Apple’s twisted upgrade route

Our company will buy no new Macs in 2003 because many applications are not ready for OS X.

A while back, I got the opportunity to serve in a tech support cafe at a local Mac conference. I sat behind a counter and served participants at the conference coffee while answering their Mac-related tech questions. I’m no Mac guru, but I found I knew enough to answer all but the most arcane questions folks asked. The vast majority of the questions related to OS X, especially what to do with all the 0S 9-only stuff after the old OS is extinct. We recently covered this topic in our Mac Advisor column. And several of our readers have chimed in about it in our Feedback section. So, while I found I couldn’t allay all of their fears, I did have a pretty good grasp of how Apple’s upgrade path would affect users.

The answer is, it will be a mess. Most of the people who stopped by the cafe wondered why Apple was rushing the upgrade. They understood that OS X is the future. Most of them had Jaguar running on at least one machine already. But what should they do about their graphics department that runs on Quark? Recall, Quark upgraded its Xpress application to version 5 for OS 9 after Apple released OS X (d’oh!). Consequently, Quark will not have a stable version available for X until well into 2003. And forget about backwards compatibility.

All the reports are that Classic mode is slow and buggy, though somewhat better in Jaguar than previous versions of X. Still, given the choice, most people would rather run their OS 9 applications under OS 9, which will only be an option in new Macs until the end of this year. Next year, you simply won’t be able to buy a new Mac with an OS 9 partition on the hard drive. And don’t get me started on all the printers that will become obsolete when OS 9 dies.

Steve Swanson, our IT guy, said it best: “We will buy no new Macs next year, period.” In these offices, we have around 70 Mac clients that need to run Quark. We have no immediate plans to upgrade our version of Quark throughout the company, even when a version becomes available for X. (Do you know how much a site license for Quark runs?) We have been removing OS X from our new Macs this year to avoid conflicts in booting into OS 9. Next year, we will need to buy used Macs with OS 9 on them if we have to replace any machines. I hate to think that this is an industry-wide thing. But in these tight times, I have to believe it is. While I wouldn’t call our IT strategy early adoption, we are ahead of the game from an industry perspective. When I think of all those organizations that are too strapped for cash to upgrade older Macs (especially schools) I start to get very worried for Apple.

The strange thing is, in many respects, Apple is in the best position relative to the industry since I started covering the company in the early ’90s. OS X 10.2 is arguably the best client operating system in the world. Xserve is perhaps the best value in the small-business server category. Apple has better application penetration than it’s had in years. So why does it need to force people to upgrade at this stage of the game? History shows that forced upgrades rarely work (think MCSE certifications). For every company that decides to upgrade its entire operation to Jaguar, there are a handful like us who will not order a single new Mac.

James Mathewson is editor of ComputerUser magazine and ComputerUser.com

What do you think about Apple’s aggressive upgrades strategy? Send your thoughts to [email protected]

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