Mac OS X upgrade doesn't come cheap

For Apple fans who rushed to the operating system last year, moving to version 10.2 means having to buy a new Mac or pay full retail for the software.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
Apple Computer fans who rushed to Mac OS X last year learned Wednesday that there's no such thing as a cheap upgrade.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company will not offer a discounted upgrade version of Mac OS X version 10.2, code-named Jaguar, to current users of the operating system. To get Jaguar, current OS X users will have to buy a new Macintosh or an entirely new version of the operating system for the retail price of $129.

Consumers who buy a boxed copy of Mac OS X will also not qualify for a Jaguar upgrade, to be released Aug. 24. Only those who purchase a Mac on or after July 17 will qualify for a free upgrade from Mac OS X to Jaguar, although they will have to pay Apple $19.95 to ship a CD.

Apple's decision not to sell a less-expensive upgrade version lay in the qualitative difference between version 10.1 and 10.2, the company said. Although the versions share the same core technology, Jaguar includes several new features and services, such as search tool Sherlock 3 and Internet address finder Rendezvous, which arguably classify it as an entirely new piece of software.

"Had we called it Mac OS 11, nobody would have minded," said Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller, adding that the company wanted to keep using the Mac OS X name longer.

Consumers, though, may not agree. Discounts on upgrades have a long tradition in the software market. A new copy of Windows XP Home Edition, for instance, sells for $199. An upgrade version for people who already own Windows 98 or ME sells for $99.

"Breaking down Apple's list of features really doesn't warrant soaking people like myself, who bought OS X within 12 months," wrote Jim Gray, an Apple user in an e-mail. "I'd happily pay a $30 to $50 upgrade fee, which I think this fair. Full retail to replace my 6-month-old full retail version? In this economy?"

Mac OS X was released in March 2001, roughly 18 months ahead of Jaguar. It took Apple seven years to release the 10th edition of its operating system.

The company released an incremental upgrade, called Mac OS X 10.1, in September 2001. The upgrade, which mostly included tweaks to fix problems associated with DVD authoring and overall performance, was free, but to get it consumers had to spend $19.95 for shipping and handling, or pick up a copy at an Apple store or authorized retailer.

Asked Wednesday why Apple didn't offer a cheaper price for existing OS X users, Apple CEO Steve Jobs told reporters: "$129 is pretty low cost. It's cheaper than Windows."

While Jobs did not say so specifically, his comments were clearly directed at the full version of Windows, as the Windows XP upgrade costs $30 less than Jaguar.

Apple also has more than 1,000 software engineers working on the operating system and what is calls iApps. "This costs a lot of money," he said.

Similarly, Apple said it will begin to charge $100 a year for its previously free iTools services.

Apple customers had a mixed reaction to the upgrade cost.

"It's pretty crazy," said Tolga Morawski, an IT worker at Brooklyn College who paid $99 for Version 10.1 earlier this year. "It's like twice in one year that you have to do an upgrade."

Considering the features Apple added, "It's not outrageous," countered Richard Scillia of the Long Island Macintosh Users Group. "The company has to survive, (the OS is) what it makes money on and it's not just a minor little speed bump."

"There really are costs associated with software," added Richard Doherty, principal analyst at The Envisioneering Group, a consulting firm.

Apple has charged full prices for upgrades before, such as when the company moved from Mac OS 9 to OS X. Schiller added that Apple has consistently tried to offer one minor free upgrade (not including shipping and handling when applicable)every six months and one major paid-for upgrade every year.

"What we did with Jaguar is exactly what we have been doing for the past six years," Schiller said.

Still, the company will likely have to lie low for a bit and not spring any sudden new upgrades on users.

"There is some expectation that there will be a couple of quarters, if not a few years, of relief," Doherty said.

CNET News.com's Ian Fried contributed to this report.