Is OS X Snow Leopard Apple’s Windows XP? Well, not exactly

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

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One big difference between Mac and Windows users, especially over the past dozen years, has been the proportion of Mac-users willing to (and even enthusiastically) stay upgraded to the latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system. This was true even back in the days when full version upgrades cost $129.95 as opposed to $19.95 for the current cutting edge OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.

By contrast nearly 40% (39.51% in January, according to Web analytics firm NetMarketShare) of computer users overall are still running Windows XP, a version first released by Microsoft way back in 2001, while some three months after its release, only 2.26% have upgraded to the latest Windows 8. Despite Windows’ still overwhelmingly dominant 91% plus share of that market, the latest version of OS X (10.8 Mountain Lion) still has a greater proportion of users overall (2.44%) than Windows 8 has attracted so far.

Mac OS X Snow Leopard

However, Apple’s two-versions-back OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (originally released in June, 2009, making it slightly older than Windows 7) still has slightly more users than the later OS X 10.7 Lion which came out in 2011. Again according to NetMarketShare data, in January, Snow Leopard remained the OS X version installed on 28.2% of Macs, narrowly beating-out the newer OS X 10.7 Lion at 27.7% by half a point.

So, is OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard Apple’s Windows XP? In some respects, perhaps. One reason why so many Windows XP users have eschewed upgrading is that they like its user environment better (or at least find it more comfortably familiar) than that of the subsequent major Windows releases: Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. Similarly, a lot of Mac OS veterans bridle at the “iOSsification” of OS X in versions 10.7 and 10.8—the import of user interface conventions from Apple’s mobile device operating system.

However, it’s not entirely a matter of taste and familiarity. There’s also an objective, functional reason why so many Mac users find it difficult to move on from Snow Leopard, that being Apple’s arbitrary decision to remove the 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, so it can run PowerPC applications. This is huge for some Mac users who have large accretions of older software that still does the job for them, and for which satisfactory OS X native substitutes are unavailable.

Apple has even sort of backhandedly (and commendably) acknowledged this reality. In the normal scheme of things, Apple would’ve been expected to terminate security upgrade releases for Snow Leopard upon the release of a second subsequent version: Mountain Lion. However, Apple has continued supporting Snow Leopard with security and other updates to date, and even resumed offering Snow Leopard installer disks at the Apple Store after an absence of more than a year, priced ten dollars lower than 10.6 install disks originally sold for.

However, that can’t go on indefinitely, and I keep expecting the most recent round of updates to be the last. So far, however, so good.

I never did upgrade to OS X 10.7 Lion and only made the leap to Mountain Lion last September, figuring I had better resume the upgrade cycle while the resuming was still good from Snow Leopard. However, I surprised myself by pretty much sticking with the new system install as my work environment despite hedging by keeping my Snow Leopard installation intact on another hard drive partition.

I don’t like Mountain Lion’s vestigial scroll bars and lack of scroll arrows, and am not really interested in gesture navigation and control in the desktop environment where we can still use a mouse. However, I’ve warmed somewhat to Mission Control, which I hated at first, and Mountain Lion is both speedier and runs cooler on my MacBook than Snow Leopard does. The biggest challenge has been finding reasonably usable replacements for several tools in my core software suite that only exist in PowerPC Carbon versions. I’ve found workarounds, but they’re not fully satisfactory substitutes.

Recently, I booted back into Snow Leopard for a few days due to a lengthy broadband service outage that left me reliant on dial-up (Mountain Lion doesn’t support my Apple USB phone modem). It was such a pleasure being back in the old Mac OS GUI and being able to use those Carbon apps I stayed there for a week or so after my high speed Internet was restored, also downloading a raft of Apple OS X 10.6 security and application updates.

Still and all, I wasn’t unhappy to finally boot back into Mountain Lion. I’ve made my peace with the unwelcome UI aspects, and am trying to be philosophical about the loss of Rosetta, although with many other Mac OS greybeards, I hope Snow Leopard will remain a viable platform for a good, long time yet for when I still need it.

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