Share Button

In one of many new announcements at yesterday’s Apple Special Event, the brand new Mac OS X operating system Mavericks (available now) was revealed to be a free upgrade for everyone with OS X 10.6.8 and later. This may not be completely surprising since the last few iterations of OS X have steadily gone down in price, but even amongst many tech bloggers the idea of a free major operating system upgrade was unexpected. Making their new OS free has many advantages, which Apple must assume are more valuable than potential profits from sales, and indeed Apple CEO Tim Cook himself said yesterday, “What’s most important to us is seeing Mavericks in as many hands as possible… We want everyone to have access to all our best features.” This isn’t the first time a new Mac OS has been free, but it has certainly been a long while. Check out the chart below to see the pricing of Mac OS over the years.

OS Price Release Date
OS X 10.9 Mavericks Free October 2013
OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion $19 July 2012
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion $29 July 2011
Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard $29 August 2009
Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard $129 October 2007
Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger $129 April 2005
Mac OS X 10.3 Panther $129 October 2003
Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar $129 August 2002
Mac OS X 10.1 Puma $129 (free for 1st month) September 2001
Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah $129 March 2001
Mac OS X 10 Public Beta $29 September 2000
Mac OS 9 $99 October 1999
Mac OS 8 $99 July 1997
System 7 Free May 1991
System 6 $49 April 1988

What does Apple gain from giving away their state-of-the-art operating system for free? Increasing customer goodwill may be the most evident – the cheers from the crowd  during the event as well as the press generated by the announcement (including this blog post) are clear indicators that the move is a big win for consumers. Besides making customers happy and giving everyone access to the newest features however, there are many logistical reasons why Mavericks being free is a win for Apple. Chief among those is accelerated adoption, which is great for Mac developers who can now focus on building for the latest OS. Likewise, consumers who have an earlier version of OS X will get access to more apps now that they are up to speed on the latest and greatest. From a security standpoint Mavericks brings everyone to parity with the latest OS X security developments, and patches security holes from the previous versions. Finally, Apple has another advantage over rival Microsoft since major Windows upgrades still cost money for consumers. The latest Windows 8.1 upgrade is a free download, but I’m not convinced Microsoft is willing to give away the inevitable Windows 9 for free in the future – time will tell.

Just like Apple’s model with iOS devices and free software updates, Apple wants consumers to know that if they buy into the Mac ecosystem then they will always have access to the best features. Having to purchase hardware and software separately makes as much sense these days as having to buy a car and it’s set of wheels separately. It’s a business model that makes sense, and with increased competition from other tech companies such as Google who offer their software free of charge, I believe this philosophy of Apple’s is the right direction to go in and will continue to persevere well into the future.