WWDC will soon be here (June 10 - June 14, 2013) and we've been told we can expect to see previews of the newest versions of OS X and iOS. Since Apple has announced it's move to a yearly upgrade cycle for OS X, I've heard grumblings from some long-time Mac users about Apple's more "aggressive" upgrade process of late. One of the great selling points of the Mac is that hardware and software reliability are generally better than their traditional PC counterparts such that you can expect to run older machines and software longer. Some Mac users have been left wondering why they need to upgrade their perfectly good machines when the status quo has been working for them just fine. However with each software upgrade we find that Apple is phasing out older technologies and I'm hearing more and more complaints from Mac Users about Apple refusing to offer them support for their older products. Honestly, it's starting to bother me.
Take a survey of your Mac-using friends and family members and I bet you'll find a good number of them are still running 10.6 Snow Leopard or earlier and outdated software A quick survey of my Mac Users Group finds an alarming number of people still running this 10.6. There are a couple of reasons. Some people simply never upgrade their OS until they buy new hardware. But one of the biggest reasons is that 10.6 remains so popular among Mac users is because this was the last version of the OS to include support for Rosetta, the ability to run Apps that were written for the Power PC. An alarming number of users still rely on outdated programs that require PPC code base. When I ask why. I get a variety of answers. Some say it's due to costs associated with upgrading their applications (Adobe Creative Suite is frequently cited here - especially since Adobe's move to Creative Cloud). Others say they rely on proprietary software for their work that hasn't been updated to run on Intel machines. Others just prefer to use certain applications they have a history with like (gasp) AppleWorks.
A quick history lesson. On June 6, 2005 Apple announced its plans to switch to Intel processors. That was nearly eight years ago. That transition was complete ahead of schedule in August of 2006. If a developer hasn't updated their software to work on the Intel platform in all that time, I would have strong questions about their dedication to the Mac platform. What makes you think that developer is going to suddenly decide to upgrade their software in the future? If you're relying on proprietary software that only runs PPC code to run your business you are in for a world of hurt in the not too distant future.
Here's the problem. That Mac you're relying on to run your older OS and software right now is probably getting on in years and soon due for replacement. With hardware repairs and upgrades you can likely keep it going for a while, but at some point you're going to have a catastrophic hardware failure and will have no choice but to buy a new machine. Any machine you buy today will not run PPC applications. At that point you're in emergency mode. If there are newer versions of the Applications available, you'll be forced to bite the bullet and upgrade right then and there, an unexpected expense on top of a new hardware purchase. Hopefully your old data will be in a file format the newer versions of the programs can read.
If there aren't newer versions of your Applications available because the developer has dropped support (such as the case with AppleWorks) you're stuck. Your old machine is dead and your new machine has no way to read your old data even if you have the worlds greatest backups. Virtulization of the older OS might be an option, or maybe you can find a file conversion program or a service to convert files for you, maybe not. The best practice would be to act proactively to start migrating and exporting your data into newer and hopefully nonproprietary formats while you still have access to the source programs and before you're in crisis mode.
Another big reason to keep updated is security. Apple's general policy is they will offer security upgrades for the current version of the OS and one previous version. They have made exceptions with major exploits but we can't expect them to support old operating systems forever. In all likelihood in a few months we'll have another new operating system version which means older version of the OS will fall out of support. Running older versions of web browsers and plug-ins put you especially at risk. There are also major security features and enhancements that come with newer versions of the OS like FileVault 2 and Gatekeeper that can help keep you safe.
One final reason to stay up to date is for hardware and software compatibility. Mac OS 10.6.8 is about the earliest most current hardware and software will support. I'll bet in the coming months as Apple refreshes it's hardware and software, we'll see those specs bump up as Apple continues to phase out support of older devices and systems. This will anger many people, but it might be the only way to force people to keep relatively up to date.
Upgrading to the (now) current OS Mountain Lion costs only $19.99 in the Mac AppStore which effectively buys you a family pack that you can install on most Macs built after 2007. With the introduction of the Mac AppStore and a great variety of inexpensive Applications, there's really no excuse to stay stuck in the past. I understand given the readership of this publication I'm probably "preaching to the choir" but I'm sure you have friends and family members like I've described. They need to understand these things. Like it or not, Apple is changing and a lot of this change is uncomfortable to us long time Mac users. But at the risk of sounding like an Apple apologist, users must adapt or understand and accept the risks they're taking by choosing to stay behind.
This article first appeared in the May Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/