March 03, 2012, 7:32 AM — Apple would be making a "brilliant" move if it decided to give away OS X Mountain Lion to Mac users as a free upgrade, an analyst said today.
One clue that that is a possibility was buried in a July 2011 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in which Apple for the first time said it was deferring a small portion of the revenue from each Mac sale to account for "unspecified software upgrades and features free of charge to customers."
"I think it's a great idea," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research when asked about a potentially-free upgrade for OS X users. "It would be brilliant."
Talk of a free upgrade to OS X 10.8, aka Mountain Lion, was kick-started by bloggers two weeks ago when Business Insider's Jay Yarrow brought it up. Yesterday, ZDNet blogger Adrian Kingsley-Hughes also weighed in.
Gottheil gave two reasons why Apple might drop the price of Mountain Lion to zero.
"One, just the general good will to customers as a way to ameliorate any negative feelings they have had about Lion," he said. "I don't think that was quite ready for prime time when it came out."
Apple launched Lion in July 2011 , and while the operating system now powers 34% of the Macs in use, some reviewers and users dinged it as a "mashup" of OS X and iOS , and for things such as unintuitive scrolling gestures and the ungainly Launchpad and Mission Control components.
"Two, by giving away [Mountain Lion], they get that operating system out to more users, which will have some revenue benefits," said Gottheil, pointing toward the upgrade's tighter ties to Apple's iCloud sync and storage service.
"We believe that there will be additional paid cloud offerings from Apple, so the more Macs that run Mountain Lion, the more revenue Apple can earn from those," Gottheil added.
At the top of Gottheil's list of new iCloud revenue possibilities was online storage, or as he put it, "Time Machine in the cloud."
iCloud offers just 5GB of free storage space, with surcharges starting at $20 annually for an extra 10GB and ending at $100 per year for 50GB more. Apple's default backup mechanism, Time Machine, does not currently offer an online storage option.