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Some Macs Won't Get to Lie With the Mountain Lions

Some Macs Won't Get to Lie With the Mountain Lions

The arrival of OS X Mountain Lion will be no cause for celebration among owners of older Macs. Apple's upcoming OS won't support certain machines, a cutoff Apple may have set in order to preserve a smooth user experience. "Apple wants to preserve the quality of its users' experience, so it imposes hardware restrictions on OS X," Creative Strategies Ben Bajarin said. "Otherwise, it would run so bad if it didn't."

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
07/13/12 5:00 AM PT

When Apple releases the next version of its desktop operating system later this month, there will be glum faces among some owners of older Macs.

The company has announced that six Mac models, as well as hoary versions of its defunct Xserve enterprise platform, won't be supported by OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. They include:

  • iMacs introduced in January 2006
  • MacBooks made prior to the introduction of the all-aluminum models in 2008
  • MacBook Pros made prior to June 2007
  • MacBook Air model introduced in January 2008
  • Mac Minis made before 2009
  • Mac Pros made before 2008
  • Xserve hardware made before 2009

Graphics Hangup

Apple's not talking about why Mountain Lion isn't supporting those legacy machines -- it did not respond to our requests for comment on the subject -- but it's believed that the graphics drivers on the hardware clash with the graphics architecture in the new version of OS X.

The graphics processors in some of the early 64-bit Macs use 32-bit drivers, which Mountain Lion won't load, according to Ars Technica.

Mountain Lion's predecessor, Lion, was more flexible in handling older systems. It supported machines built on the Core 2 Duo processor, as well as Intel's Core i3, i5 and i7 chips.

Mac jocks with machines orphaned by Mountain Lion can continue to run Lion and its predecessor Snow Leopard, which Apple will support with security updates for at least a year after Mountain Lion's release.

Hardware Clingers

With the current acceleration of product refresh cycles, the shelf life of legacy systems is shrinking. Historically, Apple systems have had a shelf life of 4.5 to five years, according to Ben Bajarin, a principal with Creative Strategies. But the first-generation iPad, now just over two years old, will be orphaned this fall when iOS 6 is released.

Consumers who cling to their hardware for more than five years, for the most part, don't need support for the newest operating system Apple has to offer, Bajarin contended. "The type of consumer that holds on to a machine for five years and uses it for their primary machine is probably not a candidate to upgrade to the latest and greatest operating system in the first place," he told MacNewsWorld.

Unlike Microsoft Windows, he continued, Apple is willing to cut off support for legacy machines if it believes those machines will degrade what a new product offers consumers.

"Windows will support old hardware, but it will work horribly on it," he maintained. "The user experience will suffer dramatically."

"Apple wants to preserve the quality of its users' experience, so it imposes hardware restrictions on OS X," he continued. "Otherwise, it would run so bad if it didn't."

Legacy Support in DNA

However, Bajarin acknowledged that the Windows world is a fragmented one, and Microsoft doesn't have the control over its hardware environment that Apple does in its vertical universe. "Apple, because it doesn't have a fragmented environment, can say, 'Here's a minimum we'll support because anything below this would ruin the experience,'" he explained.

On the other hand, Microsoft has legacy support built into its DNA. It's still supporting Windows XP, which is 11 years old now, and the hardware requirements for its upcoming Windows 8 OS is a paltry 1 GB of RAM and a 1 GHz processor -- a restriction so low, you'd be hard-pressed to find such a system even in someone's closet collecting dust.

"They have a mandate at Microsoft to provide backward compatibility," IDC analyst Al Gillen told MacNewsWorld. "It's a corporate policy that Microsoft applies to its operating system development."

With an installed base of 1 billion computers, backward compatibility is also a business necessity for Microsoft, he added. "It's difficult not to support older solutions because if it upsets its customers, there's a massive installed base that becomes at risk for Microsoft, and it recognizes that," he observed.


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