Download-Only Lion Could Backfire on Apple


I'm deeply unhappy that Apple is only offering Lion as a download. There's something atavistically comforting about having tangible install media. It's also rather efficient when one has multiple machines to upgrade; I can't imagine why the company's leaders think that downloading the same 4GB blob of data over and over again across a home or business network is a good idea. But apparently, they do.


But as it turns out, for me the problem is somewhat of a moot one, because the new OS won't run on Apple's first generation of Intel-based machines, and that means I now have three obsolete Macs instead of one at home. This may be good for Apple's sales figures in the large sense, but it also makes me dig in my heels. My plans to buy a new computer later this year just went on hold, even if there's no chance that Apple would miss my paltry few thousand dollars.

Apple's decision to kill off physical media is only the right thing to do if one ignores the number of people who don't have the kind of Internet access that makes a 4GB download trivial. It's a problem for anyone who lives in the country, where dial-up and satellite connections are often the only way to connect. It's a problem for anyone whose only access to the Internet is through a carrier with brutally low caps on network use. Finally, it's a problem when the worst-case scenario happens.

The "no physical media" approach utterly ignores the problem of disaster recovery. The last thing that I want to deal with when I have to rebuild a system is an OS upgrade as part of the process. Even a bootable USB flash drive would suffice; these at least have the potential for reuse after the software is no longer useful. In short, if there's no option to create a bootable image, I may have to turn my back on Lion. I can't be the only person who'd be willing to pony up for the software on disc; up to an extra $50 would be worthwhile insurance that I wouldn't think twice about buying.

I'm the first to admit that I find shopping on the Internet to be convenient, but only when I don't need to handle the goods. If anything, it has the advantage of removing the temptation to purchase anything else. This may be where the App Store-based delivery could backfire on Apple. In the time it takes me to download 4GB at home, I can hop on a streetcar, go downtown, walk into the Apple store, pick up the DVD and a few other things and return home a couple of hundred dollars lighter. In the sterile world of Downloadville, Apple's charged my card and started the download, and I'm only out $32.84, if I'm figuring the sales tax correctly.

Getting out of the shrink-wrapped software business may make cents as well as cents for Apple. But it also betrays a lack of concern for customer needs, and this side of Apple is all too familiar.