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Snow Leopard decline accelerating following end of security patches

updated 09:28 pm EDT, Mon June 23, 2014

OS X 10.6 was most popular OS version until 10.8 Mountain Lion arrived

The rate of decline in the number of users still clinging to OS X Snow Leopard has increased in the last three months, in part due to the continuing aging of machines capable of supporting it and natural turnover, but mostly due to the end of almost any further Apple support for the system -- including important security updates. The 2009-era OS version dropped four percent, the biggest quarterly decline since Mountain Lion came out, between March and May of this year, falling below 15 percent of active Macs.



Because it was the last operating system that still supported old PowerPC-based applications, many users retained 10.6.x for as long as possible to avoid upgrade costs associated with some applications, or to run one of the very few programs that didn't make the transition to Intel-based Macs. Certain versions of Intuit's Quicken and QuickBooks, older Adobe suites and the popular productivity tool AppleWorks were among the top programs users wanted to hang on to, despite various efforts at replacements or new versions.

Apple continued to include updates for Snow Leopard in certain areas -- particularly security, but also things such as Safari updates and printer/scanner drivers -- for five years, longer than it generally supports operating systems. OS X 10.7 Lion, which introduced a number of workflow changes such as Versions and auto-save, was embraced by many but took 10 months to top Snow Leopard in installed base. Although Apple has made no formal announcement ending Snow Leopard support, recent updates have been for 10.7 (Lion) and later.

Snow Leopard desktop
Snow Leopard desktop


The introduction of 2012's Mountain Lion, which restored some features that had been altered in Lion and generally built upon Lion's most successful features, was quickly adopted by comparison. It became the most popular OS X installed version just five months after its introduction, a feat that was repeated when Mavericks came out in the fall of 2013 (some three months "late" by tradition OS X release standards). Five months after its introduction, OS X 10.9 Mavericks was the top choice of active Mac users, with Snow Leopard down to 18 percent support (tied with Lion by that point).

The final security update for Snow Leopard appears to have been issued last October, fixing various Java issues. Safari support was dropped in December, and printer/scanner driver support appears to have stopped in February of this year.

OS X Yosemite desktop
OS X Yosemite desktop


The company's iTunes (and by extension, QuickTime) software are still distributed for Snow Leopard, with the latest version available for 10.6.8 as well as later releases -- at least for the time being. However, all public support for security updates appears to have stopped, putting users who continue to use 10.6.8 on the Internet at some (small but growing) element of risk.

The OS version is now something akin to "Apple's XP," with loyal support among a segment of its audience, but gently declining in use due to natural attrition and updating to newer models, though Windows XP retains -- even now, 13 years after release -- a second-place rating among Windows users, with just over 25 percent support. The latest Windows 8 and 8.1 releases, by contrast, has just six percent share each, according to data from NetMarketshare.

To help those interested in updating, Apple continues to make available (for $20) a DVD of the final Snow Leopard release for Intel-based Macs. This can be used to update older machines that are using Leopard or early versions of Snow Leopard so that they can then utilize the Mac App Store to update their systems (if compatible) further, or gain compatibility with the latest iPhones and iPads through an updated iTunes. However, the DVD is seen as a stopgap measure, and is unlikely to remain available indefinitely.



Apple has been gently encouraging users of older machines to upgrade through various incentives, including the Snow Leopard DVD and the reduction in price of OS X upgrades. Mountain Lion was priced at $20 per copy, and Mavericks was offered at no cost to all for compatible machines -- which Apple took pains to stretch back to 2007 for some models, a deliberate move to encourage upgrading.

Mavericks (OS X 10.9) has generally been well-received, despite some continuing issues with certain graphics cards and Gmail integration in Mail. Apple has recently previewed the next major release, OS X 10.10 Yosemite, which will again be free and also supports all the older models that were able to run Mavericks -- though some of the newest features, such as Handoff, may not be available to the earliest supported machines, and units with early Intel graphics chipsets or less than 6GB of RAM may not reap the best experience. Yosemite is expected to be released in the fall.

Whether Apple will continue to make iTunes and QuickTime compatible with 10.6.8 for the sake of those running older iPhone and iPad models remains to be seen. The company does, however, seem to be increasingly eager to move Mac users to the fully 64-bit, all-Intel OS, graphics-prowess-dependent releases and the powerful recent-model machines that support them best (arguably those from 2010 and later).

If the 10.6.x decline continues at its present pace -- and there are clear indications that Apple has more equipment upgrades and new models in the pipeline for the second half of the year -- Snow Leopard will be down below 10 percent share by the end of the year. Users who wish to stick with Snow Leopard will need to be prepared for an increasing number of upgrades that they can't or should not apply if they want to maintain compatibility with old programs or peripherals, and that's before the subject of Internet security comes up. Apple has already said that its forthcoming iOS 8 will not support the iPhone 4 due to graphics constraints, a hint that iTunes support for 10.6.8 is probably (but gently) winding down. The writing, as they say, is on the wall.




by MacNN Staff

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Comments

  1. aaanorton

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 09-24-00

    "The rate of decline in the number of users still clinging to OS X Snow Leopard has increased in the last three months, in part due to the continuing aging of machines capable of supporting it and natural turnover, but mostly due to the end of almost any further Apple support for the system -- including important security updates."

    What a sentence.

  1. bobolicious

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 08-15-02

    ...the article comments seem telling, with many calmly rationalizing or suggesting why snow is still their preferred MacOS... Of course if choice was available on new Mac hardware, then perhaps more objective metrics of mac user assessment & sense of merit might be available...

    ...my last snow related update was May 30 (itunes) and so I still consider the OS at least partially supported, and more akin to Windows 7 Pro in that it virtualizes PPC, like XP in W7p... Switching browsers is an easy fix for security concerns with FireFox & Tor seeming compelling options.

    Parallels finally does seem to function virtualizing Snow Server, but it may be a risky dependence. Fast older iMacs & Pro Towers are still pretty competitive with the newer macs, and certainly cheaper to replace and repair. Mavericks while offering many compelling features and beautifully designed, has been far from bulletproof, with I gather VPN & Mail issues challenging many... Mail. Really?

    How much do we attribute to web use stats, especially given the online privacy initiatives proliferating in light of the United Surveillance States of America ?

    Snow still seems the 2nd most popular MacOS if one relies on such (web use) stats: http://www.netmarketshare.com/

    If we accept the assumption that user percentage is a rationalization or justification for OS selection, should one switch to W7 ? This OS seems both increasing and has the highest WebOS use at over 50%, or more than 12x as popular as Mavericks at a mere 4% of users documented...? Even XP still seems rated at 25%, or more than 6x as popular as Mavericks ?

    And perhaps finally how much would MacNN staff have to write about if, or ads to sell if nobody was encouraged to upgrade...? :)

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Many people never upgrade simply because they just never upgrade. They don't touch their systems if everything they need works.

  1. akent35

    Banned

    Joined: 12-17-13

    Originally Posted by Spheric HarlotView Post

    Many people never upgrade simply because they just never upgrade. They don't touch their systems if everything they need works.



    I was one of those "holdouts" a while ago with Snow Leopard. Yes, it was a stable, robust enough OS, and everything worked fine (at least on the functional hardware I had). But eventually, I had to "bite the bullet" and move on. That happened last July, when I purchased my Mac Mini (my Mac Pro "died" (mother board went bad)), which came with Mountain Lion. Then, 3 months later, when I purchased my Mac Book Air, it was Mavericks (also upgraded to Mavericks on the Mac Mini shortly before).

    But, I still have a somewhat "older" generation Mac Book Pro 17" machine, and it runs fine under Snow Leopard. I did try and sell it previously, but with no luck. However, it still has its' uses for me, primarily with the built in DVD drive. It came in handy last November when I had to use Hand Brake to "decode" quite a few DVDs (file copies from the result of that eventually wound up on the external 1 TB drive that came from the Mac Mini).

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Bobolicious: while its true that Snow Leopard (barely) wins over Mountain Lion now as the second most-popular OS version, that is because nearly everyone who was on 10.8 (or 10.7) has upgraded to 10.9. Saying its in second is technically true, but we're talking 17 percent of users on SL and 50+ percent on Mavericks. It's a little like saying that DOS is the second most-popular command-line based OS behind UNIX, don't you think?

    "If we accept the assumption that user percentage is a rationalization or justification for OS selection ..."

    Sorry, where in this article are you drawing that inference from? Nothing in the article equates user percentage (or "popularity") to commanding anyone to upgrade. It simply notes that due to a number of factors including natural attrition, Snow Leopard which was once very popular is now fading away, a little faster now because its becoming increasingly unsafe due to a lack of security updates.

    Like all OS versions, Snow Leopard will fade away and users who don't acknowledge and prepare for this wrt to their personal documents will eventually end up in a particularly smelly tributary without adequate means of propulsion. Nothing in this article says or suggests that any particular user should upgrade necessarily -- but its a sensible warning to those who've been lackadaisical on file upkeep and app upgrades that they are sailing towards future troubles, and should take steps today that will pay off when they buy their next Mac or iOS device.

  1. akent35

    Banned

    Joined: 12-17-13

    Originally Posted by chas_mView Post


    Like all OS versions, Snow Leopard will fade away and users who don't acknowledge and prepare for this wrt to their personal documents will eventually end up in a particularly smelly tributary without adequate means of propulsion. Nothing in this article says or suggests that any particular user should upgrade necessarily -- but its a sensible warning to those who've been lackadaisical on file upkeep and app upgrades that they are sailing towards future troubles, and should take steps today that will pay off when they buy their next Mac or iOS device.



    Well said, especially about avoiding future problems. I myself am not lackadaisical about the upkeep with either of my machines, including file management. In fact, I am definitely pro-active with this. I also consistently stay up to date on updates to applications. Because of that, staying with an older (and soon to be non-productive) OS version does not "cut it", so to speak.

    There is one other, obvious advantage to updating. As long as the hardware can support it, one gets used to the new (or newer) OS, and thus any eventual transition will be a breeze.

  1. bobolicious

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 08-15-02

    "Well said, especially about avoiding future problems."

    Interestingly I ask how many problems I avoid by not upgrading to the latest OS, such as the VPN or Mail issues. Despite Apple's unwillingness to support their own proprietary legacy formats such as AppleWorks, if one waits long enough then seeming solutions like LibreOffice 4.1 may actually be developed by the increasingly compelling open source community...

    It seems many feel that newer is always better - long live the futurists, with all the support they provide to the online 'news' services, the coders, the manufacturers, advertisers and the mythology of progress... Is that where the expression 'bleeding edge' resides...?

    I am running both mavericks server & os, but only for testing, and seemingly more easily in emulation or small partitions than abandoning any time tested data access or workflows... I've saved thousands in hardware upgrades & hours struggling with legacy issues, and am starting to like it. Like the apparent 75% of web traffic that remains on W7/XP (50%/25%) according to the link above - if it ain't broke seems to take the overwhelming majority share?

    This leads me to contemplate how Apple sales might improve if they could, in addition to new features, also offer a support road map, predictability & stability that the Lion's share of users seem to prefer - could Apple computer sales grow by 1,000% or more...?

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