Perhaps in some ways it already has. Computerworld’s Gregg Keizer suggests that while one in four Macs now runs OS X v10.8 Mountain Lion, indications are that OS X Snow Leopard, which originally shipped in August, 2009, may be becoming the Mac platform’s equivalent of Microsoft’s Windows XP. Originally released in 2001, Windows XP sees some 40% of Windows users stubbornly refusing to upgrade to subsequent releases of Windows Vista, Windows 7, and now Windows 8. Microsoft has announced they will pull the support plug on XP in 2014, but they’ve said that before, and I’ll believe it when I see it.
Keizer notes that the upgrade/adoption rate for OS X Mountain Lion—released on July 25 for the friendly price of $19.95—has not kept pace with the uptake trajectory of Apple’s last two operating system editions. OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard and OS X v10.7 Lion both grabbed slightly larger market shares after three full months of availability, albeit not by a whole lot. Snow Leopard had the quickest uptake of the three at 27% penetration after three months.
However, Mountain Lion’s gains have interestingly been more at the expense of Lion than Snow Leopard. Even though in addition to the affordable price, Apple has taken the unusual step of making direct upgrades from the second-last OS X version possible, enabling users to bypass 10.7 Lion altogether. Surprisingly few version 10.6 users have taken advantage, with Snow Leopard having lost just 6.6 share percentage points since Mountain Lion’s release, compared to more than double that—15.6 percentage points (or 33%)—for the more recent Lion.
Apple has backhandedly acknowledged continued robust usage of 10.6 by issuing a security a patch update for Snow Leopard in late September, a break with its usual practice of dropping support for earlier OS X editions once two newer versions had been released.
That creates another parallel with Windows XP, which Microsoft has (as noted, presumably with reluctance) continued to support 11 years after its release in acknowledgement of continued widespread usership.
Keizer thinks it’s unclear why so many Mac users are sticking with Snow Leopard, citing as one possibility the fact that Rosetta emulation support for running applications written for the PowerPC processors Apple used until early 2006 when it released Lion. While Snow Leopard won’t run on PowerPC-equipped Macs, it still has the Rosetta emulator, and can therefore run PowerPC applications, which is huge for some veteran Mac users with large accretions of older software that still does the job for them, and for which satisfactory OS X native substitutes are unavailable.
That was certainly a large element of my reluctance to upgrade past OS X 10.6, and indeed I was never persuaded to install Lion. Another major reason for stubborn Snow Leopard loyalty is that many longstanding Mac users are dismayed by and opposed to the increasing “iOSsification” of OS X, and prefer the way the traditional OS X user interface works for them.
Nevertheless, I did finally download and install Mountain Lion in September, but I’ve also kept Snow Leopard installed on a second hard drive partition, largely as insurance and for continued access to PowerPC applications.
I had initially anticipated that Snow Leopard would remain my main work OS, but was surprised to find that Mountain Lion provides enough of a performance boost, along with the convenience of up-to-date software compatibility, that I’ve made my peace, sort of, with the now apparently inevitable convergence of OS X with Apple’s mobile OS.
A third loyalty-inducing attribute of Snow Leopard is that it’s also a very stable OS, although I’ve experienced no serious stability problems or bugginess with Mountain Lion.
However, I could very easily remain a Snow Leopard holdout, at least for a year to two more before upgrading my system to hardware that probably won’t support 10.6. The two tipping points for me were the Mountain Lion upgrade’s minimal price and the low (-ish, I still detest having to upgrade over the Internet and not have a real, hard media installer disk) hassle upgrade procedure without having to upgrade through Lion.
I’m glad I did install Mountain Lion, and I encourage anyone straddling the fence to take the leap, especially if they can do so as I did without burning any bridges back to Snow Leopard if 10.8’s unfortunate aspects (for example, they ruined the Spaces feature by merging it with Expose to create the execrable Mission Control) prove too much to stomach. For me, improved performance and significantly cooler running on my going-on-four-year-old Core 2 Duo MacBook are enough to keep me from reverting, but only just.