I approached the WWDC Keynote with a bit of apprehension. All indications I’ve seen pointed to Mac OS X 10.7 Lion including many different aspects of iOS. Gestures, Launchpad, full screen apps, the Mac App Store… to me, they were annoying extras, but they were easy enough to disable/avoid and didn’t offset some of the new, more useful features like Versions and Mission Control.
However, Apple did one thing to ensure I’ll likely never have Lion on my MacBook Pro.
They made it download-only.
It’s long been a beef of mine that Apple seems to market its iDevices under the assumption that everybody has a constant broadband connection without data caps. Their new iCloud service is a testament to that; there are going to be a lot of unhappy iPhone/iPad users discovering they’ve eaten up their data usage for the month when iOS 5 comes out.
Unfortunately, Apple is extending this theory for OS distribution. While possibly more prevalent than uncapped wireless data plans, broadband service is still not available everywhere, especially not in more rural areas and downloading a 4GB software update over dial-up does not sound like a good time. Furthermore, in many instances where you can get broadband, many telecoms are capping and/or throttling their data throughput as well. A large download like this can eat up a good portion of your allotted data. So already we’re behind the 8-ball.
Even if you do have broadband service at home, if you want to do any of these things, this “download only” OS makes them much more difficult:
Upgrade a single machine: The main people affected by this are those who, like myself, either have no broadband access at home or have a data cap on their service. So, in order to update, you have to go somewhere with free WiFi and try to download from there. Ever try to bring a 27” iMac into a Starbucks? They look at you kind of funny.
Upgrade multiple machines: Got multiple machines you want to update? Even though you’ll only have to pay once, it’s still a 4GB download for each machine. Combine a multi-Mac household (such as a family with a main computer, one for each of the kids, and maybe an extra MacBook Pro thrown in the mix somewhere) with a capped data plan… you’re in a world of hurt if you want to stay current.
Upgrade a non-networked machine: Believe it or not, there are still a lot of people who don’t have their computers hooked up to the Internet. Whether it’s that Mac Pro you keep in your garage music studio, a MacBook you keep at your summer home so you can download photos into iPhoto and transfer them to a portable hard drive, or something else, rather than simply popping a DVD into the optical drive and installing, you need to bring that computer back home/to the nearest hotspot and then install.
Replacing a crashed hard drive: This one really hurts. Let’s say that a year from now, the hard drive in your 2009 Mac Pro running Lion completely fails. You had Time Machine running, so you at least have all your data available to migrate back. To install Lion, you’ll now need to:
- Install & Migrate from your 10.6.x DVD.
- Download and install the 10.6.x Combo Update (1.15GB to get to 10.6.6, which is the first version of the Mac App Store)
- Download the Lion installer – at least 4GB, probably closer to 5GB once we figure on updates and patches to get to 10.7.2 or whatever the version is at the time..
So right there, it’s 6GB just to get back to where you were. With a DVD, all you’d have had to do is pop in the disc, install and migrate, and download the OS updater, which would be a fraction of the amount of data and time involved.
Rolling back to an earlier version: Apple doesn’t always get it right; sometimes an OS update causes more troubles than it solves, forcing users who need that “broken” feature to go back to a previous version. In 10.5.x and earlier, you’d perform an “Archive and Install” then manually download the Combo updater for the version prior to the most recent. With 10.6, it’s even more straightforward; just install right over the current version before downloading/installing the Combo Updater. How’re you going to do that with Lion? You can pretty well guess that the download version will be the most recent, with no ability to get an older version. So when Apple makes a mistake, you have to live with it until they fix it.
Of course, these are just a few examples. Other situations, such as repair of a work machine on the road or the maintenance of a lab of computers, are variations on one or more of those themes. All of them valid, and all of them now more difficult.
A Reasonable Solution
I understand Apple’s potential reasoning for wanting to go with this “download” model: less physical inventory, better control over distribution, “green” distribution, et cetera. This download model allows for all of that.
However, as outlined above, that model doesn’t necessarily work for all users. Not everybody is a family of four who stay comfortably within Apple’s walled garden, checking email, watching YouTube videos, and making iPhoto albums for Grandma (not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se).
There are many people like me who tinker, who fix, who create, and who do things “outside the box” with our Macs that don’t fit this paradigm. We are “the crazy ones, the misfits, the round pegs in square holes” that used to be championed by Apple. Now, they’re cutting us off at the ankles because the way we use our Macs require a little more flexibility when updating/installing the operating system—flexibility that existed up until now.
Give us the option to make our own installer disc/thumb drive a la the way Ubuntu does. Let us download a disc image and install it on the drive or the DVD we want to use in case things go wrong. Heck, charge us an extra five bucks for the privilege, if absolutely necessary.