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Snow Leopard: Should we upgrade?

With the impending release of Snow Leopard this Friday (August 28th), a lot of folks have been asking us if they can or should upgrade.  As usual, our answer is “it depends”.

Its New

As with all software, if its version number ends in a “0”, in this case 10.6.0, we recommend you wait.  This is not an “Apple-ism”, this is true of all software.  Computer environments are so complex these days that it’s simply not possible for the developers to test every environment in which it may be installed and used.  Therefore some folks will get unexpected or inconsistent behavior.  Additionally, until the software hits the streets, it’s a moving target.  Other developers now have to test their products to make sure they play nicely with Snow Leopard.  Based on previous releases like Tiger (10.4) and Leopard (10.5), it will probably take 60 to 90 days before the majority of the kinks have been worked out and the major software packages (MS Office, Adobe Creative Suite, Extensis Suitcase, and Quickbooks) are working well on Snow Leopard.

As an example, there was a major bug in Leopard Server from 10.5.0 through 10.5.3 where a small percentage of installations had constant failures in file services.  This meant that an entire company would lose access to the file server until it was restarted.  Moreover, this could happen 1 to 15 times per day.  This was finally fixed in 10.5.4, but those first few months were a constant battle for the folks affected (including two of our clients who had to purchase new servers right at the tansition – see “Thinking of Buying a New Mac?” later in this article).  Additonally, Adobe has already stated publicly that they have not tested CS3 on Snow Leopard and therefore it may or may not work.  Adobe will not be offering any updates to CS3 to address stability or compatibility with Snow Leopard so you won’t have any recourse either.

So if you don’t need to upgrade, then it’s best to wait.  Let someone else be the guinea pig.

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

The information about the new features in Snow Leopard is very enticing, but it’s what’s not said that we need time to figure out.  There are always other changes that are not mentioned.  Most of them tend to be cosmetic and not a big deal, but sometimes they can be a hinderance to a specific work flow.  It takes time for folks to find all of these subtle differences and either learn to live with them, or find a work around.  Again, why not wait and let someone else be on the bleeding edge?

It Only works on Intel Computers

This is the first release of the Mac operating system that is designed solely for, and requires, Intel computers(Mac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Intel iMac) and because of this it’s much smaller and reportedly faster.  That being said, many of our clients still have perfectly good G5 workstations and G5 Xserves in service.  With today’s economy, delaying their replacement until next year can really help tight budgets.  However, if there is a compelling reason to upgrade the Intel based computers on the network before the PowerPC based systems (PowerBooks, G5s) can be replaced, it’s typically not a big deal to support a mixed environment of two different Operating Systems.  However, every environment has it’s own specific needs so it would be wise to look before you leap.

How Much?

Leopard owners can upgrade to Snow Leopard for $29 per computer. This upgrade pricing is actually another first from Apple (at least since the release of OS X); all previous versions have been considered a “full” release as opposed to an “upgrade” and therefore had a price of around $129 for all users.  If you have an Intel computer, but are still running Tiger, you can either upgrade with the Box Set for $169 which includes Snow Leopard, iWork, and iLife, or you can purchase site licenses for about $119 per computer.  The price of Leopard Server has been cut in half; the unlimited edition is only $499 whereas it was $999 with previous generations.

We often get asked about the Family Pack, which sells for $49 and is licensed for up to 5 computers in the same “household.”  This product is a great deal for consumers, but is not intended for businesses.  You can read the nitty-gritty here (see the “About the Family Pack” paragraph), but in a nutshell, it’s illegal for companies to purchase and use this product.

You Just Bought a Mac?

If you purchased a Mac on or after June 8, 2009, you probably qualify for the Up-to-Date Program.  For $9.95 plus tax you can order a copy of Snow Leopard, saving you $20 over the cost of the upgrade or as much as $490 if you recently purchased a server.  You must submit the form within 90 days of the purchase, which means if you bought it in June you only have a few days or weeks to act.  The program runs until December 26th of this year.  All the details and forms can be found on Apple’s site.

Thinking of Buying a New Mac?

The few weeks surrounding the release of a new OS is typically the worst time to purchase a new computer.  We say that because you can’t be sure what will be in the box when you open it.   Within a few days or weeks, newly manufactured Macs will ship with Snow Leopard pre-installed, and based on previous experience, will not be backwards compatible with Leopard.  The problem here is the aforementioned compatibility, or lack thereof, with your existing programs and hardware.  What if you have invested a lot of money in some peripheral that isn’t Snow Leopard compatible?  Does your company have a system in place that you need every day to do your job and isn’t yet Snow Leopard compatible?  Sometimes you get lucky and will get a Mac that was manufactured a month or so prior to the release and it will have Leopard pre-installed, and a free upgrade to Snow Leopard added to the box (referred to as drop-ins), but there is really no way to know.  If you can wait a few weeks or even a couple of months, and confirm that everything you use is Snow Leopard compatible first, it could save you some major headaches.  If you can’t wait, then you should seriously consider running out to your local Apple Store or authorized reseller and buying a computer before Friday to ensure you get Leopard.  Then you can always get your upgrade to Snow Leopard via the aforementioned Up-to-Date program.

Wee Bleed for You

With all of this being said, we will be jumping into Snow Leopard in our testing environment over the next few weeks so we can experience all fun and excitement, allowing you to learn from our pain!  Aren’t we nice?

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