Apple signals end to OS X Snow Leopard support

Declines to patch Safari 5.1, surest sign that it's given 10.6 the support boot

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The second: Snow Leopard users have hung onto the OS. As of the end of November, more than 20% of all Macs globally were running that edition, slightly more, in fact, than ran its successor, Lion, which accounted for just 18%.

Snow Leopard users have given numerous reasons for hanging on, including ones identical to those expressed by some Windows XP customers: The OS still works fine for them, and their Macs, while old, show no sign of dying.

Also in play, however, is the fact that Snow Leopard was the last version of OS X able to run applications designed for the PowerPC processor, the Apple/IBM/Motorola-crafted CPU used by Apple before it switched to Intel in 2006. Snow Leopard, while incompatible with PowerPC silicon, is the most recent OS X that Apple lets run the Rosetta translation utility, and thus launch PowerPC software on Intel-based Macs.

Apple's support for even newer editions of OS X, including 2011's Lion and last year's Mountain Lion, has also come into question: In a very unusual move, the Cupertino, Calif. company declined to update either of those operating systems in October, when it released Mavericks with patches for more than 50 security vulnerabilities.

It's certainly possible that Apple has already pulled the plug on Lion and Mountain Lion, what with the two-month stretch without a sign of fixes for the bugs patched in Mavericks.

Because Apple made Mavericks a free upgrade from Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion, Apple could rationalize the dropping of support for the latter two.

"I'd call [Lion and Mountain Lion support] done. No update for you, pretty much means game over," Storms said.

Storms acknowledged that with Apple's silence, one can never be quite sure. In fact, as recently as June, Computerworld prematurely said that there was "little sign from Apple that it plans to stop patching Snow Leopard any time soon," only to be proved wrong six months later when Safari 5.1 missed the update bus.

For parts of Apple's customer base, the free-Mavericks strategy seems to be working: According to Web analytics company Net Applications, Mavericks' accounted for 32% of all versions of OS X used in November. Mavericks' gains, however, came at the expense of Mountain Lion -- which lost 18 percentage points last month -- and Lion, which dropped by 2.5 points. Yet Snow Leopard was unaffected by Mavericks. In November, OS X 10.6 fell less than either the 6- or 12-month average.

Bottom line: Only Apple knows who gets support, and who does not.

"If Siri could answer the question 'When is my OS going to stop being supported?' then we might know," said Storms. "Until then, the updates come and the updates go ... and the updates then stop."

Apple did not immediately reply to questions about its plans for Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion security support.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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