OS X 10.1: Free to Be

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Turns out the best things in life are free after all.

When Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced Mac OS X 10.1 at Macworld Expo New York, he said the first major update to the next-generation operating system would be free -- although the company planned to added a $19.95 shipping charge for sending out the update CD. Up until Apple Vice President Phil Schiller's Tuesday keynote speech at the Seybold Seminars, Apple gave every indication that the update would only be available via the mail -- a decision that irked some Mac users, who weren't pleased about paying another $20 on top of the $129 they originally spent on OS X.

Apple still plans to make the OS X 10.1 update available as a $19.95 upgrade package. The full upgrade package includes an OS X 10.1 CD, the Mac OS 9.2.1 update, a developer tools CD, and a user's guide.

But Jobs announced during Tuesday's keynote that the company will also give away free update CDs at its own stores and through Mac resellers, starting this weekend when OS X 10.1 ships. The free update package, which includes OS X 10.1, Mac OS 9.2.1, and a Mac OS X manual, is available through October 31 or while supplies last.

"OS 10.1 has shaped up to be a fantastic release," Ken Bereskin, Apple's director of product marketing for OS technologies, said Tuesday. "It's turned out so great, we wanted every OS X user to upgrade as soon as possible." Bereskin also described the free update as a way of "thanking" Mac users who were among the first to switch to OS X.

Free or no, Apple doesn't plan to make OS X 10.1 available through OS X's Software Update application. The four previous updates to the operating system had been available for download. But OS X 10.1 is simply too large a file for the average user to download.

"This is a 500MB-plus file," Bereskin told Macworld when the update was announced this summer. "A small number of our users with high-speed connections or a lot of patience could download this, but [downloading] can be problematic. To deliver a great user experience and get things up and running quickly, we're relying on the CD-ROM."

OS X's Software Update feature is for "incremental updates," Bereskin added. "But this is an improvement of the full OS package."

Since Apple announced its update plans in July, the $19.95 shipping charge has been a hot topic in Macworld.com's forums. Some readers surveyed by Macworld prior to Tuesday's announcement objected to what they thought was an unnecessary expense.

"I don't think Apple should charge for something that they know is needed," said Brian Sullivan, a Massachusetts state trooper who also runs his own small business. "Basically they are soaking us for more money because we bought a halfway-completed product. I may buy it anyway, but I will do my best to persuade them to ship it free. Waiting for a download would be a better choice than paying for it, but I don't want to wait."

While some users balked at the charge, others said they were more than willing to pay for the OS X 10.1 CD.

"I have absolutely no problem paying $20 to get 10.1," Chris Ruggiero, a southern California bus driver, told Macworld this summer. "I would much rather have a CD with the software on it than download it online. For a small update I think [downloading] is great. But for what I expect to be a large update, and possibly a full install, I would like a CD instead of a download."

This isn't the first time Apple has announced an OS X pricing policy only to reverse course. When announcing a shipping date for OS X at Macworld Expo San Francisco in January, the company indicated that users who paid $30 for the beta would have to pay the full $129 price. Within a few weeks, Apple announced it would offer beta users a rebate, knocking the $30 off of OS X's price tag.

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