For low-end Mac users, you can pick up older Macs for a lot less than a new one, and if you are looking for something very old, you might even be lucky enough to snag a free Mac. But there is one problem I have come across. It was brought back to my attention after writing my recent article on Tiger being the best Mac OS, but it is something I have fallen victim to in the past.
Unless your cheap or free Mac comes with its original discs, you might be stuck for finding an operating system for it, or perhaps you want to run the highest version it can.
The Mac OS Can Cost More than an Old Mac
For instance, you pick up an iBook G3 that you want to use as a portable writing machine. These will run OS X 10.4 Tiger pretty well, but where do you get it? Or you grab a bargain Power Mac G5 tower – likely from someone who has moved to Intel – which will run OS X 10.5 Leopard very well, but where do you get it?*
Apple only sells the latest version of its operating system – with the exception of OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which they still sell to enable you to have the Mac App Store so you can then purchase OS X 10.7 Lion. Cunning!
For a short time after the release of a new version of Mac OS X, places like Amazon would continue to sell new copies of the previous OS, but this doesn’t last forever. Your only option after this is to then find a used copy on places like eBay or Amazon, but with everyone doing this, its makes older versions of OS X extremely expensive.
I have to point out that Microsoft is in a similar boat, but older versions of Windows do not seem to command such a high used resale price, probably due to the length of time Windows XP has been out. Windows 2000 is over 12 years old, and any hardware that doesn’t support Windows XP (which only requires a Pentium 300 MHz), really is old and will struggle with most of today’s pressures.
Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger was released in 2005 and superseded by Leopard in October 2007, yet a retail disc of Tiger will still fetch £60 – which will probably be double what you pay for an aged G3 or early G4.
Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard being the last version for PowerPC Macs fetches a ridiculous price of over £80. This can seriously increase the cost of your bargain Mac if you are not aware of it.
I read that if you had a PowerPC Mac capable of running Leopard but only had Tiger, Apple would send you a free copy of Leopard, if you bought an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4 – because these devices need iTunes 10, which requires Leopard.
Should Old Versions Be Free?
A big question that pops up in a Apple forums constantly is: Should Apple release older versions of Mac OS and OS X free to the public? either in a downloadable form or for a small shipping fee for physical media.
I think they should. What harm would it be for Apple to make System 7.6 available for free, so you could kick start that old Mac Classic II, LC III, or Mac IIfx? It would have no impact on Apple sales.
Publisher’s note: Apple used to do this, and when I worked for a local Macintosh dealer 20-some years ago, this was a strong Mac advantage. Our customers could come in with a blank floppy disk or two – or buy a box of disks from us – and we could clone the Macintosh system installation disks for free. Although Apple has made it difficult to get early versions of the Mac OS online, you can still download System 6 through 7.5 from Apple’s servers for free. dk
Would making early versions of OS X impact Apple sales? No. It would give those who were handed an old G3 iMac or a WallStreet PowerBook G3 the ability to run Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, play with it, and fall in love with the Mac OS X experience.
This could be a money spinner for Apple. How many Windows users could be turned by using an old Mac with an old OS? And then their next purchase might be a new shiny new Mac!
It would also mean less Macs are destined for landfill if people could find a use for them, which requires having a Mac OS.
One main reason Apple might not be keen on this is security. The latest version of Mac OS X is protected and updated, and the previous version is also offered security updates for a period of time. However, versions than that will not have the latest security fixes. While I don’t see this being a huge problem – after all, there aren’t going to be a massive influx of people flocking to Mac OS 8 – it could be an issue.
Apple should make every no-longer-updated version of Mac OS (right up to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard) free to everyone.