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Snow Leopard Goes Out With a Market Share Roar

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Come WWDC in June, we’ll likely see OS X Lion (s aapl) changing status from preview to official public release. That makes May a good time to look at the April report on OS market share from web-analytics firm Net Applications for some perspective on Snow Leopard.

According to Net Applications, all versions of OS X combined reached a new high in OS market share in April, with 5.4 percent worldwide as determined by web browsing usage. The previous record was 5.33 percent, set in March 2010. Following that high, OS X declined to 4.98 percent last October before rebounding. Perhaps not coincidentally, that rebound coincided with the release of the redesigned MacBook Air, followed by new MacBook Pros this February. This isn’t to say new Mac portables were the only drivers of Snow Leopard growth. Over the course of its lifespan, Snow Leopard has seen plenty of previous Mac users upgrading, too.

Snow Leopard was released on August 28, 2009, for as little as $29 for a single-user license. Within a month, it accounted for 17 percent of the OS X market, despite being available only for Intel-based Macs. Undoubtedly, the low cost of Snow Leopard spurred adoption, but was arguably not the only reason. Leopard peaked at 71 percent of the OS X market in July 2009, before being superseded by Snow Leopard, which now accounts for 68 percent of the OS X over a similar time frame. It appears new versions of OS X do quite well whatever the price. The downside of that success, at least for users, is a likely return to a higher price. How high, and the method of distribution, may be intertwined.

Although the developer preview of Lion has been distributed through the App Store, expecting consumers to download nearly four gigabytes of data seems unreasonable, at least as the exclusive method. Other Apple software — like iWork, iLife, and Aperture — are all available at the App Store and on disc, and there’s also been an Amazon (s amzn) placeholder sighting for Lion on DVD. Two methods of distribution seem possible, but perhaps not three. The redesigned MacBook Air shipped with system software on a USB drive, but the future is clearly download only. Why introduce another retail distribution method now, especially considering no USB version of Snow Leopard was offered to owners of the previous generation of the MacBook Air?

More salient, at least to anyone with more than one Mac, would be the licensing terms for downloading OS X. From the Mac App Store Terms and Conditions:

(i) You may download and use an application from the Mac App Store (“Mac App Store Product”) for personal, non-commercial use on any Apple-branded products running Mac OS X (“Mac Computer”) that you own or control.

That would effectively render the family pack version of OS X, which has always been a great deal, obsolete. The downside would be consumers with only a single Mac would be paying substantially more (if you consider cost per install) through the Mac App Store, no matter what the cost of Lion is. We’ll find out what the next version of OS X costs next month at WWDC, but how much would Lion be worth to you?

8 Responses to “Snow Leopard Goes Out With a Market Share Roar”

  1. BTW at $29 Snow Leopard, 10.6, is a Single-User Upgrade from Leopard, MacOS X 10.5. Users who don’t own a license for 10.5 should purchase the Mac Box Set to be fully compliant with the EULA.

  2. download could be reasonable if you have a utility there to convert any 4 gb flash drive into a boot/install disk because if you system ever goes down you are going to need some way to recover it.

  3. After having played with Lion on and off for the past few weeks, I think I’ll be sticking with Snow Leopard for this upgrade cycle. It has an elegant minimalist feel that is very Jobsian, but there are too many things about it that I do not like right now.

    1. Lights on the doc have been removed, so it is hard to see which applications are loaded
    2. Sidebar has been reorganized and drives put at the bottom, which is the opposite end to where I like them.
    3. Scrolling has been inverted and scroll-bars have been “removed.” This works fine with a trackpad, but it feels really strange with a mouse.
    4. iCal is now diaper brown and has not gained any serious functionality.
    5. The right button to switch between finder window views has gone.
    6. The launcher – Works on the iPad, but not so much on the Desktop.

    These are just a few that come to mind, but for me they are potential deal breakers. I’ll probably change my mind and get a copy since I get it educational cheap anyway, but . . . . . .

    • 1. Apple doesn’t want you to worry about which applications are running. I think this will be less painful with time, but right now I’m one of those people who opens the iPhone multi-tasking bar just to close apps I’m done with. Manual resource conservation is a hard habit to break.
      2. They really should just let us drag & drop and decide for ourselves which order we want everything on the sidebar.
      3. Yep, inverted scrolling is gonna feel verrrry weird with my mouse. Hoping my brain can rewire itself in an hour or so.
      4. Hate it when apps try to look like their physical-world equivalents :(
      5. I didn’t even know about that!
      6. My guess is that the launcher (and full-screen mode) exist so that when you use “Back to my Mac” from the iPad, you can do a decent amount of stuff using your fingers. I think apps will default to full-screen mode if you’re connected via an iPad. Betting this is one of those unannounced features of Lion/iOS5.

    • Patrick

      1. Lights on the Dock is an option you can turn on or off.

      2. I believe you can reorder the sidebar (but am not sure).

      3. Inverted scrolling is on option you can turn on or off. Scroll bars can be: 1) always on; 2) always off; 3) off unless your cursor is in the scroll bar region.

      4. True, assuming “diaper brown” means “leather texture”.

      5. Not sure what this is, but if it’s gone and you rely on it then that’s a problem.

      6. What’s specifically is “not so much” about the launcher? If you don’t like it that’s OK, I’ve used it and don’t see any big problems. Once you get more than 50 or 100 apps, it will allow scrolling like on the iPad.

      In summary, a few of the issues you raised can be fixed. If the others are deal killers, that’s fine too.

    • Unfortunately, Net Applications doesn’t break down iOS by version, but rather by platform: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. However, upgrade adoption for iOS devices seems limited only by whether the hardware can support the latest version. Several developers of large applications report the latest version of iOS at 90 percent or more for those using their apps.