it ships in October. The disparity already has Windows apologists spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) over Apple's pricing. And they do have something of a point: the $29 Snow Leopard price is only available to some unknown percentage of Mac users. Here's why:

Don't Miss: Snow Leopard To Hit Stores Friday

First of all, as is widely publicized, Snow Leopard is only for Intel Macs -- you can think of Leopard as being the last Universal version of the OS. Some of Snow Leopard's expected speed improvements are due to the Finder and system applications being rewritten, but some may just come from the more streamlined code base. Apple started selling Intel Macs in January of 2006, and the last PowerPC Mac was replaced in August of that year, so any Mac that's under three years old qualifies.

Second, the advertised Snow Leopard upgrade is from Leopard -- in other words, you have to already have a Mac running OS X 10.5 to benefit from the $29 price. Leopard shipped in October 2007, so customers have had almost two years to upgrade (or, of course, buy a new computer that came with Leopard preinstalled). But there are undoubtedly some unknown number of Macs in the installed base that are still running Tiger. (Judging from what's offered for sale on Craigslist, there are still a few Panther-based Macs out there, though probably few in business settings.)

The upgrade path from Tiger to Snow Leopard is less straightforward but offers a nice deal. No standalone version of Snow Leopard has been announced, so Tiger users must buy the Mac Box Set ($169, $229 for five), which bundles Snow Leopard with iWork '09 and iLife '09. It's a curious decision in that neither of those software packages require an Intel Mac, and only iLife '09 requires Leopard. Perhaps Apple is laying the groundwork for iWork and iLife '10, which may have more advanced requirements and could be available in just five months.

Whatever the reason, given that full-step OS X upgrades usually cost $129, the result is that Tiger-to-Snow-Leopard migrants will get both iLife and iWork for $40. That's a great deal for packages that usually cost $79 each. In fact, I have a standing offer on another board to kick in the $40 for anyone who wants to make the move from Tiger but doesn't want the additional software.

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