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 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.