BitDepth#909 - October 29

Apple has offered the newest major update to its computer operating system, Mac OS X for free. Why is that?
Why Mavericks is free
Apple’s newest major revision of its computer operating system, codenamed Mavericks, was released this month free to Mac users. Photograph courtesy Apple.

Amid the minimalist buzz generated two weeks ago by Apple’s release of the new iPad Air there was an even quieter announcement that struck a particularly resonant note with me.
Apple’s newest full point upgrade to its computer operating system, Mac OSX version 10.9, was released for free.

It’s long been the Macintosh maker’s custom to release fractional updates without cost but the major upgrades, which tend to break software and abandon older computers because of the sheer scale of the internal changes, have always attracted a fee.
In my time, I’ve paid sums drifting as high as US$100 for such software updates, but recently, the cost to run Apple’s newest operating system has been drifting steadily downward, hitting a record low with the price of 10.8, which sold for US$20.

My street cred with Macs goes pretty far back. If you want to challenge me, you’d better be able to discuss the agony of Font/DA Mover knowledgeably. Otherwise sit down and listen up.
With the release of 10.9, codenamed Mavericks, that price point is now reserved for Apple’s server software, a figure that’s so far removed from the norm for an OS designed to support services for multiple computer systems that it beggars the imagination.

Among server products that aren’t offered directly for free, the price of 10.9 Server Edition wouldn’t pay for a day’s worth of marketing.
There’s no good reason to think that this is a trend that’s going to stop, so it’s worth considering why Apple has decided that Mac OSX is worth more to the company as a lubricant for hardware sales than as a way to make money.

What makes Mac OSX so valuable as a loss leader in the Cupertino company’s marketing strategy?
Any deliberation of Apple’s current computer software strategy must acknowledge how the company makes its money.
Apple doesn’t break out the specifics of its product sales, but it’s no secret that it makes most of the bucketloads of cash that flow into its coffers from sales of iPads and iPhones, which in turn are made attractive by the company’s fluid ecosystem for buying software and consumable media.

Increasingly, people who buy iPads and iPhones are drawn to consider iMacs and Macbooks when the time comes to consider buying a new computer.
These users aren’t interested in the arcane history of Apple as a formative force in the digital design and photography revolution. They want a computer that looks and feels like the device they already own and over the last two revisions, Apple’s been working hard to deliver exactly that.

Every major change to the operating system since 10.7 has been a subtle but definite nudge in the direction of a Mac OS that looks, feels and most important, works like iOS does on Apple’s tablets and mobile phones.
This has brought the company some protests from long term users who liked the way the Mac worked just fine before all these newbies with their gold encrusted iPhones came along.

So Mavericks, the most iOS-like Apple operating system ever comes with the ultimate olive branch to the loyal followers who kept the company afloat during the worst of times, a gift with a distinctly Trojan underpinning.
For those hardcore users with a need for server machismo, the price is so low it wouldn’t pay the state sales tax on rival products.
Mavericks is a clear step along the path to making the user experience on Apple’s desktop and laptop line more closely match that of its popular iOS devices.

But that doesn’t seem to be a path with much fruit for its professional users. Final Cut Pro film editors have been complaining about the product’s sluggish support for serious editing, Aperture, Apple’s professional tool for photographers has been languishing for almost two years now and the only love being offered to serious creatives has been offered in the company’s audio production line.
Is that intentional or is it just a coincidence that the company makes a tidy sum off its music store?

And it isn’t just these professionally oriented apps that have come under the unified ecosystem hammer. The newest versions of Keynote and Pages, the company’s analogues of PowerPoint and Word have been roundly hammered for their slavish subservience to the iOS and iCloud versions of the software.
The new versions maintain fidelity for documents created on the computer desktop that are opened on an iPad or iPhone, or using Apple’s iCloud by ditching functions that aren’t available on the iOS or web versions, which has driven users committed to these products mad.

I use both in my daily work, and it doesn’t look like the new, iOS ecosystem friendly versions will be getting any love or work from me until Apple makes serious changes to their capabilities.
So Mavericks equals free equals more consumer satisfaction and that adds up to more cash flow for Apple as it pulls its digital ecosystem more tightly together.
But where does that leave the creative professionals who have been the company’s bedrock until now?
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