Apple betting ‘free’ OS not cheap at all

Mac OS X booting up in single-user mode

Mac OS X booting up in single-user mode (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apple’s release of OS 10.9 Mavericks a month ago forced business analysts and brand loyalists alike to consider the direction the company was taking. Apple’s customers had previously ponied up their hard earned cash enthusiastically and unquestioningly with each successive revision of the “world’s most advanced operating system.”

How could the Cupertino tech giant ever give their iconic jewel of an OS away for free? Even though they were charging less and less for their operating system releases in recent years, why forsake revenue streams (from the OS) entirely, joining the Androids and Ubuntu’s of the world?


Money (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Possessing the deepest pockets (read cash reserves) of any company out there, in years past we could count on Apple’s marketing department to blitz us with the feel good advantages and new features each OS version contained. The familiar, “It’s like getting a whole new Mac!” word blast spanned several generations of ad campaigns carried out on televisions and sales floors across America. Operating system announcements were some of the most looked forward to events in the entire tech world. Fans and critics alike would anxiously stand by for word from Steve Jobs as to what the next “big cat” operating system release would bring.

The brand that is Apple is one of the most enduring in all of tech. By purchasing the latest and greatest Apple has to offer, consumers are assured of having the best, highest functioning and most reliable software and hardware known to humanity. Or are they?

Apple’s shift to free operating systems is more a threat to itself than any flavor of Linux or Microsoft Windows. By giving away their OS, Apple loudly proclaims their OS is not where the money is for them. By bundling the OS with new Macs, Apple has risked cheapening the overall experience for consumers and further distorting the poor opinion of Macs in the workplace by the greater technology world at large.

You get what you pay for

You get what you pay for (Photo credit: PhotoshopScaresMe.com)

Television news viewers can still see video monitors in the background of news anchor desks displaying the Windows XP screen saver. The communications, printing and graphics industries that once were Apple’s bread and butter are run on computer operating systems that actually cost money. While Microsoft’s business model is a different beast entirely than Apple’s, it arguably better represents the adage, “you get what you pay for,” when it comes to operating systems.

Apple hopes to standardize the Mac user experience by prompting a move en masse to Mavericks. It is supporting a lot of different and older Macs than most Apple operating systems have in the past. While more users than ever can join the “It’s like getting a whole new Mac” party, the reality may be that “free” in this case, could perhaps signify it’s not worth making the move to.

Is free cheap?

Perception is a funny and strange thing. It is often the precursor to a brand’s evolving—both good and bad. After competing with Microsoft for years over the virtues of its computers compared to PC’s running Windows, Apple conceded the desktop wars. The business world runs on Windows workstations and Linux servers. Apple is pretty much non-existent in corporate America, to be kind. I would suggest that by giving away Mac OS 10.9, Apple has conceded the operating system battles to Microsoft and ironically, the freely available, open source Linux OS platform.

English: A ridiculous line of people waiting f...

English: A ridiculous line of people waiting for the iPhone 3G outside of the Apple Store on 5th Ave. between 58th St. and 59th St., NYC, July 12, 2008. I was not in the line. pictured: the Apple Store entrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where Apple still has a firm grip is on the mobile consumer market. Macs have lost relevance for Apple in favor of iPads and iPhones. The one market segment Apple will dig in its heels for a fight is the mobile arena–where it will not go quietly into the Android night.

Consumers used to have to pay for the privilege of using Macs and the Mac OS. They used to say using a Mac instead of a PC was like driving a BMW instead of a Chevy. This analogy may have been more appropriate back in the day when new operating system features actually represented value. What Mavericks does better than providing features consumers find new and compelling is prompt the shift of Mac OS X to more of an iOS mentality and focus. OS X Mavericks reeks of mobile-related influences, yet is this where the emphasis for Apple’s consumer Mac desktop line should lie going forward?

Apple’s reputation for innovation, boldness and taking risks has always preceded it. While free is free when it comes to Mavericks, beware of the hidden costs of upgrading such as the need to update third party software. For consumers, the operating system itself may be heralded as free, but not entirely, really, and especially when the cost of updating accompanying application software and peripherals is considered.

Apple free to use

Apple free to use (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the end of the day, the reality is that no operating system, even if offered free, is entirely free of charge. Should someone encounter difficulties upgrading (Apple indicates the vast majority of users do not have issues), what is the time it takes them to address these glitches (in terms of troubleshooting and restoring from backups) worth?

Perhaps you really do get what you pay for. For thousands of Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion users out there, witnessing the first month of use for Mavericks from the sidelines has not been without its share of lessons—the greatest of which may be, when it comes to free operating system upgrades, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may (for the first time) be what best applies for users considering installing Apple’s latest OS.


7 replies »

    • Thanks for weighing in, Isitjustme. And I believe it is just you (weighing in) so far. 🙂 Apple has devalued a formerly “premium” operating system offering. For years it would not sell the licensing rights to the OS (so it could run on Wintel hardware) because it considered it too valuable an asset. To offer this OS free now is a pretty significant shift in marketing strategy going forward. My commentary reflects this and the necessary cautions users should take before upgrading to what is now a marginalized operating system taken down the iOS garden path.


  1. “Apple has devalued a formerly “premium” operating system offering.”
    “… to what is now a marginalized operating system. ”

    Says who? Indeed now words of wisdom but utter nonsense…

    OS X and Mac OS before it came free with (bundling) new Mac’s since well…, forever actually.

    I hear no Mac users complaining about a free update. For some reason you are…

    🙂 peace


    • Thanks for the clarification, Nomadman, but I stand by my assertions. While Apple has always bundled its operating system with new Mac purchases, there have been several cases over the years of consumers purchasing new Macs only to have their installed OS become not the latest a few short days and weeks thereafter. Many times in these instances Apple would make their newer OS available free of charge, but more often than not they would simply discount it for these so affected consumers with poor timing (in regards to the OS that came installed on their new Macs). To your point regarding I am the only one complaining about a free update, one need simply web search “OS X Mavericks problems” for a laundry list of users who wished they would never have upgraded to Mavericks and stayed with their Mountain Lion, Lion and Snow Leopard installations–free price notwithstanding. I appreciate your comments and thank you for your patronage.


  2. I agree, up to a point, the last 3 operating systems only cost 20 bucks. Is that a premium? I also agree that Apple has discarded the promotion of Mac OSX (pardon me OSX now) and is in the iOSing it so that they can one day replace it entirely as they did with Apple II when they came out with the Mac. Although Steve Jobs saved Apple he never managed to make the Mac anything more than a niche player. It was iPhones and iPads that saved Apple. Several mistakes are responsible for that. First is Apple’s tiresome markup on everything. Business and even graphics professionals can’t justify spending a premium for a tool that is essentially the same product they can get for a third of the price elsewhere. The life cycle of a computer for professional artists is one or two years. Second is the computers are not upgradeable or even expandable anymore. They cost a fortune to repair because they are glued shut. NO ONE APPRECIATES THIS ATTITUDE. Not even casual users. So Apple is losing them also. Apple is moving forward with Its plans and disregarding the wishes of its customers except the diehard fanboys who Apple could spoon feed shit and they’d love it. So Apple wants to concentrate on iOS. It intends to expand into large screen tablets with keyboards that will be the new laptops and desktops of the future. Unfortunately being suicidal Apple has already shot itself in the foot by making exactly the same mistakes with its iOS products as it did with the Mac vastly overpricing a rather ho hum product while calling it premium. By the time Apple is ready to ditch the Mac iOS will have less than 10% of the market and and be a niche player once again. Oh well such is the fate of those who fail to learn from the past. No Steve Jobs to pull their ass out of the fire this time and really why shouldn’t it die with him.


  3. Geoff,
    I am a professional designer, photographer and artist. I have used Macs since around 1989. I use them for five to eight years, then upgrade. I or my relatives still have most of the Macs I ever bought, and they still work. The upgrades were to allow me to do more things faster, such as to edit videos, which I use to feature my work.

    When Windows could not edit photos at all, I edited cover photos for catalogs on my Mac. When Windows 3 could edit a 5-inch photo, I could edit a billboard-sized photo on my Mac.

    When Windows had limitations on editing sound, I could do studio quality sound editing on my Mac.

    When I could edit major movies on my Mac Pro, out of the box, no movie was editeable at all on Windows out of the box. The only place Windows had a lead was in editing rows and columns of numbers using technology Bill Gates worked on when he worked for Apple.

    Most of the capabilities that exist in Windows originated at Apple, some at Xerox-Parc. The Xerox technologies were dramatically enhanced and expanded at Apple. And Apple used them with permission or in some cases paid for them.

    Nobody who uses both systems that I know of prefers Windows. People use Windows because they have to or because they are ignorant about Apple technologies.

    Apple still is not really “giving away” its operating system. You can get it free only if you have a Mac to run it on. It will not run on an ordinary PC. And Apple will sue and win, as it has in the past, against any company that tries to sell machines running OSX without a license. Do not expect Apple to start giving away such licenses.

    Apple’s operating system, as a result, is not free, any more than iOS is free. You pay for it when you buy your device. iOS came out before Android. So it is not free because Android is free. In fact, Android is not really free, though its license costs little or nothing. Android users must still hire engineers to use it. iOS is not free at all because you cannot license it, just as you cannot license OSX. Use of iOS and OSX is growing in businesses while use of Windows stagnates due to faltering use of PCs.


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