It's easy to take for granted how lucky we OS X users have it these days. Not only is OS X now a free upgrade, there's no longer a need to head over to a retail store, pick up a physical box, take off the shrink-wrap, pop in an install disc, and navigate through a series of setup options. Nope, these days, installing a new version of OS X is about as easy as installing any app you might download from the App Store.
With Apple gracing us with free OS X updates now, it's easy to forget that new versions of OS X back in the day were not cheap. Far from it.
For a period of about 7 years, starting with the 2002 release of OS X Jaguar, upgrading to OS X cost upwards of $129. At the time, of course, doling out that kind of cash for system upgrades wasn't that crazy. It's just how things were.
But with the 2009 release of Snow Leopard, Apple flipped the script.
In an effort to get as many people to upgrade as possible, Apple announced that Snow Leopard would only cost $29. Cynics of course might argue that Apple was effectively forced to lower the price on Snow Leopard as the upgrade largely housed "under the hood" improvements, but in this scenario, the "what" is far more important than the "why".
And besides, it's not as if Apple ever returned to the $129 pricepoint with subsequent releases. Indeed, when OS X Lion was released in 2011 it also came with a more than affordable $29 price tag.
OS X Lion itself is truly notable for being the first version of OS X that was primarily available via the Mac App Store. With the App Store already a raging success at that point, it wasn't terribly surprising that Apple decided to move past the bygone era of boxed software. Still, the announcement didn't go down without its fair share of blow-back, however mild it was. At the time, many folks questioned the wisdom of Apple's move as they wondered how users without Internet connections (i.e secure Government computers) or extremely limited Internet speeds would be able to access the upgrade. Addressing these concerns, Apple concurrently made OS X Lion available on a USB thumb drive for $69 and available exclusively at Apple's online store.
Nonetheless, the message was loud and clear -- Apple's days as a purveyor of boxed OS X software were officially over.
When Mountain Lion was released in July of 2012, Apple lowered the price ever so slightly, down to a infomercial-friendly $19.99. Notably, Apple did not offer Mountain Lion via a USB thumb drive. At this point, it was downloadable software or bust.
With OS X Mavericks, Apple made upgrading to the latest and greatest version of OS X more of a no-brainer than ever before. With Mavericks, Apple for the first time made OS X available for free. Keeping tradition alive, the impending release of OS X Yosemite will also be available for free.
Not too bad at all, especially for anyone who can remember picking up this bad boy way back when.
Apple Mac OS X Lion
Apple Mac OS X Snow Leopard