Apple sneaks Safari update into Snow Leopard

Another clue that Apple's changed its support lifecycle, and will keep OS X 10.6 alive a while longer

Apple quietly updated Safari on Snow Leopard last week, refreshing the browser to v. 5.1.8 and providing more proof that it intends to support OS X 10.6 much longer than usual. Apple last week silently updated the aged Safari 5 browser for Snow Leopard to version 5.1.8, more evidence that the company intends to support the 2009 operating system for an unusually long time.

Although Apple did not mention the Safari 5.1.8 update in its security advisory last week when it pushed patches to OS X 10.6, aka Snow Leopard, Computerworld has confirmed that the browser was upgraded.

Joshua Long, a California security researcher who frequently blogs for the OS X-only security firm Intego, first reported on the Safari 5.1.8 update on Sunday.

Apple did detail the patches it applied to boost Safari to version 6.0.3 last week. It's probable that some of the same vulnerabilities -- especially the 15 in WebKit, the open-source browser engine that powers Safari as well as Google's Chrome -- were addressed in Safari 5 at the same time.

Before last week, Apple's last Safari 5 update was released in May 2012. The browser launched in June 2010, but was replaced on new editions of OS X with Safari 6, which debuted last July alongside Mountain Lion.

Unlike the non-browser patches delivered to Snow Leopard by Security Update 2013-001, the Safari fixes were not a record for Apple. While Safari 5.1.8 came eight months after the introduction of Mountain Lion, the record remains safe with Safari 4, which was updated 13 months after the expiration of support for OS X 10.4, aka Tiger.

More recently, however, Apple discontinued Safari updates for OS X Leopard in July 2011, one month after it shipped the final set of security patches for that OS.

Traditionally, Apple has dropped support of "n-2" -- where "n" is the current edition of OS X -- around the launch of n. (In that formula, n is Mountain Lion, and n-2 is Snow Leopard.) But the back-to-back releases of Lion and Mountain Lion in 2011 and 2012, and the resolve of Snow Leopard users to stick with that version, has altered Apple's policy.

According to Web measurement vendor Net Applications, Snow Leopard powered 28% of all Macs last month, too large a group for Apple to abandon without some blowback.

Mac owners running Snow Leopard have cited numerous reasons for not upgrading, but the most common has been that OS X 10.6 was the last that let users run applications compiled for the PowerPC processor.

Neither Lion or Mountain Lion support Rosetta, the translation utility that allows PowerPC software to run on Intel-based Macs, and so are unable to run PowerPC applications.

"Any OS X Intel user needing to run even one native OS X PowerPC Carbon-based application or utility, cannot do so under OS X 10.7.x or OS X 10.8.x, because Apple stopped licensing the Rosetta dynamic binary translator from QuickTransit on any OS above OS X 10.6.8," said Computerworld reader Martin Totusek in an email Monday.

Totusek agreed with others that Snow Leopard is Apple's Windows XP, the Microsoft operating system that also refuses to go quietly, but bemoaned the fact that Apple hasn't made allowances for backwards compatibility.

"If the Rosetta dynamic binary translator was made available via a standalone installer that users could purchase and then install under OS X 10.7.x and OS X 10.8.x, then OS X users, at least of Apple's Intel machines, would have options besides running OS X 10.6.8," he said.

IBM acquired Transitive Corp., the company that developed QuickTransit, in June 2009.

Security Update 2013-001, which includes the Safari 5.1.8 refresh, can be downloaded and installed on Snow Leopard by selecting "Software Update..." from the Apple menu, or by opening the Mac App Store application and clicking the Update icon at the top right of the screen. The update can also be downloaded manually from Apple's support site.

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

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