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Why My Current Mac is Probably My Last

The Mac I’m using today — without question the best computer I’ve ever owned — is almost certainly my last Mac.

This machine is a Macbook Air, a 13-inch model that came out last year. It is a stunningly fine combination of size, style and power. And Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” is a terrific operating system. I’ve customized it for my needs, and have truly enjoyed using it.

Because so much of my work depends on having a reliable and up-to-date computer, I buy a new one each year, using the older one as a backup in case of trouble with the newer machine. In recent years, that has meant owning two roughly equivalent Macs.

The latest Macbook Air went on sale this week. As is always the case with technology, it’s even more powerful than the one I have. I crave it. I won’t buy it.

Here’s the key issue: Not only does the new model come with OS X Lion installed, it will not run Snow Leopard at all. 

Lion is far too new for me to trust as my primary OS. And it is a radical departure — so radical in key ways that I can’t imagine _ever_ trusting it.

The hardware issue is entirely Apple’s choice. On these new Macbook Airs, using Parallels or VMWare Fusion, I could install any version of Windows or Linux on the new Air, and they’d run, provided there was support for the hardware. The only gotcha, for the moment, would be the Thunderbolt port. I assume Windows and popular Linux distributions, even older versions, will add support (if they haven’t already). But Apple’s policy is to make it impossible to run earlier Mac OS versions on its new machines, period. If there turns out to be a way to install Snow Lion in a partition, that might help, but I see no sign of that in the research I’ve done.

This wouldn’t be a big issue if I liked Lion more. Some of the changes look terrific, based on reviews. Others are more questionable, even though they’re designed to create a more modern structure — in itself a worthy objective but not when forced on users who have become accustomed to perfectly workable earlier methods.

Still other changes, however, are plainly designed to push Mac users into a more iPad/iPhone-like ecosystem, where Apple gives you permission to use the computers you buy in only the ways Apple considers appropriate. The writing has been on Apple’s wall for some time. It’s aiming for absolute authority over the ecosystem in which all its devices operate. Given the well-chronicled consequences of the company’s control-freakery in the iOS ecosystem, which is being merged with the Mac, that’s unacceptable — to me, at any rate, even if it’s just fine with everyone else.

For the past year, I’d been slowly working to move my desktop/laptop computing over to Linux in any case. It’s slow going for a lot of reasons, not least of which is my inability to replace several must-have tools, notably sparse disk image bundles and several superb applications I use for my blogging and other media creation.

In most ways, Ubuntu runs nicely on the new ThinkPad 220, a computer that is probably the best in its class. Yet I often feel about the experience the way I used to feel about the Windows-Mac comparison that’s held true for so many years: It tends to get in your way, while the Mac tends to get out of your way.

By rejecting its past so thoroughly — a proud history of creating devices that we users could modify for our own purposes with no one’s permission but our own — Apple is forcing me to move on.

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33 thoughts on “Why My Current Mac is Probably My Last

  1. Bob Jones says:

    This isn’t anything new, Apple has always maintained a minimum version of the OS that you can install on a given machine.

    You can’t be guaranteed that a previous version of the operating system will have the drivers or kernel extensions to support hardware in a newer machine. That would give you a very un-Apple experience so they prevent you from doing this.

  2. It sounds like you’ve been planning a move to Linux for some time, even though you admit it both gets in your way and that you can’t find replacements for “must-have” tools & applications.

    You’re not specific in what you can’t replace, yet you’re even less specific in why you don’t want to use OS X Lion. “Still other changes, however, are plainly designed to push Mac users into a more iPad/iPhone-like ecosystem, where Apple gives you permission to use the computers you buy in only the ways Apple considers appropriate.” What changes?

    What non-specific changes to an OS you seem to not have used, as you appear to base your opinions on reviews, would make you so reticent to use it, presumably with all the “must-have” tools & applications you say Linux can’t provide you?

    As for the new MacBook Airs not supporting Snow Leopard, that’s nothing new. That’s pretty much standard practice for Apple.

    I’ve been using Lion for a few months now and I can’t think of a single thing that might make a user who is comfortable using Snow Leopard want to move to Linux or Windows. Launchpad is the only thing I can think of that might seem too “iPad-like” – but if that’s one of the sticking points, don’t use it.

    If you want to make the switch to Linux on a PC, knock yourself out, and I sincerely hope you find replacements for all those “must-have” tools & applications. But this reads much more like a choice you made a year ago and are reinforcing with some non-specific concerns about Lion.

  3. mark says:

    “Lion is far too new for me to trust as my primary OS. And it is a radical departure — so radical in key ways that I can’t imagine _ever_ trusting it.”

    ..so how did you get over the transition from OS9 to OSX. that was even more radical

    “If there turns out to be a way to install Snow Lion in a partition, that might help, but I see no sign of that in the research I’ve done.”

    What is Snow Lion.. are you talking about installing SL in a VIRTUAL MACHINE or a separate disk partition? you didn’t do much research did you? http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1310 describes how to pick a startup disk. I have 10.6.8 installed on one partion, lion on the other. I hold down the option key when rebooting to pick the startup volume, or you can use the startup disk in system preferences.

    Intel macs run WINDOWS.. why wouldn’t you be able to run 2 versions of Mac OS?

    if you’re talking about a virtual machine – the changes in the EULA for Lion allow you to run 2 instances in VMs

    read this: http://arstechnica.com/apple/reviews/2011/07/mac-os-x-10-7.ars
    then go get your new MBA and keep your old one around just in case – you’ll be back in a year anyway.

    if you’re worried about Apples closed garden.. you know you can run Linux on Macs too, right?

  4. A few points:

    1) It would be a mistake to dismiss Lion without trying it, just as it is a mistake to deride products such as Windows 7 without first-hand experience. For $29, you can upgrade your current Air and see just how awesome the Lion world is.

    2) Sure, Lion includes some features designed for novice users. But if you know your way around a terminal, you’ve got plenty of customization options.

    3) The general reason Apple prevents hardware from running older OSes is that the older OSes may not necessarily have the proper drivers and kernel extensions to support newer hardware. In fact, Apple’s been known to ship new computers with custom builds of OS X specifically to support new hardware.

  5. Walt French says:

    “And it is a radical departure — so radical in key ways that I can’t imagine _ever_ trusting it.”

    In all those words I couldn’t find a single example spelled out “THIS is the straw that broke the camel’s back.” and I’m having a hard time imagining. Dropping support for apps not upgraded since Apple went Intel? The funny scrolling (which is a preference item)? The app store, which was available in 10.6 and not required still?

    I’m still in the hiccup phase for Lion and will attest that it’s NOT perfect; it sounds too early for your needs. But you haven’t given us any reason to understand “never” being based on actual new info out now.

  6. Hatts says:

    Hi Dan,

    Based on reviews of your website, I’ve determined it is biased and full of hyperbole. This is probably my last time reading it.

    Hatts

  7. Dan says:

    How can you hate something you’ve never used? And what’s with the paranoia about the Mac App Store, ferchrissakes? Who says you have to use that to get applications? Rumor has it, you can download almost anything you want to use from the developer’s website. If you had any basis for the arguments used this article, then I could at least entertain what you’re saying, but you’re literally freaking out over an alternate reality that hasn’t happened.

  8. yet another steve says:

    Wow a bunch of nonsense. If you want to move to Linux move to Linux.

    But under the hood of Lion is still Unix. Do anything you want with it. Saying that you can’t (a la iOS is disinformation.) What Apple is moving towards is protecting users from compromising their Macs by accident. You can write your own apps and they can do anything. You can login as root and do anything. In iOS parlance, it is pre-jailbroken… you can download apps from anywhere and install them and let them have total control of your system.

    It’s what OS X has always been… safer, user friendlier layers on top of Unix.

    Your last sentence is utterly utterly false. And you should be ashamed.

  9. Found your blog through Wil Shipley. Anyway, this is like buying a mac because Windows Vista sucked. So? You can still use XP. You can still use your macbook air, for another 2-3 years at least. Nobody’s stopping you. Then you can upgrade to Lion when Cougar is out. I will continue not to be affected.

  10. Chuck says:

    Lion is a solid improvement over Snow Leopard. Anything you think you want not to be in your way is easily ignored or configured to be like what you are used to and thought were just right. There is no iOS integration. the software, should oyu choose to use it, increases ease of use via Apple services, throught the Apple device ecosystem- and beyond if you poke around a little.

  11. Alan D. says:

    I’m surprised that you make such a sweeping statement.

    a) Lion won’t be “new” forever. Give it 6 months. Or skip a generation. Do you really think the 13″ Air (as lovely as it is) will be your last?

    b) You can still run Windows or Linux ‘native’ on the amazing hardware, and go back to try out Lion as it’s updated.

    c) It is possible to get a Snow Leopard VM in VMWare Fusion. Either spring for Snow Leopard Server – which you can legally run in a VM – or google around, there’s a script that can be run against Fusion that will enable it.

  12. Fred says:

    Dan, Dan, Dan…
    Are you a monkey?

    I quote from your ‘article’: “so radical in key ways that I can’t imagine _ever_ trusting it”

    Mr. Dan, I understand you have to keep filling this toilet known as the internet with crap each day but, really, this is the best you can do? You are being contrarian about something you have not even worked with yet. You are being contrarian in the hopes that more people will react to your writing versus you actually offering useful content to your readers. It is comical at best and very immature at worst for you to pout and say “Apple is forcing me to move on”. Move on to what? Every other operating system out there is flawed in major ways. Leave the Apple product line-up. Do you think I or Apple care about your ranting like a spoiled teenager? Please, reflect and do not react. You have contributed nothing, zero, zip to my day. It looks like “you are forcing me to move on”. Sad, really.

  13. Bill says:

    When you won’t even bother to give Lion a try it appears like you’ve become a slave to the anti-Apple pundits. You’ve certainly jumped to a lot of unsupported conclusions. Regardless, good luck and good riddance.

  14. adda says:

    Not sure if I’m following you here. It sounds like you’re abandoning the platform based on what you think Apple might do at some point? To each their own, I guess, but that seems a bit precipitous.

    Lion isn’t forcing anything on me, at any rate. Not overly thrilled with the monochrome icons or the new iCal UI, but other than that I can ignore Launchpad, I can toggle scrolling behavior, I can install apps from any source I want, and just in general have Lion behave pretty much like Snow Leopard. Not really seeing how any of this is “pushing (me) into a more iPad/iPhone like ecosystem”, or how Lion abandons any “proud history of creating devices that we users could modify for our own purposes with no one’s permission but our own.” Am I missing something?

  15. I can understand not jumping onto a .0 a release, which is almost always the better choice if your stuff is critical.

    But how does Apple control what I can and can’t do with my Mac anymore or less than with Snow Leopard? The UI has changed a tiny bit to be more iPad like, but most of it can be disabled and it really doesn’t mean Apple controls what I can do with my Mac.

    Maybe you can elaborate a little more what changes would keep you from buying another Mac? It really interests me.

  16. Hiram says:

    You may customize Lion so that it works the same as snow leopard, and just ignore the new features if you choose. The only thing you will lose is Rosetta, whose Power PC Apps are relatively ancient by computer standards ( and if you buy a new computer every year you might manage to upgrade your software every 5 years or so). Did you complain when Classic died? And if you are going back to windows, did you forget that you can run Windows as well as Lion on your Mac?

  17. Bryan says:

    You do realize of course that Lion is not any less configurable, nor any more locked down in the programs you can install, than Snow Leopard, Leopard or Tiger, right?

  18. Been running 10.7 for almost a week with heavy usage. It runs exactly like Snow Leopard. It’s stable, fast and customizable. Linux qwill never be what you want it to be. It’s a fragmented space where the only thing it has going for it is experimentation and rock solid server performance.

    as a developer working on multiple platforms including iOS, I find Lion to be like iOS only if you want it to be. What I do find is that 10.7 certainly is thinking about the future and not dwelling on the past.

    Google’s Chrome OS is a vague and amorphous attempt at marrying the desktop and mobile and it has arrived DOA.
    as I read over at macworld; operating systems are a matter of choice. But your reasons for leaving are just not true at all.

  19. John R. Grout says:

    In hindsight, Apple started down its current path when they stopped selling fully-configurable mid-tier systems… a ways after the introduction of the G5 (though those early G5 chips were so balky and hot running that not many folks wanted one in a mid-tier box anyway). That was a long time ago.

    It appears that Apple will eventually switch all of its business to iThingies running on ARM processors, making the Mac OS X versus iOS controversy moot. If Apple sells high-end systems, rather than ones that run chimeras like the new Final Cut Pro but not serious professional applications, they would continue to use Mac OS X… but perhaps Apple will stop selling their high-end systems too. They can’t be making too much money for them.

  20. Jeremy says:

    I often encounter new machines that will not run old versions of software/os, with Apple and Windows. This could be a hardware compatibility issue, or something Apple has ‘forced’ for its own reasons, but I don’t think it really matters.

    You say you upgrade your computer every year, but using a brand new os is too risky–even though you keep your old machine as a backup? I would think that its riskier to hack an old os onto new hardware, than to simply move to the pre-installed Lion, but that’s just been my experience. When would you feel better about moving to Lion, 3 months, 6 months, a year? If you encounter an unacceptable issue with the new machine, could you not use your backup machine until a fix/workaround is available?

    You’ve had good results from Macs so far with presumably little hacking effort on your part. You’ve taken reasonable steps to mitigate the risk and protect yourself–again with minimal effort. Yet you’re willing to throw all that away, because of fear of issues that haven’t even occurred? If you’re that risk-averse, and you feel so screwed that Apple has removed some kind of illusion of safety that you won’t trust them ever, then you probably won’t be happy with anything other than Linux, where you can control everything to your heart’s content. The downside of course is that you’re not getting as much of your real work done while you’re controlling and administering Linux, working around all of its quirks, building and troubleshooting broken open-source software, libraries, etc. Good luck with that.

    Also, Apple’s ‘proud history’ is not creating user-hackable computers. It is instead creating solutions that work with minimal fuss and effort on the part of the user. They’ve done this better than Windows, and much, much, MUCH better than Linux.

  21. Oliver says:

    Interesting post. I am in a similar situation with a Snow-Leopard MacBook Air from March that I love (I switched from Windows two years ago; this is my second Mac). As a software developer and a passionate computer user since the late 70s I am looking with great concern at what Apple/Steve Jobs are doing. I am dabbling with mobile apps development, and I am choosing Android because I just prefer the open-ness of the platform over the dictatorial regime from Cupertino — as polished as it might be. And I don’t like the idea of having to partner with Apple to sell any software. Why should they suddenly get 30% of all software sales on their devices? And why should I be at their mercy when it comes to approval of an app in the first place?

    Windows 7 is actually not bad in comparison to earlier versions and I might eventually go back to that — I love and use Linux on the server, but on the client it’s always been a fight for me and I just don’t have the patience and time anymore.

  22. It is entirely possible to install snow leopard on an Air that comes with Lion. You just have to wipe it’s drive first, because the “recovery HD” partition’s existence (a fantastic feature on its own) causes the Snow Leopard installer to get confused and hang.

    If you are familiar with the terminal, you can actually use it within Lion to REMOVE that recovery partition, and then install lion from boot up using your thumb drive from your last MacBook Air.

    The OS is not locked down in any way, and other than interface changes it works the same way all OS X versions have.

    Please respond if you’d like further info.

  23. I have not been paying too much attention to the new Lion OS. Mostly because I typically wait for the release problems to be identified and addressed. Yes Apple has been moving iOS and Mac OS closer together with the seeming intent to merge them. I totally agree that if they lock down the OS to such an extent that I can not acquire software from sources out side of the App store then I too may be looking for something other than an Apple for my next system. As long as Lion still has terminal and I can install the web design/development tools I prefer, then I’ll stick with the Mac.

    While I don’t mind iOS on the phone for the extra security it affords in it’s locked down nature, having it on the iPad has been a mixed experience. I really had hoped I could use the iPad as a extremely portable replacement for the laptop, but with out filesystem access and the ability to install alternative software outside of the App store it is limited. I don’t need a full blown laptop/desktop for the work I do and the iPad would have been awesome. I do love using it to the extent that I do for communication, media, and surfing everywhere and anywhere, but it could have been much more.

  24. Tom says:

    I do hope you understand that it’s drop dead simple via a couple of user preferences to go back to “snow leopard” behavior.

    Ubuntu Linux is definitely the best of desktop Linux experience. It’s also free of usability standards. Just the inconsistency of c’n’p between apps in Linux can drive one to madness.

    However for those that grind code for a living, osx or Linux are really the only viable choices in my opinion.

  25. DaveyD says:

    Well, a year and some down the pike from all these mean-spirited faceless rude comments, I weigh in as being with you on this, Dan.
    I had a lousy time with Lion and Mountain Lion and we now know how buggy it turned out to be. And gray. Untweakable, no-option gray, a symptom of a deeper malaise at Apple.
    I’ve gone back to Snow Leopard which covers my computing needs in style. I’ll buy a second or more Snow Leopard-capable machine as well.
    I wouldn’t waste time listing concerns or points for arguments sake because the predominating mentality of comment sections in most internet sites is abusive and contemptuous. All the rudeness above was generated when Lion was only a couple of days old and untested in the real world. Wow.
    Planned obsolescence sold as don’t-get-left-behind progress.
    All the best to you!

  26. Michael Somers says:

    After reading the comments, the only conclusion I have is, the majority of the mac users who commented here are mean.

    • Dan Gillmor says:

      Not mean as much as devoted…and I understand their feelings. I used to love the Mac, too.

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