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Report: OS X Lion to be offered via Mac App Store

Apple's next major OS X release could be offered as a digital download for Snow Leopard users through the Mac App Store. If true, it would be a notable departure from discs.

The Mac App Store running on OS X Lion, which may be available as an upgrade to Snow Leopard users through the Mac App Store.
The Mac App Store running on OS X Lion, which may be available as an upgrade to Snow Leopard users through the Mac App Store.

Apple has been pushing out preview builds of its upcoming Mac OS X "Lion" update through the Mac App Store since late February, and that distribution method could remain when the software is released to the public later this year, according to a new report.

Citing "people familiar with the matter," AppleInsider reports that Apple plans to offer Lion as an update through the Mac App Store, giving those upgrading a chance to skip buying a disc from Apple or another retailer to get the new software.

Apple has already taken numerous steps at cutting optical discs out of the world, both through digital content offerings on iTunes, and the full-on removal of optical drives in notebooks like the MacBook Air series. More recently, the company has been scaling back boxed software in its retail stores--including its own applications--favoring Mac App Store placement and distribution instead. The company pushed a similar, though more drastic strategy in phasing out floppy drives in the 1990s.

AppleInsider's source says the company still plans to offer discs for those on slower connections. The company is also likely to offer such an option for those on Leopard, who therefore aren't able to run and install the Snow Leopard exclusive Mac App Store to grab the update.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

By giving users Lion through the Mac App Store, Apple would have the potential to get customers comfortable with its software distribution system, which requires users to sign up for an iTunes account. While subtle, the move could lead to additional purchases later on down the road, of which Apple gets a 30 percent cut. Earlier this year, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the company had more than 200 million accounts on file as part of its payment system, making it what Jobs claimed to be the largest collection online.

Along with the convenience for users who don't want to track down a disc, moving to digital downloads also gives Apple an extraordinary amount of control over security of the distribution, potentially keeping users from sharing a single disc to install the OS upgrade on multiple computers. Unlike Microsoft, Apple does not use serial keys or activation servers as part of its major OS updates, whereas software published through the Mac App Store can be tied to a single user account.

Apple has said it plans to deliver Lion to users this year, and is expected to offer details on price, a specific release date, and additional features about the software at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference next month. Lion made its first debut at Apple's "Back to the Mac" event back in October, where the company also unveiled the second generation MacBook Air and iLife '11.