Recently, IDG's Gregg Keizer reported on the rapid takeup of the free operating system updates from Apple (OS X 10.9 Mavericks) and Microsoft (Windows 8.1).
At the time of writing, GoSquared (a Web analytics firm competing with the source of Keizer’s figures Net Applications) says Mavericks accounts for 38.5 per cent of total OS X traffic. Given that Mavericks is a free upgrade, why hasn’t it taken a bigger share already?
It is important to realise that GoSquared, Net Applications, StatCounter and the like collect statistics on visits to the websites they monitor, which only serves as a proxy for the installed base. While their figures aren’t exact, they do seem to be in closer agreement than they were a couple of years ago. So if anyone wants to talk in terms of two out of five Macs running Mavericks, that’s close enough for me.
While I don’t have any statistics allowing me to suggest the relative importance of the following reasons for staying with older versions of OS X, they’re based on issues raised by my fellow members of two Apple user groups (with a combined membership of around 1000), not ideas I’ve plucked from the air.
The first consideration is hardware compatibility. Depending on the family, models introduced somewhere between mid-2007 and early 2009 can run Mavericks. So iMac models from mid-2007 onwards work with the latest OS, but a Mac mini needs to be early-2009 or later to run Mavericks. The number of incompatible Macs still in use might surprise you - not everyone upgrades their hardware every two or three years.
Then there’s software compatibility. RoaringApps is a useful source of compatibility information, but there are two particular aspects to be considered. Some people rely on applications that aren’t yet compatible with Mavericks, but in most cases it’s just a matter of time until the developers catch up. Checking for application compatibility isn’t sufficient: plug-ins or other add-ons used with those applications are additional potential sources of incompatibility.
There have been some oddities in the area of updates. For example, Adobe said After Effects CC 12.0.0 was incompatible with Mavericks, but instead of offering 12.0.1 automatically as it usually does with Creative Cloud updates, it required users to manually download the patched version. Creative Cloud now seems to be completely 10.9 compatible.
Software that never made the PowerPC to Intel transition is a special case. Since Apple dropped Rosetta - a compatibility layer allowing PowerPC programs to run on Intel processors - from Lion, those users are stuck on Snow Leopard unless they acquire a copy of Snow Leopard Server and run it in a virtual machine (Oracle VirtualBox, Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion) under a more modern version of OS X. Why Snow Leopard Server? Apple’s licence terms appear to prohibit the use of the regular ‘desktop’ version under virtualisation.
Maybe I’m pessimistic, but my feeling is that this is a risky strategy. On one hand you’re relying on an operating system that is no longer being patched by Apple and almost certainly contains exploitable vulnerabilities - though you could say that about Lion and Mountain Lion too, as it seems that the price we pay for Apple releasing Mavericks at no charge is that it is the de facto final security update for 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8.
It doesn’t make sense to me to keep emotionally or financially valuable data in an application that’s no longer supported by its developer. Painful though it may be, it’s time to migrate to something current.
The third broad reason for shunning Mavericks is dissatisfaction with one or more of the standard applications. My specific concern is with Mail, as I’ve heard too many stories from people struggling with the interaction of Mavericks’ version of Mail and Gmail. Apple did release a patch for Mail last November and followed up with additional fixes as part of December’s release of OS X 10.9.1, but reports of problems continue and it seems there will be further fixes in 10.9.2, which is expected in the near future as four beta releases have already been made available to developers.
The problems aren’t limited to Gmail: Apple recently admitted, “For some email providers, new email messages in Mail may only appear to arrive when Mail is first opened. No new email arrives until Mail is quit and reopened” and suggested using the Take All Accounts Offline and Get All New Mail commands in sequence as a workaround, but that’s far from ideal.
In the past I’ve been one of those people who are quite gung ho when it comes to OS X updates and upgrades. At one stage I was one of the guinea pigs that installed new versions on the day of release, but after getting caught by a graphics driver issue that rendered my Mac temporarily unusable, I resolved to wait a few days after each subsequent release to give other people a chance to find any show-stopping issues that may be lurking. I’ve been even more cautious with the last couple of major upgrades.
Mavericks has been out for over three months and I’m still waiting thanks to the Mail issues, even though I’m keen to upgrade due to the security cloud hanging over older versions and some otherwise positive reports about Mavericks from users of older iMacs like mine (eg, ), but for now I’m not surprised to find myself in the pre-Mavericks majority.