If there’s one overriding reason why Steve Jobs has been a huge success at

Apple, it’s that he has managed to demolish the old truism that Apple =Mac.

Nowadays, in the eyes of the general public, Apple is much more associated with

iPods and iTunes than it is with Macs; indeed, Apple’s own iMac

marketing campaign is essentially attempting to leverage the iPod brand to increase

Mac sales.

The mass success of the iPod and iTunes owes everything to the fact that they

are Windows-compatible. In the world of computers, on the other hand, Apple

was until recently very much a control-freak company. Unless you got a super-high-end

tower system, if you wanted an Apple computer then you got Apple everything:

computer, keyboard, screen, mouse, software, the lot. Now, however, with the

Mac mini, all that has changed.

"Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard, and Mouse", says Apple: we don’t

care if they’re ancient, ugly things, what really matters is the operating

system under the hood.

Which is why the report

today that Steve Jobs has been approached by three PC manufacturers about letting

them run OS X is so intriguing. Here’s the juicy tidbit:

Most tantalizing of all is scuttlebutt that three of the biggest PC makers

are wooing Jobs to let them license OS X and adapt it to computers built around

standard Intel chips. Why? They want to offer customers, many of whom are

sick of the security problems that go with Windows and tired of waiting for

Longhorn, an alternative.

As Pete Rojas notes,

we can assume that one of those PC makers is Sony; what we can’t assume is that

Jobs is going to say yes. But he should. Apple is still languishing

in tenth place on the list of the biggest PC manufacturers, which is pretty

weak since Apple sells 100% of all the computers running OS X, which is probably

the best consumer operating system in the world.

While Apple has always been very good at designing computers, and it certainly

seems to have mastered the art of designing operating systems, it’s never been

very good at selling computers. Apple’s market share has been wallowing in the

3% range for as long as I can remember, and although a lot of people say that

the success of the iPod means that many more Macs will be sold in future, so

far those predictions have yet to come true.

Jobs is clearly happy with people running OS X while using ugly keyboards and

monitors: that’s the whole raison d’etre of the Mac mini. So why not let them

run it while using an ugly computer as well? I have no doubt that Michael Dell,

were he so inclined, could double the market share of OS X more or less overnight.

In turn, that would mean more developers writing software for OS X, as well

as the ability, for the first time ever, to make a like-for-like comparison

when it comes to the perennial question of how much more expensive an OS X machine

is when compared to a Windows box. You could have exactly the same monitor,

keyboard, box, processor, and everything: only the operating system would be

different. No longer could people say that they were buying a Windows machine

only because they couldn’t afford the Apple one.

Those of us who remember Apple from pre-iPod days also remember the clones:

computers by companies you’d never heard of, running Mac OS on the same crappy

old Motorola chips that Apple was putting in its own computers. It was an experiment

by Apple which didn’t really work, and it was born out of desperation on the

part of Apple. This time around, however, things have changed. It’s the big

PC makers who are approaching Apple, and they, one assumes, are willing to pay

whatever it costs to rebuild OS X for Intel chips. No longer would Apple be

at the mercy of Motorola or IBM, waiting months for promised processors to be

delivered. If OS X ran on Intel chips, you would have something of a dream combination:

a super-reliable operating system running on chips from the most reliable PC

chip manufacturer.

Apple would lose some of its own hardware sales to competitors, of course –

but it could make up for that by pricing OS X accordingly. More mouthwateringly,

Apple would finally have a choice of chip manufacturers, for the first time

ever. Rather than simply having to accept whatever IBM gives it, Apple would

be able to start putting Intel chips in its own computers if they were faster

or cheaper than Big Blue’s. Indeed, if OS X was rewritten to run on Intels,

it would probably run on chips from other companies too, creating real competition

in the market to supply Apple with chips. Whenever there’s competition, the

consumer benefits.

All this is much easier said than done, however, I’m sure. Huge questions remain

unanswered: would all OS X applications have to be rewritten for the Intels,

or would rewriting the operating system be enough? What would happen to Apple’s

reputation if the new machines turned out to have all manner of bugs and glitches,

even if those bugs and glitches were the fault of the manufacturer and not the

operating system? And if Apple’s own hardware sales fell significantly from

their present low levels, could the company still afford to spend all that money

on hardware design? In other words, could this move mark the beginning of the

end of Apple as a computer manufacturer?

It hasn’t happened yet, of course, and frankly I’d be surprised if it ever

did. But it’s certainly an idea well worthy of consideration, and I, for one,

would love to see a Sony computer running OS X.

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10 Responses to Apples

  1. doubter says:

    It is doubtful that Apple would want to just license OS X to PC makers. It is a money loser of a proposition.

    Two examples, MS and Apple:

    OS software isn’t the best standalone source of revenue. If it were, MS would just be making OS software for game consoles and not making a game console plus games.

    MS also doesn’t just sell its OS to PC end users. It also sells other software which directly competes with other productivity, and games, software. If MS were only an OS company, they wouldn’t be making as much money as they do with Office, Bungie, etc. The company realized along time ago that growth depended upon diversifiying product.

    Which, is also why they bought Virtual PC and make software for the Mac. $$$$


    Cell phones are the tricorders of the modern day.

    Even MS doesn’t have a stranglehold in this arena.

    Apple was smart to go the iTunes lite for the Motorola phones. Think of it as working with a new vendor which might help improve sales at the iTunes music store.

    But, the iPods are the bread and butter. That is where the profit exists.Even if the competition catches up, and even if some of the new competition includes cell phones, right now Apple’s hardware plus software is perfect and seemingly untouchable.

    Here’s the main point: you can’t pirate hardware and your only competition is cheaper, similar products or better than products. Both MS and Apple are best to go the whole widget route with the XBox/ Mac+OS X+iLife/ iPod +iTunes. It is the head in the door technique versus just having foot in the door. The foot in the door would be totally relying on one product to generate sufficient revenue for a company.

    You could argue that the Apple made media apps would get a boost of sales and would be added value. But those things can be pirated, too. Most PC enthusiasts will pay for hardware but they don’t all pay for software.

    So, the trick is if OSX were licensed for PCs, how would Apple be able to stick hardware in the PC to generate additional revenue and lock down piracy without being seen as evil? What would be the bootrom, if you will.

    Unless they tie hardware (like you can only boot the OS for PCs from an iPod) into the package, OS X on PCs ain’t happening.

  2. Richard says:

    I disagree with doubter. Apple’s horizons have been broadened with iPod. The advent of the new Cell chip, created by two (of three) PC makers who need a new OS for it (Sony and IBM), and the introduction of the Mac Mini, suggests changes are afoot. Apple’s business model is changing and licensing of its OS could offset any losses in CPU sales.

  3. jc says:

    Felix, Great blog. Great writing. I also agree with Doubter. Keep writing about Apple and I’ll have to bookmark this place. Take care. jc

  4. bafc23 says:

    Many folks, myself included, would be intrigued by a blend of Sony/Apple. The Sony PC products are a big attraction to current Mac users for thier ergonomics, design, size, weight and flexibility, but a turn off because of Windows. I’ll be watching to see what happens here; A Sony micro-computer running Mac OS would be a huge success in the world I circulate in. That is to say, creative-media industry freelancers with disposable income/expense accounts and a need for small, powerful gadgets-on-the-go that can interact with the motherships at the offices we bounce between, which are mainly Mac G4 and G5 tower-based systems. But Felix, what I’m really pining for is your review of The Gates – not Bill, the orange ones that are infesting that park near you…

  5. lymond says:

    You asked ” Huge questions remain unanswered: would all OS X applications have to be rewritten for the Intels, or would rewriting the operating system be enough? ”

    Yes, many apps for an Intel-based Mac OS X would need to be rewritten, though some would simply need to be recompiled. However, it would mean developers would have to have two SKUs for each Mac product for OS X: one for Intel, one for PowerPC. So, at first, Mac OS X on Intel wouldn’t have a lot of software available, meaning a slow uptake rate on the new platform, further reducing incentives for developers to develop for it.

    Getting an executable running on a new platform is the least of the costs of supporting that platform (support, docs, packaging, advertising, distribution are also part of the picture).

  6. Clue Giver says:

    Oh Yah jump on the Intel bandwagon just as their chip tech is in it’s last dying breath. This would be the ultimate act of stupidity!

    Even if the Power PC technology was where Intel is in it’s life cycle and Power PC wasn’t at the beginning of it’s exponential rise this would be utterly moronic and side steps all logical analysis of the facts at hand. OS-X does run on Intel chips but it isn’t optimized for them and who in their right fucking mind would want such a piece of shit.

    When will the lobotomized PC drones get the fuck over their space heaters and realize they need something designed to assist them in doing actual work in stead of being controlled by a behemoth thats only purpose is to vacuums huge piles of cash from those unable to form coherent thought.

    God I hate these perpetual stupid, I want OS-X on my shit box PC articles. Get over it, you don’t deserve OS-X. If you did and had the brains to figure it out you’d have already bought a Mac and it wouldn’t be an issue.

    So shut the fuck up and Buy a Mac if your so tired of the endless virus universe that IS Windows World.

  7. Peter says:

    (By the way–very cute “anti-spam measure.”)

    First, in my opinion, I don’t see Apple finding this worthwhile. With PowerPC chips at least meeting user’s speed requirements, the whole “Mac is slower” argument is falling by the wayside. About the only advantage you get from moving to Intel is that it will run on a PC.

    I think you make some rash assumptions. You mentioned that PC box makers were willing to pay for the R&D. I tend to doubt this is the case–very rarely do you offer money up front. Instead, you try to tell Apple how much money they are going to make if only they do this. Keep in mind that, at least here in the US, the only PC companies that are profitable are Apple and Dell. So where is all this R&D money going to come from?

    By the way, consider the speculation about Sony. While Apple is “languishing” at the bottom of the Top 10 list, Sony isn’t even on the list!

    Next, we have the price issue–or “Ah kin git a peecee fer $399!” First, if these PC makers were to kick in some money for an Intel version of Mac OS X, do you think they would want Apple selling it in CompUSA? I bet not. So you’d have to buy a Sony PC to get it. And, since Sony needs to make money back from their investment, I doubt you’d see Mac OS X machines from Sony for $399. In fact, keep in mind that Sony is also a “boutique” brand. One reason they are not on the list above is that their machines are more expensive than other PCs. So when asked whether they’d want a Sony VIAO desktop or a Dell desktop for $100 less, most people go with Dell.

    Now that said, rather than putting in the time and effort to port Mac OS X to Intel, here’s an interesting idea: Apple goes into the PowerPC motherboard business.

    Let’s say Apple released motherboards that fit in a PC case that had single and dual G4 configurations. Sony could just plop those into their VIAO cases and get the license from Apple to sell Mac OS X. Presto–Sony Macs!

    Apple still controls the technology. Want a G5 Mac? Get it from Apple. Want a stylish Mac? Get it from Apple. Apple can still build custom motherboards for their own machines to fit in 6×6 boxes or behind LCD displays.

    This helps solve the “sole-source” issue. Apple could sell these motherboards to anyone who wants to sell Macs, not just Sony. Want a Mac? You now have a bunch of people to buy it from. But, like Microsoft, Apple gets money no matter how much they sell it for.

  8. Apple’s soft Cell

    Since everyone (OK, well, someone) is engaging in a bout of rank guessing about which companies are the rumoured suiters for the licensing…

  9. doubter says:

    Well, Peter gets it. Whatever boxen a cloner would sell would have to have a hardware angle which benefits both Apple and their current vendors, TI, IBM and all the other companies which make the stuff on an Apple Logic Board ( or, that iPod Home boot disk idea I floated above).

    Lost hardware sales for Apple means lost sales for those component makers which make the Logic boards happen.

    Remember when Apple killed the clones and PO’d Motorola to the tune of a $1 Billion loss on investment? Of course you do. Apple can’t do that again. You can’t PO vendors (or resellers either!)*

    Nor, can Apple really afford yet another transition phase. So OS X on Intel would be a loser of an idea.

    Think about it:

    The transition to the Power PC chip, to G3s, to AltiVec to the G5 AND the transition from OS 9 to OS X. Developers as a whole still have to get up to speed or have already gave up on the Mac (ahem….games). So, why increase the R and D of softeware developers by saying write for OS X and OS X on Intel in addition to Windows (you know, your bread and butter?). Software developers aren’t going to do it without locked in beau coup financial benefits to even hire one new coder.

    This want for OS X on Intel isn’t a get-on-the-bus, get-with-the-program proposition, to WinTel developers it is a risk. A risk they won’t take, and which MS wouldn’t endorse.

    Now the build-your own Mac or bring your own box and run OS X from your iPod has merit. The latter would be intial would be the OS as peripheral and could certainly lead people to buy a Mac. The former would convince PC enthusiasts to try Apple. Though, they’d just find something else to complain about when comparing a build your own to the commodity that is x 86.

    *Resellers who could go the whitebox route with Apple would have a good lifeline.

    If you want it with Apple’s style and have it work out of the box, go to the Apple Store.

    If you just want a Mac, don’t care about looks or want to build it yourself, go to a reseller.

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