Lion download too fat? There’s Apple store (WiFi) for that.

Mission Control OS X LionAt WWDC this year, Apple announced that OS X Lion, its next major operating system update, would be available only through digital distribution. But a download-only OS upgrade of 4 GB is going to be trying for some consumers, either because of the quality and speed of their internet connection, or because of bandwidth caps that limit how much you can download in a month.

Apple wants to alleviate some of those issues, by suggesting that users should bring their Macs in to their local Apple Store (via Computerworld), and use the free Wi-Fi connection provided by the store to download the update. That Apple, a company known for wanting to make thing easy for consumers is suggesting such a clunky solution, suggests that it’s well aware of the broadband problems facing a subset of the population and it can’t afford to ignore them.

Obviously, this solution really only works for users with portable Macs, since lugging a 27-inch iMac down to your local mall may be a tad inconvenient, but it still might be the best option for some Mac owners come July, when Lion is set to be officially released to the public.

It may even be worth the inconvenience to some. If you’re stuck in a remote area, your connection might be spotty at best, and probably doesn’t offer blazing speeds. The Lion download from the App Store is designed to be stopped and started as much as needed in order to get the job done, but OS buyers aren’t going to want to take a few days over the course of a week to get their hands on their purchase.

Even if you have a solid connection, limited bandwidth plans might affect your ability to get Lion. The system update download is 4 GB, which is actually fairly small, considering that it holds an entire operating system. But 4 GB represents a significant chunk of some throttled home internet plans. Rogers in Canada, for instance, offers an entry-level Ultra-Lite internet plan that only allows for 2 GB of monthly usage, so you would technically have to wait two months to complete the Lion download without incurring overage charges. Even the next step up only gets you 15 GB, so Lion represents a full quarter of your monthly allowance with that plan.

Volume customers like businesses and colleges will get an installer via single download that they can then use on multiple computers, but for consumers, the only upgrade path seems to be purchasing through the Mac App Store. That means you can buy it once and have it available to all your machines, but you may have to download it to each in order to get it to work. Apple could make the downloaded file transferrable via flash drive or local network connection machine-to-machine to make it easier for customers to upgrade multiple computers without using more bandwidth, but it’s not clear whether the company plans to do that yet.

Does the prospect of a mandatory 4 GB download affect your decision to upgrade to OS X Lion, or is this just a marginal problem affecting a few fringe customers?

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