If you consider yourself a geek, you most likely feel that its necessary to have the most current version of the popular software, hardware or gaming system out there; as long as you can afford it. However, even for mindless geeks like us you probably reach a point where you cant seem to justify every single upgrade. This is how I felt when I recently upgraded my mac to OSX 10.6 and with Windows 7.
What constitutes an OS upgrade?
The simple answer is: Anything that the OS manufacturers consider that consumers are willing to pay for. But from a users point of view, how much of a change in user experience is enough for you to consider to pay for an upgrade? Lets look at the past upgrades of the two major OS manufacturers.
Changes from Windows XP to Windows Vista:
As most of us already know by now windows vista was a disaster of a release for Microsoft. Considering the fact that it took them almost 7 years and $6 billion dollars to develop, their final product was mired with serious stability and performance issues. At the same time Vista was a big release, and arguably, an improved release in terms of UI, stability and security (after service packs). But in order to experience the true power of vista for most people, you also needed to upgrade your computer hardware. Which is why vista remains at 23% market share and XP at 69%. In the subsequent years, Microsoft was able to fix most of Vistas stability and performance issues in the form of two major service packs. But because of the initial bad rep with a botched release it never got to be as popular as XP in terms of wide adoption.
Changes from OSX Tiger to OSX Leopard:
Apple belongs to a different culture when it comes to OS updates, traditionally their release cycles are much shorter and since they develop their hardware and their software, compatibility and performance issues are minimum. Like Vista Leopard was also a major release. According to Apple, Leopard had 300+ new features. Leopard was also the last version of OSX that will support PowerPC based apple computers. Despite having an overwhelming positive reception by the mac community the Leopard adoption was around ~30% within OSX market share, impressive considering the fact that Apple release cycle are shorter than Windows.
Both Vista and Leopard had one thing in common, is that they were both massive improvement from previous release, and depending on who you ask, they were both worth their money. IMO YMMV
Why the recent upgrades feels like a rip-off?
Unlike previous upgrades, recent OS upgrades in the form of Windows 7 by Microsoft and Snow Leopard by Apple were in the form of polishing an already stable OS.
Snow Leopard acknowledges that this upgrade was largely meant to improve performance and reduce memory footprint. From a general users point of view you wont notice much visual changes or improved performance. They justify this release with a price tag of only $30. Unless you are a power user and a developer who wont even notice any performance gain. Since its previous version was already a very solid OS in terms of performance, this release makes even less sense for general users.
With Windows 7, Microsoft have finally got things right and released an OS that should have been released 7 years ago under the name of Windows Vista. Dont get me wrong, Windows 7 is amazing and without doubt, Microsofts best OS yet. You will instantly notice the difference if you are coming from Vista. Its very impressive in terms of performance, UI improvement and stability. But if you take a moment, step back and think about it Windows 7 fixed everything they did wrong with Windows Vista. Its like, first they broke the OS with Windows Vista and then they fixed it with a new version and charged you for it. They actually admit this in their release note that the main goal of Windows 7 was to improve performance something that they got horribly wrong with Vista. I think the upgrade price for users coming from Vista could be lowered with one simple price, regardless of whichever version of Vista you are using.
I cant help but wonder that both of these major OS manufacturers are taking advantages of opportunities created by themselves in the form of improvements they left out or things they broke with previous releases.
What the recent OS upgrades tells us about future upgrades.
These recent OS upgrades also gives us a glimpse of how future releases might end up looking like considering the fact that for the first time in their history, both Microsoft and Apple, have reached a point where there is little room for performance improvements and major UI changes and their future releases might end up being small paid service packs with incremental improvements. Free service packs might end up being a thing of past.