Miscellaneous Ramblings

How Long Should Apple Support New Devices on Legacy Hardware and Operating Systems?

Charles Moore - 2011.06.02 - Tip Jar

The Guardian's Rupert Jones was singing the blues in a column last month, complaining that his that his four-year-old MacBook running nearly four-year-old Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger isn't supported by Apple's latest version of iTunes (version 10), contending "it's a problem that has sparked fury among Apple users across the world."

Jones further observed that adding insult to what he perceives as injury is that if he had a 10-year-old Windows PC running Windows XP Service Pack 2 - launched almost a full year before Mac OS X Tiger and a version of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports - he would be able to run iTunes 10 to support his iPhone 4 and his daughter's new iPod shuffle.

The latter point seems to be a plausibly valid complaint - or is it?

Worldwide, most PC users are running Windows XP.

The key to explaining this apparent slight to Apple's own hardware customers is that most PC users are still running Windows XP (still the world's most popular OS by a wide margin, serving 52.4% of computer users overall according to HitsLink May 2011 stats*), so it makes perfect sense for Apple to maintain legacy support for the preponderance of Windows folks who are still living in the OS dark ages.

However, on the Mac side, HitsLink tracks only a minuscule 0.34% overall OS market share for OS X 10.4 in May - a far cry from Rupert Jones' alleged legions of disenfranchised and outraged Tiger users ready to storm the ramparts - which satisfactorily explains why Apple doesn't offer support for Tiger anymore, expending valuable engineering effort offering legacy support at the expense of applying it to security and performance enhancements of software that people are still using.

Jones' argument also goes off the rails with his grievance about being instructed to buy and install at minimum OS X 10.5 Leopard in order to support iTunes 10 and his family's new gadgets, an OS X version he's found hard to get hold of, since Apple's UK retail stores no longer stock it, and expensive (£120 new on Amazon). Now, it's a perfectly legitimate complaint about OS X 10.5 disk availability, and it would seem to me logical for Apple to stock a few copies of Leopard in both its brick and mortar and online stores, since its the last OS X version that supports PowerPC-based Macs.

Nevertheless, a four-year-old MacBook is by my lights a low-end Mac, and the low-ender philosophy anticipates that a certain amount of workarounds and challenges go with the territory (for example, see Simon Royal's current column on Using an iPhone with a PowerBook G3 or Titanium G4).

If one wants or needs to maintain full compatibility with the latest developments, the obvious choice is to buy new hardware and/or operating systems if your old computer is incompatible, as has always been the case.

* At Low End Mac, things are a bit different. The majority of our visitors (52.4%) use Macs, 37.3% use Windows, 5.6% use iOS devices, and 3.0% use some version of Linux. Among Windows users, 44.1% use Windows 7, 42.2% use XP, and 12.6% use Vista. Among Mac users, 9.2% are still using OS X 10.4 Tiger, 17.8% use 10.5 Leopard, and 69.5% use 10.6 Snow Leopard. That means that just 4.8% of visitors to a low-end Mac-oriented website are in the same boat as Rupert Jones. dk

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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