Over the past six months several pricing decisions by Apple Computer Inc. have tested the loyalty of its customers.
Each time, indignant Mac users have lambasted the company in online forums, only to be scolded by Apple defenders.
The first shocker was the announcement by Chief Executive Steve Jobs at the Macworld trade show in New York last July that Apple's formerly free suite of Web services, iTools, would be renamed .Mac and, henceforth, would cost $99 a year.
The Macworld audience, which normally cheers most everything Jobs says, sat in stunned silence.
Discussion forums across the Mac world boiled with anger, with many calling the move a "bait-and-switch" tactic, while others questioned whether the service was worth even the $49 discount offered to existing iTools members.
"If .Mac wasn't branded by Apple, no one would even give it a second glance," wrote one soured user in a Macworld magazine forum.
Adding to the furor was the concurrent announcement that when Mac OS X 10.2 "Jaguar" would go on sale in August, it would cost $129. Those who bought a new Mac after the announcement could get the upgrade for $19.99, but everyone else - - including those who had paid full price for the OS X versions 10.0 and 10.1 -- had to pay full price.
In this case, what drew the ire of Mac users wasn't that Apple was charging for the Jaguar upgrade -- most acknowledged that the improvements qualified it as a major upgrade -- but that Apple refused to provide a discount to the "early adopters" who had bought earlier versions.
By fall, the chatter had died down, but the resentment lingered. When it was rumored in the days leading up to Macworld San Francisco last month that Apple might begin charging for its suite of multimedia programs -- iTunes, iMovie, iPhoto and iDVD -- many Mac users cried foul again.
In fact, Jobs did say in San Francisco that the four "iApps" would be packaged as the $49 iLife, which went on sale Jan. 31.
The complaints over iLife's price later were undercut somewhat by the fact that Mac users can download three of the programs -- iPhoto, iTunes and iMovie -- for free from Apple, though only iTunes is a reasonably sized download for those with dial-up connections.
Nevertheless, some Mac users objected to what they saw as Apple's attempt to charge them for supposedly free products.
"What's your digital lifestyle worth?" one Mac user asked. "Apparently, Apple thinks more, instead of different."
A few threatened to defect: "If this is true, then this will be the last Mac I'll ever own," one said.
But what's telling about these reactions is how much it reveals about the nature of the Mac community and the passionate relationship so many Mac users have with Apple Computer.
Just look at the strong language in these comments from last summer, when the .Mac and Jaguar pricing decisions were announced: