Is Snow Leopard 'vulnerable to attacks?' Has Apple really abandoned it?

"Apple retires Snow Leopard from support, leaves 1 in 5 Mac vulnerable to attacks," reads the headline on Computerworld. Is it the end for Apple's venerable OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" operating system, and are you at risk if you're still using it? Hardly.

(Do the world a favor and don't click on that link. I put it here in the interest of full disclosure, but let's not reward bad behavior.)

No, Apple hasn't "retired" Snow Leopard. In fact, Snow Leopard is alive and well and still available for sale in the Apple Store.

Apple releases updates to software as they're needed. Mavericks, Lion and Mountain Lion all needed security updates. Snow Leopard didn't. End of story.

What's going on here is some hysterical, goggle-eyed reporting from Gregg Keizer at Computerworld, who has a very long history of twisting whatever he can find with an anti-Apple slant. He's one of the most prolific and long-running Apple trolls out there. Unfortunately, Keizer's shoddy report served as rich fodder for a whole slew of second-rate tech blogs who piled on with uncritical regurgitations.

Keizer does a fancy little two-step here, conflating the recent SSL exploit discovered in iOS 7 and Mavericks with a security update released for Mountain Lion and Lion. Keizer notes the absence of a security update for Snow Leopard and then draws the erroneous conclusion that Snow Leopard is somehow vulnerable.

But Snow Leopard didn't have that problem to begin with!

Neither did Lion or Mountain Lion, in fact. If you check the release notes for that security update, you'll find that the SSL/TLS bug is very specifically related to Mavericks, not Mountain Lion or Lion.

Apple keeps Snow Leopard around for a few reasons. There are still some users plodding about with even older versions of the operating system, and Snow Leopard is more or less the baseline for application and peripheral support. Most printer makers will tell you that you need 10.6 or higher, for example. Many apps that don't make use of iCloud or other newer features will work on 10.6 or later.

10.6 is also, as Keizer points, the last version of OS X to include "Rosetta," a virtualization tool that Apple used to bridge the gap when it switched to Intel chips. Rosetta enabled Mac users to continue to use software optimized for the PowerPC processors found in Macs designed before 2006. That's an important compatibility point for some users who still rely on software that was discontinued after Apple's transition to Intel hardware. That transition happened almost a decade ago by the way.

There's very little question that Apple wants its Mac users to transition away from Snow Leopard to more modern versions of the operating system. That's why over the years Apple steadily ratcheted down the cost of new versions of OS X, culminating in Apple's decision to make Mavericks free and available to anyone running Snow Leopard or later. (Snow Leopard was the target because that's the first version of OS X compatible with the Mac App Store, which is how you get Mavericks to begin with.)

I won't contest that Snow Leopard is squarely in Apple's rear view mirror. It wants people to upgrade to Mavericks either by upgrading their software - for free - or by buying new Macs that are capable of running the software. As it should: Apple makes its money when people buy its hardware.

Apple continues to sell Snow Leopard, and support it (as recently as last September with a security update, by the way). There is a finite amount of work that Apple has and will put into Snow Leopard in recent years, but it's irresponsible to imply that Snow Leopard users have been abandoned by Apple, and it's irresponsible to claim that Snow Leopard users are somehow suddenly at risk when they didn't have any that vulnerability to begin with.

But hey, anything for page views, right?

There's an old adage in the news business: "If it bleeds, it leads." The implication was that readers were drawn to news of calamities, which sold newspapers. These days, if you're a tech blogger, if it bleeds Apple colors, it leads. The worse you can paint Apple, the more traffic you're likely to garner.

It's a shameful practice, which is why I implored you at the start not to click on that link. Ignoring trolls is one thing, but letting disinformation create fear, uncertainty and doubt is something I just can't allow.

What do you think of alarmist Apple coverage in the media? Let me know in the comments.

Peter Cohen