The Fallacy of the Free Update (or, why I don’t want to update to Mavericks, but am being forced to)

Last October, with the release of OS X Mavericks, Apple changed their business model of OS X updates – no longer was there to be a charge for a major update.  Instead, just like iOS, this was to be free (and simple to install through the App Store).  The App Store mechanism has been used for updates since Lion’s release in 2011 (and, as this was the point that I jumped on the Mac bandwagon, I haven’t known anything else).  Indeed, this is one area where iOS excels – it is extremely easy to update to the latest software, and, by and large, everybody does so very quickly indeed.

However, a desktop operating system is a very different beast.  Updating iOS does not take any substantial downtime out from your system, nor does it drastically alter the way that apps work, because of its walled garden approach. However, as much as Apple want OS X to be like iOS, I’m afraid that updating OS X does pose more problems.

Hence, with Mavericks, Avid’s Sibelius software is not fully supported yet (it runs slowly, there are font bugs and also issues with ReWire), and Parallels 8 does not run properly on it either.  For these reasons (along with waiting for bugs to be ironed out in the new system) I am not wanting to upgrade my system.  I didn’t update to Mountain Lion until Easter 2013, as I waited for 10.8.2 to be released and I am in a similar boat with Mavericks – but in this case the critical moment will be when Avid have a patch ready for Sibelius.

That was my thinking until I received an email from my college’s IT department, informing us that any Mac not running Mavericks would not be permitted access to the college network from Easter, as it is the only ‘supported’ Apple OS, and running older versions of OS X are a security breach.  I was all ready to fire off an email to the department, pointing out that Apple did, in fact, still release security updates to older OSs, but decided to quickly Google to double-check.  It turned out that I was mistaken – whilst Lion was continually updated since the introduction of Mountain Lion, the ‘free update’ nature of Mavericks means that Mountain Lion is not being updated.  OS X is still a secure environment, and I don’t believe that my system is in any inherent danger, but, rather irritatingly, my IT department are quite correct in stating that Mavericks is the only supported OS version.  (What is also annoying is that Apple don’t have an official policy on this – unlike Microsoft’s abundantly clear one – so IT departments have to guess based on Apple’s released updates.)  From the IT department’s perspective, it’s no problem to the student population to update – it’s free!!  Except, it’s not free like a point-update to OS X is, or a new iOS version, it’s actually a major overhaul of an operating system.

I would actually rather that the OS X major updates were kept as a purchase option (albeit for a small amount, such as the £15 for Lion/Mountain Lion) and that Apple continued to support older OS X versions properly.  For, whilst the Mavericks update is free in terms of money, it is still a major update of a desktop OS – completely different to iOS’ update procedure.  It is very dangerous that Apple are, in effect, forcing consumers to update their system on day one of a new release, when that is not the best path of action, at all, for a desktop system.

I appreciate that Apple are trying to streamline the process of OS X updates and make them akin to iOS updates.  The problem is that they are not entirely the same, and in my opinion, this move has damaged OS X’s standing as a desktop operating system.

I will be updating to Mavericks over Easter because I will have to.  And I will have to cope with a sluggishly unresponsive Sibelius and purchasing a new version of Parallels.  I’m not happy about it, though.