Apple Finally Catches Up With Linux

Back in 2009, when I upgraded my Mac to OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard”, I wrote a post wondering why the company persisted in shipping physical disks. Well, it seems someone was listening. According to Appleinsider the next upgrade to Mac OS X, 10.7 “Lion” (coming in the summer), will be downloaded from the Mac app store, bringing it in line with the excellent Linux way of doing things. That makes a lot of sense. I’m going to miss those beautifully packaged upgrade disks, but there doesn’t seem much point in having them any more. Just to balance out the self-congratulatory tone of this post, I admit that my prediction that 10.7 would be called “Hepcat” was way off the mark.

Snow Leopard: Why Ship a Physical Disk?

The ‘I upgraded to Snow Leopard’ stories are coming thick and fast and for the record this is mine. Here are the facts: It took about 55 minutes and there were two reboots, one half way through and one at the end. That’s it. This was a very easy upgrade with no human intervention beyond a couple of clicks to get it started. Since I have a Time Machine backup and keep my work in progress in on a synced Dropbox volume I didn’t worry about a clean install. It just wasn’t necessary.

Snow Leopard seems fine, but what I don’t understand is why I had to wait for the postman to deliver a CD. Why doesn’t Apple deliver OS upgrades like this using iTunes or even the regular Software Update tool? Most Linux systems deliver major upgrades that way using package management tools such as Synaptic and it works very well. The Ubuntu desktop I’m using to type this has had two Snow Leopard-equivalent upgrades now, both delivered in the same way as regular bugfixes and security updates, through Synaptic. If Apple has now caught up with Linux and Mac users no longer need to do clean installs it seems crazy for Apple to keep shipping actual physical media. We don’t buy iPhone OS upgrades on a disk after all.

Incidentally since I was installing Snow Leopard on my Mac I took the opportunity to upgrade my wife’s iBook G4 to Leopard. I kept the old Tiger install disk handy in case performance was poor, but actually this six year-old machine runs very well. Of course it will never be able to run Snow Leopard, but it will at least continue to receive updates until Mac OS X 10.7 “Hepcat” renders 10.5 obsolete. By then it will be around nine years old. She’ll have to manage with only 12GB of free disk space though.