Wired Correspondent Suffers Through the Downside of Cloud-Delivered OS X Lion

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Today is a huge day for Mac users. For the first time ever, Apple is offering a major Macintosh operating system upgrade exclusively over the Internet. The company has also discontinued much of the boxed software it offers in a clear signal that it hopes and expects to see the vast majority of applications for the Mac delivered through the App Store from this day forward. Just as it did with music (and to limited degree with DVDs), Apple wants to eliminate all physical artifacts from its computing experiences other than the hardware it makes.

But there are downsides to this. Immaterial purchases don’t carry all the same property rights that physical ones do. When the iTunes Music Store launched, users quickly learned that it’s a lot harder to return or resell an album bought from Apple than it is to do the same with a CD. With the iOS App Store, we all know that it’s not easy to get your money back if you make a foolish purchase.

With the launch of Lion, Wired correspondent Erin Biba (most recently contributing to this month’s cover story) discovered that the downsides of a cloud-delivered operating system are just the same as those for cloud-delivered music. Only worse. After spending her $29 and waiting an hour for the nearly four gigabyte installer to download, she was alarmed to find out that Lion wasn’t happy to be there but wasn’t interested in leaving.

@erinbiba: OS X Lion won’t install on my computer because I have a Boot Camp partition. Apple wants me to wipe my entire hard drive before installing.

(This is the error Erin was getting that prevented installation. Although Apple claims installations will still move ahead even if you don’t format your hard drive, in Erin’s case it crashes every time.)

@erinbiba: Apple basically just stole $40 (ed: she was pissed off and got the dollar sign wrong) from me for software that I can’t install on my computer and can’t return to them.

@erinbiba: Oh, and here’s the best part. I don’t actually have a Boot Camp partition. I removed it over a year ago. Theoretically.

(She later explains that she switched to Parallels, which does not appear to be the source of the problem, as many Parallels users have successfully upgraded.)

@erinbiba: I’m gonna email Apple for a refund. Who wants to take bets on a no refund policy in the Terms and Conditions?
Software that won’t play nice when you get it home is nothing new. Software that you can’t take back to the store and fling on the counter in disgust really is, and it’s a real problem (it looks like Wired’s IT guy will take care of upgrading Erin’s Mac early next week, but he’s unfortunately of limited utility to people who don’t know him). There is no question that the advantages of moving to a cloud-only distribution model are numerous and several. Lord knows that I’m delighted that I didn’t have to swing by the local Apple Store today or pre-order. But the downsides are real, and Apple has not done enough to think through making returns and exchanges as delightful to the cloud as they are in its brick-and-mortar locations.