Apple's free software push shouldn't have surprised anyone

Apple’s announcement that Mavericks, iLife and iWork are now free seemed to surprise many. Realistically, it’s not a change at all for the company, or even much of a shift for the IT industry.
I’ve seen plenty of commentary online by now that suggests that Apple making Mavericks free was some kind of shot across Microsoft’s bows particularly. I’m not entirely sure that’s true, at least based on market share size. Microsoft might not make quite so much money out of its Windows software as it once did, but I wouldn’t be counting Redmond out just yet.
There, the practical reality is that there have been “free” operating systems for decades now. Just ask any Linux user, but don’t expect Linux on the desktop any time soon. Linux has its spot in the market, the same as OS X and Windows, but it’s not as though millions of users log into a Linux desktop every day. Free isn’t always the ultimate disruptor in the software market.
Apple’s not entirely out of the paid software arena, mind you. Call me when Final Cut Pro and Filemaker can be had for the price of nothing, but there again it’s a matter of matching up markets. Ordinary consumers (not so much the hyper-keen geeks) won’t buy operating system upgrades, or software suite upgrades en masse; they’ll just wait until they refresh their hardware, so it makes sense to focus on the hardware.
Those who use the few pro packages that Apple offers (or, for that matter their equivalents from companies such as Microsoft or Adobe) view those packages as tools of the trade. A necessary cost of business. Would they prefer them to be free? Undoubtedly; any business wants to lower its costs.
Would they stop using them because they have to pay? Not if they rely on those tools to do their jobs, which is why Adobe’s subscription pricing is so appealing to many professional types. Work pays for it, or it’s a tax offset, or whatever.
Still, ultimately, Apple’s never much been about the software.
That statement alone could get me hung, drawn and iQuartered in certain circles, so I should explain. Apple’s made some interesting software, and indeed a quite nice operating system for some time now. However, it never did those things in order to sell the software itself. It was always a means to an end, and that end was selling hardware.
It’s always been about selling hardware for Apple. iTunes, iOS apps, iWork, iLife — they’ve all been in the service of shifting silicon, not shifting bits.

Nice software on the phone -- but it's still the phone hardware that they want you to buy.
Nice software on the phone — but it’s still the phone hardware that they want you to buy.

Apple doesn’t hold fancy (and heavily staged) launch events for software. Has it ever done? I can’t recall one in the iOS age, certainly.
It holds launch events to show off hardware. That’s what the company is focused upon, because that’s where the money for Apple is.
Yesterday’s announcement really just cemented that simple fact.

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