Drop support, but leave old versions around


In a recent post called Dropping Support for Older OS Releases, Brent Simmons suggests that developers drop support for older OS releases as a way to optimise resources and keep making quality apps. From a developer’s standpoint, he’s certainly right. From a user’s standpoint, there are some observations to be made here. He gives three main reasons to drop support:

There’s almost no barrier to OS updates these days. They’re free and easy to install.

True. Unless your Mac doesn’t support the latest version of Mac OS X.

People who don’t upgrade their OS are also the kind of people who don’t buy apps.

If I may, this is a rather superficial assessment. There are at least a couple of reasons behind not upgrading to the latest OS release:

  1. Not everyone owns a new Mac, and not everyone purchases a new Mac every year or so. There are still a lot of perfectly good Macs in use that cannot be upgraded past Mac OS X 10.7.5 (MacBooks from 2007 and 2008, the original MacBook Air, some older MacBook Pros, etc.)
  2. There are people still on Mac OS X 10.6.8 (Snow Leopard) because they find it to be a better performer and a more stable version than Mac OS X 10.7 Lion on their machines. And if they also own one of the aforementioned Macs which can’t even be upgraded to 10.8 Mountain Lion, I perfectly understand why they’d want to stay on Snow Leopard. I recently helped a friend configure his home network, and he still owns an early 2007 MacBook Pro with Snow Leopard installed. While using his MacBook Pro, I noticed how snappier it felt than mine, which is almost three years newer and runs Mavericks. And while the ‘performance feel’ of a Mac might be subjective, things like Wi-Fi stability are not. Using my friend’s older MacBook Pro reminded me of how generally bad Wi-Fi performance has been in OS X from Lion onward.

In both these cases, I don’t see any correlation between not upgrading and not buying apps. On the contrary, I know people who would love to buy more apps for their older Macs, but with OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion as a minimum requirement, they simply can’t.

An app succeeds based on quality, not breadth of OS support. You can make a better app by using newer APIs. You can make a better app by not having to spend coding and testing resources supporting older versions of the OS.

Nothing to argue here.

Brent adds:

Yes, you will leave some small number of people behind. It’s worth the trade-off, though, because it’s your job to make the very best app you can make.

Well, I don’t know about that small number, especially outside the North American tech bubble. Anyway, I have a humble suggestion to add to Brent’s overall very agreeable point of view: developers willing to drop support for older OS releases should keep older versions of their apps available for those users who don’t own the latest Macs and/or can’t upgrade. For example, if version 1.2 of an app is the last version supporting OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard; 1.5 is the last version supporting OS X 10.7 Lion; and now the app at version 2.0 only supports OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and above, then they should leave those previous versions available on their site (since it’s not possible on the Mac App Store), clearly indicating that support is only available for the latest version. This way, even users on Snow Leopard and Lion can enjoy that app, even if it may lack features introduced at a later date.

Many (Mac) developers don’t seem to do so, instead they maintain very streamlined websites showcasing only the latest version of their app. I don’t see any significant downsides in leaving older versions available for download. They can focus on perfecting their app for the most up-to-date audience, while leaving virtually no one behind.

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