Apple Mac users whose systems run the OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard operating system—and according to most counts, that's about one in every five Mac users—apparently are going to need to move to another OS.
Apple reportedly has signaled to its customers that it no longer will be issuing security updates for Snow Leopard, the company's oldest operating system. However, unlike Microsoft—which has been beating the drum for more than a year warning customers that support for the aged-but-still-popular Windows XP OS is ending April 8—Apple officials reportedly were less overt in getting the message out.
The company is known for not discussing publicly when an operating system reaches the end of its life. Instead, Apple just stops including it on the list of OS security patches it releases, leaving customers and journalists trying to read the tea leaves. In this case, Apple on Feb. 25 issued security updates for OS X 10.9.2 Mavericks—the company's newest version—as well as its two predecessors, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and 10.7 Lion.
Absent from the list was Snow Leopard, which is almost five years old. It was the second time in a row that Snow Leopard was left off the list—it wasn’t on the list in December 2013, either—and the last time it was updated was September 2013. Snow Leopard, which was released in 2009, will continue to run on systems, but the lack of security updates makes the system more vulnerable to bugs and security flaws that the newer OSes are protected against.
With almost 20 percent of all Mac users reportedly still running Snow Leopard, that will leave a lot of systems open to cyber-attacks.
The operating system's omission from the latest security updates—and a lack of official comment on the issue—generated a rash of news coverage and debates among Mac users over not only the need to upgrade to a new operating system, but also whether it meant anything at all.
"Why oh why won't Apple just come out and say, 'Here's what we're doing'?" a reader with the tag name John Oliver said in response to a Los Angeles Times article on the issue.
Another reader, calling himself Randy Mann, said the omission was not a certain indication that support for Snow Leopard was going away.
"The update [issued to Mavericks] had one security fix and it was for the recent SSL [Secure Sockets Layer] bug, which did not affect OS X Snow Leopard or earlier; therefore, this update is not needed," the reader wrote. "It's not at all a sign that Apple no longer supports Snow Leopard."
However, if it does mean that, another reader, Carl Lambert, is OK with it.
"It's five years old (almost). Technology moves ahead," he wrote. "I think Apple is doing the right thing in gently persuading those still running it to move forward."
The SSL issue mentioned by LA Times reader Randy Mann referred to what has become known as the critical "goto fail" flaw. By exploiting the flaw, cyber-attackers potentially could access the Mac user's communications, including emails, instant messages, video calls, social media posts and online banking transactions. They also could misdirect a person away from a legitimate Website and to another one of their choosing, Paul Ducklin, head of technology at security vendor Sophos, wrote in a post on the company's NakedSecurity blog site.
Apple earlier had fixed the problem in devices running iOS—such as iPhones and iPads—but hadn't addressed Mac OS X until the Feb. 25 update.
Even in his post about the patch to Mavericks, Ducklin questioned why Apple officials are not more open about their security decisions.
"Apple generally remains pretty tight-lipped about the specifics of what it just patched, which was a bit of a pity in this case," he wrote.
Mac users running Snow Leopard need to decide whether to stay with what they have or upgrade to one of the newer versions. There may be reasons for their reluctance beyond the fact that the OS still runs well, including that it was the last OS X version that could use the Rosetta translation technology to run software made for the PowerPC chip, which was designed by IBM, Apple and Motorola. Apple switched over to 32-bit Intel chips in 2006.