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If you bought the Mac OS X beta last year, you probably figured the $30 you spent on the unfinished operating system was gone for good. Apple had a surprise for you Friday -- it's knocking that $30 off the $129 cost of OS X for any beta purchasers who pre-order the new operating system.

People who purchased the OS X beta began receiving word of the rebate via e-mail from Apple, MacCentral reported Friday. The $30 rebate, which is being mailed to whoever purchased the beta, must be redeemed by March 14. Apple spokeswoman Lynn Fox confirmed the offer to Macworld.

"This offer is our way of saying 'thanks' for helping make Mac OS X the world's most advanced operating system," said a statement released by Apple announcing the rebate.

Some 100,000 people bought the $30 beta. Apple received 75,000 feedback submissions from beta users. "It's been a stunning success," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs during his Macworld Expo keynote last month.

Friday's announcement marked a departure from Apple's previous statements about Mac OS X pricing. When Apple released the beta last September, the company emphasized that it had no plans at the time to offer any discount pricing to beta buyers on the final version of the operating system. As recently as last month's Macworld Expo, Apple hadn't changed its position. In his keynote address, Jobs made no mention of a rebate. And in a briefing with Macworld editors, Apple executives suggested that the $30 price tag was a nominal charge for the experience of using the beta and providing Apple with feedback.

"The only price we've announced is $129," Ken Bereskin, director of Mac OS worldwide product marketing, reiterated during the January expo.

So what changed the company's position? It's possible that Apple intended all along to offer some sort of rebate to OS X beta testers and held off on making a formal announcement until the details were finalized. But sluggish first-quarter sales and the general malaise gripping the tech industry may have given Apple an incentive to build up goodwill among its customer base.

At a meeting this past week with Wall Street analysts, Jobs said Apple would have to rely on those customers to weather the industry's current economic woes. "The climate in the market right now is that Apple, and I think a lot of our compatriots in the market, are going to be looking to drive sales to the installed base as well as to expansion," Jobs told analysts. And what better way to spur sales of OS X -- an increasingly key product for Apple's future -- than by giving customers who took a chance on the beta a price break on the finished version?

Mac OS X is slated for a March 24 release. Jobs told analysts this week that work on finishing up the operating system is on schedule. Apple is already taking pre-orders on OS X at its online store.

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