This week spawned yet more articles about MacOS X "Leopard" vs. Vista. Here's the bottom line: it doesn't matter, both are a scam.
Neither of these upgrades provides "must have" features to the end user that couldn't be easily written by a third party. Time Machine? Free backup programs come with extra hard drives you buy. Vista Search? We've got Google Desktop. This trend started a long time ago. XP didn't do much over Windows 2000. Neither did Tiger over Panther, or whatever feline genus came before that.
The problem is, OS upgrades generally don't matter to users anymore -- only developers. Remember the heady days of upgrading from Windows 95 to Windows NT4 or 2000 and having protected memory (or MacOS 9 to MacOS X)? Or how about upgrading from System 6 to System 7 and getting multitasking?
Those days are gone. Today, what are we paying for? More transparency? A search index?
I think we're mostly paying for the right of the OS developer to correct past mistakes that are more than skin deep. But what does that benefit the user? If an OS works, and we're not a developer, and we like the apps we've bought, what do we care if the OS changes things for developers?
In the past, changes for developers made more of an impact than they do now. Has .NET 3.0 given us so many great Windows apps that weren't there before that it was worth the cost of Vista? Has Objective-C 2.0 for Leopard? If the APIs had stayed the same, we probably would have better apps because people wouldn't be fooling around with new APIs all the time. Each time Microsoft releases a new OS, they push out a a bunch of new APIs that takes years to catch on (if ever). I can't speak for the Mac side, but I suspect it's the same. How many apps that users fire up every day actually use CoreImage, for example?
But here's the trick... we all must upgrade eventually if we want to keep buying new stuff for our computers. Apple sunsets older versions of MacOS faster than you can say "obsolescence." Hey, with a fanbase that will snap up 2 million copies of Leopard at retail in the first weekend, why would you keep legacy OSes on support?
Microsoft puts in a bit more time -- 7 years, I think -- but you're still on the road to an upgrade much earlier than that. For example, are you going to buy a camera, a printer, a hard drive, a DVD writer? Sometime soon you won't be able to get XP drivers for those. Or are you going to buy a game? Drivers aren't the only culprit. Most software vendors won't support XP at some point -- probably before it gets officially sunset by Microsoft.
This is the part of the scam that gets me confused when people say things like "I'm not going to upgrade to Vista." Really. Then what will you do? Will you never buy a PC again and never install or buy new software/hardware? Or will you switch to Mac, which provides the exact same hamster wheel of paid upgrades except more often?
If you really don't want to pay upgrade costs, maybe the only way out is Linux. But if you buy your camera, hard drive, DVD writer, printer, etc. for Linux, be prepared to write the driver yourself.