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The true cost of Mac OSX 10.7 Lion.

On July 20th 2011, Apple will launch Lion, the latest and probably most significant update to their desktop computer operating system Mac OSX.

Mac OSX 10.7 will introduce a whole host of new technologies and conventions that will be radically different to those in the previous iterations of their Unix underpinned OS.

The gradual convergence of their desktop/laptop and mobile operating systems is going to take a huge step towards being totally integrated. The launch of iCloud, which will replace their current MobileMe service, but add so much more, will be the glue that bonds the various platforms together. A service for storing and synchronizing our data seamlessly between all of our Apple devices.

There’s plenty of information and opinion about the details of these changes available online and I’m not going to go into detail about individual features and specifications. I want to look into the true cost of the upgrade for the average user of Apple computers and mobile devices.

As with all progress, some things have to fall by the wayside to allow for new developments to be implemented. Mac OSX Lion will only work on Intel processor equipped Macs; this means that the earlier generation of PowerPC Macs will not be able to run the new OS. Actually, some of the earlier Intel processors are not supported for installs of Lion.

As the transition between PowerPC and Intel processors in Macs took place, there was a need for Apple to ensure that software written to run on the PowerPC Macs continued to function. This is achieved with Rosetta, a dynamic translation function built into the Mac operating system. It effectively converts applications on the fly, compiled for PowerPC to run on Intel with surprisingly little degradation in performance.

With the launch of Lion, Rosetta is no longer a part of the OS.

Lion will be ground breaking and incredible value for money. At only £20.99 ($29.99 in the US) it’s surely a must have upgrade. But what is the true cost to the average user?

If I download and install Lion from the Mac App Store when it launches, many of the applications I use regularly will not work. Some may say that I shouldn’t still be using legacy software, some of which is almost ten years old, but these apps and utilities have worked perfectly well under OS 10.6 Snow Leopard and are the core applications used in running my business.

I’ve already started to move away from Microsoft Office and invested in iWork, which in itself isn’t a huge cost, although the time spent getting myself up to speed with the doing what I want to do in Pages and Numbers particularly, has a cost which has to be absorbed.

I also use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and even, dare I say it, GoLive. I own the original Adobe Creative Suite and have never found it necessary to upgrade. mostly I use Illustrator and Photoshop, but there is no simple upgrade path for just those two apps, because Adobe insist that the Creative Suite is a whole package and can only be upgraded as such. But the original CS, as a package has no official upgrade path either, so I have to buy the whole suite again at a cost of around £1,000, paying for Acrobat, Bridge and Device Central, which I know I will not use. The other option; buying just Illustrator and Photoshop will cost an eye watering £1,276. Even accounting for the probability of finding better deals online, it’s still a significant price to pay.

I also have an old GCC laser printer, an absolute workhorse which is still working, with its original toner cartridge. I print all of my business documents on it. GCC stopped development of drivers for it some years ago and even though there was a period when Apple dropped Appletalk with the introduction of Snow Leopard and I thought it would be rendered useless, I was, however, able to set it up as an IP printer. Hopefully it will still work under Lion, but I’m not sure whether or not the specific driver will function. I do have to consider the possibility that it may be time to buy a more current laser printer. (£150 - £200).

It also seems likely that the Apple Magic Trackpad (£59) will be essential for use with a desktop Mac using Lion. The touch and gesture interface on the iOS devices has completely changed the way we interact with our mobile devices. Lion will make this a far more fundamental part of the way we control our computers and a necessity to have some form of touch input device in addition to the now rather dated mouse. I do have a Magic Mouse which is probably perfectly adequate for touch control, but I hate it as a mouse, its just far too flat and slippery for my fairly large hands. I use a Logitech Performance MX mouse and, except for a few minor issues, I love it.

So, fantastic as Mac OSX Lion is going to be; and I really want to upgrade and experience the latest and greatest that Cupertino has to offer, I really have to weigh up whether I can justify the true cost of the upgrade.

I’m absolutely sure I’m not alone.

I suspect that I will do it anyway.

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