Is Snow Leopard staging a comeback?

Sections: Apple Software, Features, Lion, Mac OS X, Mac Software, Operating Systems, Opinions and Editorials, Snow Leopard

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Well, at least among Mac OS veterans, evidently. Dan Knight, Publisher/Editor of Low End Mac, which focuses partly (although not exclusively) on middle-aged to older Apple computers, reports that OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard has not only been holding its own, but actually gaining user share among visitors to the site.

Dan says he predicted early on that OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion would overtake version 10.7 Lion as the most popular version of OS X by mid-August. In LEM’s site logs, that first happened on August 10, then switched back and forth for a few days with Lion last holding top spot on August 15. As we close on month-end, Mountain Lion has stretched out a 10 point lead over Lion among LEM visitors.

Knight had also predicted that Snow Leopard would displace Lion in the #2 spot within a few months, and that happened for the first time on August 27, but Dan says the remarkable thing is that after dropping to a low of 25% of the Intel Mac base the week of August 5, version 10.6 has clawed its way back to 28% (it had been 31% before Mountain Lion shipped). “That’s right,” said Dan, “people are going back to Snow Leopard!”


For some context, OS X 10.5 Leopard on Intel continues to average 6.5% of the Intel Mac base in the LEM logs, with OS X 10.4 Tiger just under 2.0%…and Dan says that’s also been growing the past two weeks!

On a week-by-week basis, Mountain Lion passed Lion the week of August 12, Lion is collapsing by about 2% per week, and Snow Leopard is steady after dropping to 27%. The weekly chart:

Dan cautions that these metrics and trends are from a site with a focus on older Macs and may not reflect what’s going on in the rest of the world. However, Snow Leopard does seem to be demonstrating some staying power, having just passed the third anniversary of its release in August, 2009.

Knight recalls in his Low End Mac Round Table discussion preamble that Snow Leopard was an insult for leaving PowerPC users behind (it was the first Mac OS to support Intel only), but for Intel Mac users, Snow Leopard would become the last traditional version of OS X. It still worked like earlier versions, and it still ran software containing PowerPC binaries despite not supporting PowerPC Macs. That, of course came to an abrupt end with OS X 10.7 Lion, so for a lot of Mac users with older software, Snow Leopard will always be the last version of OS X to run those PPC apps.

However, he notes, there were improvements, as well. By eliminating legacy PowerPC code, Snow Leopard needed less drive space and ran some things faster than ever, as well as introducing some new technologies to the Mac.

Personally, my take is that Snow Leopard is destined to be the ultimate reference version of the former Mac OS for a category of middle-aged Intel Macs for a long time to come, just as OS X 10.4 Tiger has become for PowerPC Macs. In my estimation, these two systems are the best, most solid versions of the Mac OS—probably ever—since the “iOSification” of OS X, with which I’m not enchanted. I don’t dispute that it’s probably time I got around to installing Mountain Lion (after skipping Lion), but I’ll do it on a separate partition of my Mac’s HDD, and Snow Leopard will remain my primary production system for the foreseeable future,

I think I have a fair bit of company, and that helps explain Snow Leopard’s user share buoyancy, at least among a certain class of Mac fans.

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  • Rod

    10.8 requires around 3.5Gb just to run a browser with a few tabs open, thats why people should be running 10.6. An MBA with 4GB is a joke.
    Bloatware, just like the Microshaft of old

  • jorge

    16 macs stucked in SL, here….
    some G$s in 10.5.4 working as file servers, too…
    no plans to upgrade…
    new machines are all AMD Opterons 12, 24 CPUs, Win7, working grat in 64 bits…

  • Tim Balvanz

    The reason I am still running 10.6.8 is due the lack of support for PowerPC software. I still run older version of many standbys like Office and Photoshop, and I don’t have the funds to upgrade to the new Lion compatible version. So, I’ll continue to run Snow Leopard for the foreseeable future with my 2009 MacBook Pro.