Mac Musings

Snow Leopard and OS X 10.7 Lion Backlash

Dan Knight - 2012.03.05 - Tip Jar

NetMarketShare released its February 2012 online market share data with some interesting data for the month:

  • On PCs, only OS X increased share.
  • On Macs, OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard increased its share and remains ahead of OS X 10.7 Lion.
  • iOS increased its share of the mobile market from under 54% to over 60%. Android is a distant second at just over 19%, displacing JavaME for second place.

It's nice to see Apple dominate in the mobile space, and it's great to see OS X was the only operating system to gain PC market share in February, but I find the growth of Snow Leopard the most interesting piece of data.

Online PC operating system market share trend, April 2011 to February 2012

Last July, OS X 10.7 Lion hit the market with 0.33% market share, and Snow Leopard peaked at 4.0%. But as Lion gained market share, it was only partially at the expense of Snow Leopard. For instance, in August, 10.7 added 0.70% while 10.6 lost only 0.54%. Snow Leopard hit a low of 2.95% in January and bounced back to 3.0% in February - something very unusual for a discontinued operating system (the same thing happened last October).

That said, Lion has continued its steady growth and now has 2.69% market share. At its current rate of growth, it should finally pass Snow Leopard this month.

What's most intriguing is that while all new Macs sold since last summer have shipped with OS X 10.7 Lion and the upgrade has been available for just $30, 75% of Snow Leopard users have not made the switch - and based on Snow Leopard increases in October and February, it appears that some who have switched to Lion have gone back to Snow Leopard.

This does not bode well for Apple, which depends on Mac users migrating to the latest version of the Mac OS that their hardware supports. Most of those Snow Leopard Macs are capable of running Lion, and the few that can't were all introduced in 2006.

As a Snow Leopard user who has not installed Lion and doesn't plan on it, I can venture two solid reasons for OS X 10.6 users to stick with Snow Leopard:

  1. Losing Rosetta and the ability to run PowerPC apps.
  2. Big changes in OS X Lion that depend on new software to work (for instance, Versions and AutoSave).

For the most part, it boils down to money. Why should I pay $30 to upgrade to Lion when it means my old copy of Photoshop or Microsoft Office or AppleWorks won't work? With Photoshop and Office, there are newer versions available, but for AppleWorks, there really is no substitute. Granted, Apple's iWork suite has the same functionality and can import AppleWorks files, but Pages and Numbers are completely different apps compared to AppleWorks.

And even if all of your apps run natively on Intel Macs, there's the matter of getting new versions that will take advantage of the new Lion features. Sometimes these updates are free, but sometimes you have to pay for a version update to get the Lion features, making OS X 10.7 much more than a $30 upgrade.

A lot of us have drawn a line in the sand. We have Macs that work perfectly well with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (likewise for even older Macs with OS X 10.5 Leopard and 10.4 Tiger), and moving ahead with Apple comes at too high a cost in terms of finances, familiarity, and productivity.

I have no disdain for Lion users, and some Low End Mac staffers use and love it. It's just that many of us are longtime Mac users with years or decades invested in buying and using software that just works for us. Moving to a version of OS X that breaks those apps just isn't an option.

In fact, we're seeing something of a Lion backlash among low-end Mac users, as they look for new, refurbished, and recently discontinued Macs that are still capable of booting Snow Leopard so they can remain productive without having to enter the strange new world of Lion.

It's great to see Mac OS X gaining market share, and it's wonderful to see so many users embracing Lion (and, later this year, sure to embrace OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion), but it's also good to know that our old Macs are going to remain productive with our older operating systems and apps for years to come. LEM


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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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