The next release of the Macintosh OS X from Apple will be the first commercial operating system with a price tag of $0. Apple’s departing from tradition in another way: the new OS is not named after a cat, but is called Mavericks. It is thus the first version named after a place in California (a famous surfing location in Half Moon Bay).
This is a long-foreseen major shift in the computer industry. Apple reduced the price of its OS releases from $129 to $29 to $19 in the last few versions, so the handwriting’s been on the wall. This presumably will put more pressure on Microsoft, which makes a good bit of revenue selling licenses to its Windows OS to manufacturers who include it with their hardware. Microsoft sent a weak signal that it’s getting a message here when it made the first upgrade to Windows 8 free to consumers.
One major benefit of this change for Apple is that it is almost certainly going to increase the adoption rate of new releases of Mac OS X. The price has come down so much lately that perhaps the impact will be somewhat subdued but the fact is that a large number of Mac users have resisted upgrading their OS at all because of the fact that they had to pay for the new version. To the extent that Apple can approach a 100% adoption rate for new versions, it can create a far more predictable platform for software developers — including their own — and thus ease the deployment of the latest features.
The other competing OS — Linux — has always been free. Microsoft is now the only holdout but of course they’re in a completely different position from Apple. They depend for virtually 100% of their revenue on software and software-related services. All of their forays into the world of hardware have failed to one degree or another. And Microsoft has been incredibly slow to adopt new technologies (it was one of the last tech companies to decide the Web was here to stay and they have only recently, and only partially, begun subscription services for their Office software line). This makes it quite difficult to anticipate how they might respond to the latest trend Apple has set.
But it’s good news for consumers, and Apple, as a consumer electronics company, likes to keep consumers thinking positively about it.