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July 26, 2011 9:28 AM

Downloading 3.5 GB Of Lion In 30 Minutes Or Less

Apple has long been a company on a quest to end our reliance on optical media like CDs and DVDs. But the release of their latest operating system, Lion, has taken things to a whole new level.

The only way you can get Lion today is by downloading it through the App Store. Eventually you'll be able to get it on a USB thumb drive, but you'll pay a premium to do so. So no more boxes with discs on shelves, Apple has evolved into relying pretty much entirely on virtual distribution to get its software and content into the hands of customers.

This is a significant milestone for a number of reasons.

First of all, one of the biggest tech/media companies in the world has decided we've reached a tipping point where it no longer makes sense to distribute software via physical media. While there've been cracks in this dam for a long time with both TV/movies and games, this is arguably the highest profile case of software being taken off the shelves entirely in favor of going online.

As such I think the floodgates are going to open even wider now on the question of how much longer we expect to be able to buy discs off shelves. It often seems like we talk about an all-virtual distribution system for media as something that will eventually happen sometime in the future. I think it's time we wake up and realize that that transition's already well underway and has the potential to kill off physical media in the next five years.

But there's a second significance to Apple's move that relates directly to the viability of these virtual distribution systems becoming a primary means for moving software and content to consumers. And that's the fact that Lion is kind of a heavyweight file to download, almost 3.5GB of data. (Quick factoid, Apple delivered a million copies of Lion on the first day, meaning 3.5 Petabytes of data was transferred in 24 hours for one piece of software.)

Now, for those of us fortunate enough to live somewhere where there's fiber like I do in Lafayette, this may not be a major issue. I decided to go whole hog and plug my computer directly into the ethernet cord coming from the side of the house, speed testing at 60Mbps down and about 30Mbps up. Then I sucked down all 3.5GB of Lion in less than 30 minutes. It took longer for the software to install itself than it took to download the file.

Unfortunately, not everyone can be as lucky as we residents of the fiber nation, and that's where trouble potentially looms for the future of virtual distribution.

Say I'm a Mac user who wants Lion who lives in rural America whose only "broadband" option is satellite. Even if I'm paying for the most expensive residential service, my daily download limit may be less than 500MB, meaning it'll take a week to download this software.

Say I live in urban America and I access the Internet using mobile "broadband" that often doesn't deliver more than 200Kbps with monthly caps of 5GB. Now it's taking me two days to download and I'll only be able to do basic web surfing the rest of the month to make sure I don't go over my cap.

I point these two specific examples out as our elected officials often like to talk as if satellite and 3g "broadband" are sufficient for our nation's rural and low income populations. While Apple is obviously a luxury brand, this trend towards virtual distribution is universal and Lion exemplifies the kind of bandwidth demands all users will have in the future.

Because of this our country needs a universal broadband infrastructure capable of enabling these virtual distribution systems. The files companies want to deliver today are already huge and they're only going to get bigger over time. So simply having access to the Internet isn't enough, broadband needs to be a digital freeway into homes that empowers the delivery of all software and content to all Americans.

Software and content are foundational components of our economy, and their significance should only grow as the global digital economy evolves. Broadband is the transformational force that is going to allow software and content to grow even more vigorously.

So let's not limit ourselves to seeing broadband as simply access to the Internet. Broadband is the ultimate enabler of our 21st century digital economy, but it can only have that impact if its capacity is sufficient to live up to the needs of this new economy.

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