Fine, I’ll Say It: Snow Leopard Is Ultimately a Service Pack

August 28, 2009

Merlin Mann's tweet Merlin Mann's tweet about Snow Leopard hits the nail on the head. Even though David Pogue says this is an "uninformed wisecrack," I'm still calling Snow Leopard a service pack. "Snow Leopard Fixes Leopard's Bugs" is not the headline you're going to see in the NYT or WSJ. Instead the tech press told just the story Apple served them on a silver platter: that they did something noble and interesting and efficient by making their operating system smaller, faster, leaner, and even improved in a couple of "subtle" ways (a word I used). And for only $30!

It's not a very original story. In the wake of a bloated Windows Vista, with netbooks and smartphones offering smaller but less powerful hardware, the "smaller/faster/leaner" sell is the marketing tact of the year, and everyone's trotting it out. Look at Google Chrome (which is taking a piece of Firefox's bloated pie) and Google Chrome OS and Windows 7.

Don't get me wrong, "smaller/faster/leaner" is exactly what Snow Leopard is, but it doesn't deserve a +.1 version number increment. To end users, it's just a faster Leopard. While we all swooned over Apple's cheap-cheap pricing, on further thought, this is an upgrade I'd expect to see come down for free via Software Update.

I'll admit: I've never built an operating system, and Snow Leopard's code improvements, which are invisible to me, might be a lot more significant than I'm acknowledging. Taking Apple on their word about Grand Central Dispatch and 64-bit computing and OpenCL--all things that ultimately mean nothing to me--Snow Leopard appears to be a solid upgrade that future-readies your Mac. It's an upgrade I'm installing right now because the speed improvements and disk space savings alone are worth the $30, especially on older Intel Macs like my MacBook Pro. However, in terms of impact on the end user, Snow Leopard is not even close to the 10.4 to 10.5 upgrade from Tiger to Leopard that gave you 200+ new features. Charging anything more than $30 would have been highway robbery. After forking over the 30 bucks, I just feel kind of nickel-and-dimed.

Make no mistake: Snow Leopard is all about Apple readying their operating system to run on smaller, less powerful hardware (a tablet, perhaps?) and you just get to help them test it on your current hardware now. For $30, I guess that's not such a bad deal.

If we are to believe Apple about the breadth of changes to the operating system’s code it may not have been possible or viable to deliver via Software Update. If that’s the case then the $30 may be to cover the distribution costs (like the free overnight shipping for online orders) with a small bit of profit.

As for the version number: Those serve users, developers and support staff. Again, if the changes to the code are that dramatic then it makes sense to increment the version number. It’s much easier for a tech to ask you if you have Snow Leopard than to have you read the extended version string including build numbers.

Daniel Bendig [+1]
Aug 28 09 at 11:21 am

For those of us who have to live with Exchange at work, I’ll gladly pay $30+ to get my Mail.app and iCal back. Entourage is just painful.

Jim Brayton [+1]
Aug 28 09 at 11:30 am

As a software developer, I think this is definitely worth the $30 and the core OS changes they’ve made are definitely significant enough to warrant a paid upgrade. The jump from 10.5 to 10.6 is a little misleading, I agree, because the previous point updates were much more significant. However, I think calling it a service pack is overlooking how much work went into it and how significant the updates are.

When I look at the features delivered in windows xp service packs 1, 2, and 3, I see a lot less change than I see from Leopard to Snow Leopard. Perhaps I have selective memory, so please feel free to correct me if this is the case. Leopard to Snow Leopard seems more along the lines of updating Firefox from version 2 to 3, or iWork to ’09.

One of the big selling points is also exchange support, which is definitely worth the $30 and possibly the point update too, as this is a pretty significant capability to build into the OS.

One thing I think is important to note is that Snow Leopard is a significant update to an already very good OS. If Leopard was more like Vista, I bet a lot more people wouldn’t think Snow was a service pack.

Just my 2¢.

Quine [+2]
Aug 28 09 at 11:43 am

All good points.

Like I said, Snow Leopard is worth $30. But to someone relatively uniformed about the inner workings of an operating system (99% of the population), it still feels like a service pack, not a reason to go to the Apple Store and buy a disc.

Gina Trapani [+195]
Aug 28 09 at 11:50 am

@Gina: that’s where the cult-like obedience comes in ;)

Quine [+2]
Aug 28 09 at 11:53 am

And re: Exchange support. Leopard had some Exchange support, right? Snow Leopard is just *improved* Exchange support? Exchange support that works the way it should have in Leopard? Service pack. :)

(Correct me if I’m wrong; I don’t use Exchange with my Mac.)

Gina Trapani [+195]
Aug 28 09 at 11:53 am

@Gina: Snow Leopard integrated Exchange support into Apple apps. Before, you had to install and use Entourage.

The people who benefit most from Exchange support probably already spent money on third-party solutions – Parallels + Office, or Entourage.

This is not an update for Mac users. This is an update for Mac cultists. This is another line for Justin Long to passively-aggressively spout after Windows 7 comes out. “Oh, you got an update, PC? That’s great, but we had one two months ago, and it was only $30.”

Well, it’s also good for that and killing off CS2 users and scaring CS3 users to death. I’ll give it that.

gguillotte [+1]
Aug 28 09 at 12:52 pm

I think that is representative of both what Microsoft and Apple are doing this time around. I am currently using Windows 7 on what used to be a Vista machine and I am very happy with what Windows 7 is, but I don’t know that it is as different from Vista as XP SP2 was from the base XP. And although yes, Apple is charging for its upgrade, Microsoft isn’t providing any sort of consistent discount (disregarding the one-time offers) to make this easier to palate for those who gut sucked into purchasing or using Vista.

Why are both of these companies doing such iterative improvements at this cost, when something possibly game-changing like Chrome is around the corner?

Jordan Buller [+3]
Aug 28 09 at 12:57 pm

@Gina

Leopard never had Exchange support, so this is an entirely new feature in Snow Leopard. The only way in 10.5 was through MS Entourage, which is one of the most terrible pieces of mass-produced software every created.

There’s very few obvious features new to Snow Leopard, but I still think that “service pack” still under sells it. Grand Central, 64-bit, and all those under-the-hood goodies that are almost completely transparent to the majority of end users, but let’s not underestimate the sheer volume of little enhancements, many of them are not necessarily fixes for old bugs.

This is one thing I appreciate about Apple over Microsoft is that they have greater attention to detail and making small little tweaks and adjustments (although I hear that Windows 7 is taking this route as well). Individually, these little enhancements mean almost nothing, but many of them combined does enhance the whole user experience significantly for me. I noticed this to a degree in Leopard, and from what I’m reading it will be even greater in Snow Leopard. I rarely ever notice a difference with Windows service packs.

It certainly is not as big as an upgrade from Leopard to Tiger, or Tiger to Leopard, but it’s definitely a few steps above service pack.

alexley.com/
Aug 28 09 at 1:32 pm

The comments from developers back in the Spring and just after WWDC were that the Snow Leopard changes were _significant_ in the underlying layers of the OS and that that would allow for applications to be developed that simply couldn’t be done before. Is that significant enough to warrant a +.1? Maybe that will be more apparent when those applications start appearing… currently a lot of the reviews seem to be of the “must have my cake and eye candy on display and must be able to eat it all NOW!” If Apple had waited on releasing Snow Leopard until they themselves had reworked the eye candy, would the complaints be about the delays? And if the release is making enough changes to affect and “break” some rather visible user applications, then isn’t that some indication that simply releasing this as a Software Update would have raised a whole different firestorm? (“How can a simple patch be hosing so many of the things *I* need to use everyday?”) It almost makes you wonder how there’s any winning in the OS game these days…

Tim Torgenrud [+1]
Aug 28 09 at 3:34 pm

If you’re qualifying it as a “service pack” then that’s actually a rotten deal for end users. Microsoft distributes service packs for free. Don’t get me wrong, I love OSX and Mac products in general, but it’s worth pointing out, that $30.00 for a service pack is somewhat more expensive the a $0.00 service pack.

Kevin Epstein
Aug 28 09 at 8:52 pm

I have a pro license for QuickTime 7. I elected to do a wipe and install so Snow Leopard does not automagically update QuickTime X to the pro option. I can’t seem to find a way to do this after the fact. Anyone have a solution?

Update: Snow Leopard won’t work with our Exchange 2003 server, it only works with Exchange 2007. That leaves me out.

http://blogs.zdnet.com/virtualization/?p=1205

Apple, in its infinite wisdom, chose to implement Exchange 2007 support in Snow Leopard even though the iPhone supports both Exchange 2003 and 2007. So, my desktop system can not access the calendar even though my iPhone has no problem accessing my calendar. I find it hard to believe that they did this when Exchange 2003 still has more installations than does Exchange 2007.

Jim Brayton [+1]
Aug 29 09 at 9:30 am

I’m a long-time Apple fanboi, but…

Snow Leopard is a real case of Apple trying to sell ice to Eskimos.

The only new feature it provides is Exchange. That’s probably worth $30. OpenCL and Grand Central are simply not features that users care about. Developers won’t depend upon Grand Central for years because almost everything it does can be achieved through other means, and depending upon it would deny them the sizeable pre-10.6 market. OpenCL might be used because it actually provides new capabilities, but these capabilities are limited to high-speed vector computation. Since most people use their computers to store and categorise information, I think there is actually little real need for OpenCL for the vast majority of applications; I certainly don’t run any apps that could benefit from using it.

“But Apple have re-written much of the OS”, I hear you say. “So what”, say I. If Leopard were a flakey slow junker, I’d be jumping for Snow Leopard, but the thing is that Leopard is very good. It’s fast. It’s stable.

“But Apple have made the OS smaller”, I hear you say. My response is, “I don’t care”. I have a big drive (750GB). So big I’ll never fill it.

“But the re-architecting makes the OS more flexible for deployment to tablets and such”, some might say. Again, I don’t care; if I buy one of those, it will come with an OS. For my computer, right now, it makes no difference.

It gets worse though. Quicktime appears to have made a great leap sideways. More UI tweaking for the sake of it. AND installing it gets rid of Quicktime Pro (yes, you can get it back by re-installing the Quicktime 7 player, but WHY?).

So, for a person like me who doesn’t need exchange support, why would I fork over my hard earned to Apple for this OS update? The UI tweaks are marginal at best, developers will keep writing 10.5 compatible software for years, and the Quicktime player seems to have been marinated in a big vat of suck.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a GOOD thing that Apple have cleaned up the OS and code-base, but that’s more for their benefit than mine. I’ll wait until Snow Leopard’s successor comes out.

Kim Mason
Aug 29 09 at 7:44 pm

Biggest problem: No Visual Changes to charge full price. Allot of under the hood changes what are needed.

They could have made it an 10.5.x update But too many things break. It’s too big a change for a Service Pack (people are still bitching about the sp2 update).

What Apple should have done was give it away as a free Full Retail disc for people with OSX 10.5 the same they did with 10.0 to 10.1. The people on Tiger should just pay the 129$ price as they skipped a version and it’s weird that if I skip the next one will be cheaper.

Tales

Exchange support uses EWS (Exchange Web Services) and Auto Discovery. It also requires Exchange 2007 SP1 R4 which isn’t in itself a big deal, but what is, is that EWS is NOT MAPI and not RPC over HTTPS (MAPI web access basically). You get basic functionality out of the box which is good enough for most users (myself included), but will upset anyone used to using Outlook. There is also the issue of “outside of the office” complicating things further as more often than not businesses do not route EWS outside of the WAN/LAN (literal WAN not the internet) if they have EWS enabled at all and auto discovery needs to be on.

Now it goes even further as basically EWS gives you the basics. You don’t get public folder access; you can’t view co-workers items, etc. You also can not work offline, by this I mean that there isn’t a seamless offline mode like Outlook where you can manage your mail, delete, create, etc. and it just syncs when you go online. While I personally could care less, I know the “just works” crowd will be upset about it.

I would also assume that since Entourage is now using EWS (dumped WebDav) the new Outlook will follow suit.

Long story short, Exchange support works if your company supports it (many do not as they don’t run Exchange 2007 or they have no need for EWS) and you have to use a VPN from outside the company (unless your company IT/IS folks are reckless) to get to it.

Exchange aside, these improvements which came in SL are great, but is it really $30 worth of upgrades? I would say yes, however I would also say that much of it were improvements slated for Leopard or even Tiger which never made it in. Hell Adobe and MS were working on 64 bit apps ages ago which they had to scrap because they had gone to another product cycle before Apple rolled it out.

I paid the $30 and I don’t feel ripped off even though many of the features were already paid for. GCS is bad ass, but as far as OpenCL goes, that is TBD as the development time might preclude many applications from taking advantage of it.

UnderLoK
Aug 31 09 at 6:07 am

What’s the issue? Were expectations revved out of proportion? From the get-go Apple has said this is a minor upgrade. That’s at least partly why this particular edition’s cat name still has “Leopard” in it. It’s a symbol of the minor bump (and minor price tag, compared to any other new/upgrade OS).

Sean Carr [+1]
Aug 31 09 at 6:32 am

This is my takings regarding Apple’s Service Packs:

I know that Mac OS X is cheaper than either Windows XP Professional or DEFINITELY Windows Vista or utterly definitely Windows 7. But that is if you NEVER purchase any more future CD’s from Apple. For the sake of simplicity and shortening my post, let me round up Apple’s prices for each “Service Packs” upgrades they have issued to $120.00 each. (I know that on some occasion it might have costed more, and on some other versions number it might have costed less)

Lets factor this:

Mac OS X = $120.00 THEN

Mac OS X 1.4.0 (Puma) = was a free CD to cover mac’s original problems with Mac OS X Original Version THEN

Mac OS X 2.0.0 (Jaguar) = $120.00 THEN

Mac OS X 3.0.0 = $120.00 THEN

Mac OS X 4.0.0 = $120.00 THEN

Mac OS X 5.0.0 = $120.00 THEN

Mac OS X 6.0.0 = $120.00

So, if EACH Version CD costed $120.00 then if you are a Mac user that came since the FIRST VERSION of Mac OS X, then you have paid Apple so far over $600.00 Now that is extremely more expensive that Windows Vista’s Most Advanced version (Windows Vista Enterprise or Ultimate Edition)

So apple has been charging you people an Arm and a Leg for their Operating System without you people realizing it, because they have been doing it little by little! I dont see Microsoft doing that! So I get surprised when people says that Mac OS X is cheaper than Windows operating system because in the LONG RUN its NOT!

Well, anyways I am running an Operating System which is cheaper than both Mac OS X and Microsoft and in fact, its so cheaper that its price cannot be beaten — impossible, its LINUX Fedora! With great hardware support and faster than both of these operating system, more stabler (because of Honest programmers working around the clock in improving the OPEN SOURCE codes of Linux), and FREE! No need to pay any one for any “Service Packs”

By the way, I own one Mac OS X CD, its version 1.4.0 (PUMA) which I was using back then, I refused to get the Jaguar version (2) after I learned that I had to PAY MORE FOR IT and after I learned that each consecutive version I also had to PAY for it. I took it as giving Apple a “Blank Check” that when they needed more money, all what they needed to do was release a new version number, a new “nick name” for their OS, prevent software developers from releasing software compatible with the previous version numbers and force all to shell out their hard earned cash towards this new version number, and THEN all of you people attacks Microsoft in so many ways (I know that Mac OS X cannot get viruses and Windows yes, but I would rather have Windows than Mac for the sake of price cheaper int he long run, of course with a good Antivirus Software and Firewall) when its Apple you are suppose to question regarding their “Pricing Scheme”. After I learned all this, I switched to….LINUX! No need to worry about that anymore.

FranciscoNET
Oct 23 09 at 6:25 am


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