Steve Jobs directly confirmed to one questioner that Apple would charge for its 802.11n enabler for existing Macintoshes: A reader who prefers to remain anonymous forwarded me the mail he sent to Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, and the reply he received. He included mail headers so that I can confirm the mail is legitimate. The reader asked Jobs whether press reports were in error that Apple would charge $5 for an "enabler" that would turn on the 802.11n functions in most Core 2 Duo and Xeon systems shipped in 2006. (The 17-inch 1.83 GHz iMac with Core 2 Duo lacks the necessary chip.)
Jobs replied, simply, "It's the law," which would confirm that the Sarbanes-Oxley requirement that seemed bizarre to me is, in fact, correct. In several reports, the law is cited as requiring different accounting for earnings on products that are shipped and later provide new functionality that wasn't initially advertised. Charging for the updater means that the functionality didn't come for free. I still hope to hear some better analysis about why the law requires this kind of product update micromanagement.
In any case, the email is legitimate, and Jobs's reply is unambiguous.
My earlier post on this was titled, "Apple Won't Charge $5 for 802.11n," but what I said--not so clearly--was that Apple would only tacitly charge that if they charged anything. The company isn't discussing releasing a locked, serialized enabler that works only with laptops and desktops that have been approved for update. Rather, they may charge $5 for an enabler, but the enabler will quickly be distributed for free, however informally, until the millions of older machines are patched.
I suspect based on Jobs's response, too, that Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), which will be a paid operating system update shipping in second quarter 2007, could include the enabler, too, since that's a separate fee. The AirPort Extreme Base Station with 802.11n will include the enabler, and I'm extending the logic from there.