Low End Macs and the Mac App Store

2011 – I have been very excited about the idea of a Mac App Store since it was first floated, and I’m very happy to see that Apple has finally started to make it every bit as easy for Mac users to find, buy, and install apps as iOS users.

Mac App Store

Map App Store in March 2016.

Apparently I’m not the only one. The Mac App Store (MAS) was launched with over 1,000 apps last Thursday along with the Mac OS X 10.6.6 update, and Apple announced on Friday that over 1 million apps had been downloaded.

MAS requires OS X 10.6.6, which only runs on Intel-based Macs. The fact that enough people updated to 10.6.6 and then used the App Store to download and install software to break 1 million downloads in less than 24 hours speaks well. For the most part, these are serious Mac users who chose to install 10.6.6 immediately, since I suspect that the vast majority of OS X users don’t have Software Update set to check for updates every day. (My Macs are set to check weekly, I’m sure some users select monthly, and there’s an option to turn off automatic checking.)

Given three more days of availability, I’d guess that 20-30% of OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard users have updated to 10.6.6, and a lot of them have given MAS a try. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Apple announce today that over 2 million apps have been downloaded – maybe even 3 million.

Easier for Mac Users

Until now, there has been no consistency in buying Mac software or keeping it up to date. Some developers had their own websites, some used a third party to manage software sales, and some only sold physical (CD or DVD) copies. Electronic downloads might be a disk image (.dmg) file, a compressed disk image, a zipped file archive, a stuffed file archive, or an installer program.

There was no consistency for installing Mac apps. You might have a disk image that you have to mount, and then you might run an installer from the disk image or drag the application to your Applications folder. You might have a compressed file that you need to uncompress, and once uncompressed you either run an installer or drag the program to your Applications folder.

This inconsistency could be confusing. Worse yet, it could be completely misunderstood, and some users never learned to drag software to the Applications folder. Instead, they would mount the disk image and run the program from it, an inefficient process, but for apps that come in a disk image file that uses drag-and-drop instead of running an installer, it happens.

The Mac App Store dispenses with all of these issues. The user doesn’t know or care what kind of file is used to get the app from Apple’s servers and install it. As with iTunes and the iOS App Store, that’s transparent to the user. This should mean a lot less disk image, installer, and compressed file archives on people’s hard drives, eliminating the whole messy process of downloading a file, running it, and installing your app.

The process should be nearly as easy as using Software Update, which is pretty transparent. It can automatically notify you of updates on a schedule you choose and install them automatically or when you choose.

MAS should also make it a lot easier for users to find software.

A Great Opportunity for Developers

That, of course, will be great for developers. Until now, you had to look for software. Want a disk utility or text editor or image editing program? Until now, you had to look for it, probably doing a Google search or visiting MacUpdate, Macworld, or another favorite Mac website.

For Snow Leopard users who have run the 10.6.6 update, finding software has suddenly become a lot simpler. Launch the App Store program, browse the software categories, and make your choice. And given time, I’m sure we’ll see meaningful user ratings to help you find the better apps and avoid the clinkers and stinkers.

For developers, MAS simplifies things immensely. Since Snow Leopard only runs on Intel-based Macs and is required to run the Mac App Store, they don’t have to include PowerPC support or Leopard support in the MAS version of their apps, which should result in smaller, faster loading files. Until OS X 10.7 Lion ships, it will be a single platform software store.

This also means developers don’t have to run their own servers, choose a payment method, etc. Apple serves the files and handles payments. And the consistency of MAS should make it the preferred method for new Mac users – and increasingly for long timer users as well.

MAS lets developers concentrate on developing, marketing, and supporting their apps, leaving the process of selling them and handling software updates in Apple’s hands.

Left Behind

The only drawback to the Mac App Store is one I have already eluded to: It requires Mac OS X 10.6.6. If you’re using an old G3, G4, or G5 Mac, you’re left behind, since PowerPC hardware cannot run Snow Leopard. And even if you’re running an Intel-based Mac, if you’re not running Snow Leopard, you are also left behind.

For PowerPC users, this is insurmountable. For Intel Mac users, you can buy a single user copy of Snow Leopard for under $30 or a five-user family pack for under $50.

It’s a harsh reality that a good number of computer users never upgrade to a new version of their operating system – some don’t even do software updates to the version they have installed. This means that there are still a few people running Mac OS X 10.3 Panther and even 10.2 Jaguar. A very small group still uses the Classic Mac OS (System 6 through Mac OS 9.2.2) – probably not enough to keep a software developer profitable, but they are out there.

Based on our site stats, in the past month 36.5% of Mac users visiting Low End Mac are not using Snow Leopard, and 18.1% of them are using Intel-based Macs (15.0% OS X 10.5, 3.1% 10.4), so they could use it if they wanted to. This means that 54.5% of our readership could run 10.6.6 and use the Mac App Store.

But that leaves about 18% of our readers using PowerPC hardware, which can never run Snow Leopard – 8.4% using 10.4 Tiger, 6.5% with 10.5 Leopard, and 3.1% a still older version.

Hey, it could be worse. In the PC world, 47.1% of LEM visitors are still using Windows XP, 16.7% Vista, and about 1% other pre-7 versions. A Windows App Store tied to Windows 7 might only reach one-third of Windows users. Apple does a much better job getting people to adopt a new OS than Microsoft.

This Is to Apple’s Advantage

The fact that two-thirds of Mac users seem to be running Snow Leopard shows a solid installed base for launching the Mac App Store, and that percentage will only increase with time.

Apple is in the business of selling hardware – Macs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. It is to Apple’s benefit to have people buying new hardware. Apple’s decision to ditch support for PowerPC Macs with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard pushes new Mac sales, because there will always be programs that require the latest version of OS X. If you want to run them, you need to leave your PowerPC Macs behind.

For some, the Mac App Store may be a compelling reason to move the a new Mac or upgrade their existing Intel-based Mac from OS X 10.4 or 10.5. Either way, Apple makes money, whether from selling you a copy of Snow Leopard, a new Mac, or even a previously owned Mac – as long as you buy something from the iTunes Store or the Mac App Store.

Two Minds at Apple

There are two mindsets at work here. On the one hand, Apple wants people to run the latest version of the Mac OS so it can make money selling the OS, make money selling software for the OS, and make money selling new Macs so people can run the new OS.

On the other hand, Apple needs a large enough installed base to support this forward progress, so it supports older hardware (to a certain point) on every new version of the Mac OS. It also leaves some behind, whether we’re looking at the original Mac being unable to run System 6, G3 Macs being incapable of using 10.5 Leopard, or G4 and G5 Macs being incompatible with 10.6 Snow Leopard.

Apple weighs the various factors, looks at the installed base, sees how much power new features demand, and draws a line in the sand. No System 7 for some Macs, no version of OS X for others.

As is true of Windows and Linux, at some point the old hardware gets left behind,* whether because it doesn’t support enough RAM, has too slow a CPU, can’t use a large enough hard drive, etc.

Microsoft tries to find the tipping point between PCs too slow to perform decently with the latest version of Windows and those that should satisfy Windows users. Apple does the same thing with its operating systems. It’s a sound business model that will satisfy most – and frustrate a few.

Developers Leaving Us Behind

Apple has a good business model, and even those of us who still use “obsolete” Macs find them more productive than when we acquired them. The sad reality that we must deal with is that at some point the Mac OS and some of our beloved apps are going to leave us behind.

I can’t even tell you how long that’s been going on. There are rumors that Apple pressured Microsoft to make certain versions of its Office suite incompatible with older versions of the Mac OS as an incentive for users to move to new hardware and the newer OS without being able to say it was Apple’s fault. By the OS X 10.2 era, we were starting to see older apps, such as Office and ones from Adobe, become OS X only, and with the Mac App Store, there’s only one supported platform: Intel Macs running OS X 10.6.6.

The sad thing for low-end users is that some developers have already decided to leave the majority of the market behind: All PowerPC Mac users, all OS X 10.4 and 10.5 users, and those OS X 10.6 users who don’t update their operating system. Sure, it won’t be long until those who can run MAS become a majority, but there’s a huge audience using Tiger and Leopard on PowerPC and Intel hardware that won’t have the option of buying their wares when a developer makes the jump to MAS as the only purchase option.

I think that’s premature. Even developers who have apps that requires Snow Leopard are losing the ability to sell their apps to Snow Leopard users who don’t run Software Update and thus remain in the range of OS X 10.6 to 10.6.5.

Their loss, but they should be aware that while MAS will be huge in the future, today there are a lot of Mac users who can’t use it.

Left Behind: The Experience

If you’ve been a regular visitor to Low End Mac, you know that we tend to use our Macs for years and years before replacing them. A few of our writers have Intel-based Macs, a few have an iPhone or iPod touch or iPad, but most of us still use vintage Macs (currently defined as any Mac that can’t run OS X 10.6).

Platinum Mac PlusThe first Mac I used was a Mac Plus, way back in 1986. The first Mac I owned was also a Mac Plus, acquired in early 1991. It had an 8 MHz 68000 CPU, 1 MB of memory, and a single built-in 800K floppy drive. I borrowed a second floppy from a fellow employee of ComputerLand of Grand Rapids, purchased additional memory as I could afford it, eventually obtained a 40 MB external hard drive, and replaced the CPU with a 16 MHz 68000 Brainstorm upgrade. It ran System 7 decently – a lot better than any 8 MHz Mac could – but as I entered grad school, the slow speed, small display, and lack of grayscale became increasingly frustrating. And as Apple’s system software moved from 7.0 to 7.1 to 7.5.5, it used up more of my precious memory, drive space, and CPU cycles. I had outgrown it.

Quadra 610In mid-1993, I sold the Mac Plus and bought a Centris 610, which had a 20 MHz 68LC040 processor, 4 MB of memory, a built-in 80 MB hard drive, color graphics support, and no ethernet (who would need that in a home computer?). It ran nicely, and over time I upgraded the video memory, system memory, and hard drive. This was the Mac I used, along with a 14.4 modem, when I launched Low End Mac in 1997. It was an excellent System 7.5 machine and a very good Mac OS 8.1 model as well. But as the Internet grew up, browsing became excruciatingly slow.

Umax SuperMac J700By 1998, that Centris was looking old. I’d upgraded as much as possible, and at work we were using PCI Power Macs, such as the Power Mac 7500. In the era of 100-200 MHz Power Macs, my 20 MHz Centris just couldn’t keep up, and when Umax lost its license to sell clones, I bought a SuperMac J700 at close-out pricing. Over time, it also received memory, hard drive, video, and CPU upgrades. I could have upgraded it even further, but it did the job. The only thing it lacked was portability, and it remained my primary Mac from mid-1998 through early 2001, when the first PowerBook G4 arrived.

Titanium PowerBook G4That was what I had been waiting for in a notebook – a screen wider than the 1024 x 768 offered by Lombard and Pismo. I migrated from a 350 MHz G3-upgraded SuperMac to a 400 MHz G4 PowerBook, and that was my primary computer for years. I used Mac OS 9.x as long as possible, postponing the inevitable migration to OS X until version 10.2 was available and not becoming a full-time OS X user until the 10.3 era. With more system memory and a faster, higher capacity hard drive, the TiBook served as my main machine until 2003 and remained in part-time use until mid 2006, when it didn’t survive a drop.

eMacIn mid-2003, I picked up a factory refurbished 700 MHz eMac as my desktop computer, and when refurbished 1.25 GHz eMacs became available in late 2004, I bought one of those as well. I bought a second 1.25 GHz eMac a bit later and sold the 700 MHz model. The eMac has a nice 1280 x 960 17″ display, quite a bit more processing power and more modern graphics than the TiBook, and with a 7200 rpm hard drive, disk operations were also much faster than on the TiBook’s upgraded 5400 rpm hard drive. The TiBook remained my field computer, but the eMacs were far more powerful.

The 1.25 GHz eMac was the first eMac with built-in USB 2.0 – and the first to support 802.11g WiFi, which is nearly 5x as fast as the older 802.11b supported by earlier models. I probably would have been content to keep using them, except that a friend at church offered my his dual 1.0 GHz Mirror Drive Door (MDD) Power Mac G4 at a very attractive price.

Although the eMac had superior graphics (Radeon 9200 vs. 9000) and built-in USB 2.0, I quickly discovered how much more smoothly a dual-processor Mac runs, even if the CPU speed is a bit slower. The MDD was also easy to upgrade with two 16x SuperDrives, two or three internal hard drives, and eventually the maximum 2.0 GB of RAM is supports. Add a USB 2.0 card, and that’s one of the Macs I use today.

Between reader donations and a few strategic purchases, I obtained a 533 MHz Digital Audio Power Mac G4 and a dual 1.8 GHz CPU upgrade. Although I never got that CPU to work reliably beyond 1.6 GHz, that’s plenty of power, and with 1.25 GB of system memory, the same Radeon 9000 video card as the MDD, and a couple 7200 rpm hard drives, it’s my other production machine.

Why two production Macs? Because my favorite RSS reader, NetNewsWire, stopped supporting OS X 10.4 Tiger, and because Apple decided not to support Classic Mode, which lets you run Mac OS 9.2.2 inside OS X, with OS X 10.5 Leopard. I need Classic to run Claris Home Page, and I need Leopard to run NetNewsWire, so I had no real choice but to run two Macs side-by-side (see 2 Macs, 2 Operating Systems, 1 Mouse, 1 Keyboard for details on how I handled that).

Over the years I’ve upgraded many times, sometimes when I needed to and sometimes when I wanted to. Going from the Mac Plus to the Centris was a need – that tiny 9″ 512 x 342 black and white display simply wasn’t cutting it for writing. Going from the Centris to the SuperMac was a quantum leap, and browsing with the 20 MHz Centris had become a serious bottleneck.

I have to admit that the PowerBook was as much about technolust as about a need to have a field machine. I loved that ‘Book and wish I had a decent replacement, even if just to have something I could use in the living room to look up movies, actors, etc.

The eMacs were not a necessity, but they were a huge jump in power. The same can be said for the Power Macs.

Switching to OS X was a slow, painful process, and in most regards OS X 10.4 Tiger is all I need. Except that it didn’t support NetNewsWire, and later on it wouldn’t support the more modern browsers available for OS X 10.5 Leopard. I can run Leopard on all of my Power Macs and the remaining 1.25 GHz eMac.

Looking Ahead

I am feeling increasingly left behind when the latest versions of iLife and Google’s Chrome browser require Intel-based Macs. I’d like to be able to visit the Mac App Store and run the latest version of a lot of apps, but I can’t do that with my G4 Macs. I’m going to need to go Intel sometime this year if only so I can know what the majority of Mac users are experiencing.

It will be a low-end Intel Mac, definitely a model not based on the original Core Duo CPU. It may be a 20″ iMac or a 2.0 GHz Mac mini. It probably won’t be a MacBook of any sort, and even used Mac Pros are way out of my ballpark. But I will in all likelihood migrate to Intel and Snow Leopard this year.

That said, I’ll keep using my MDD Power Mac with Tiger and Classic Mode, moving my 22″ Cinema Display to the MDD from the slightly faster Digital Audio with its lower amount of system memory. The Digital Audio might become the new home network server, replacing a dual 500 MHz Mystic Power Mac G4 that just sits there working away day after day. (Someday it would be nice to replace that with a tiny Mac mini, but as long as finances remain tight, I’ll keep using these vintage Macs.)

And as long as PowerPC Macs remain in use, I hope that the majority of software vendors won’t abandon us by using the Mac App Store exclusively. We’re still a significant market, even if it is getting smaller by the year.

* I’ve run up against this one over the past week in my attempts to find some way to install Ubuntu 10.10 on my 1998 2.66 GHz WallStreet PowerBook. It runs Mac OS 9.2.2 well enough, but OS X 10.2, the last supported version, is incredibly outdated. It should have enough processing power, memory, and hard drive space to run Ubuntu 10.10 decently, but the architecture won’t let me run the installer. I have a newer, faster 366 MHz iBook SE from 2000 that should work, but I prefer WallStreet’s large 1024 x 768 display to the old iBook’s 800 x 600.

Keywords: #macappstore

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