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  • The Conspiracy to Destroy Apple

    June 21st, 2006

    You know, everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, and while I’ve got your attention, let me make it quite clear that this really isn’t a single or unified movement to wreck the company. No, it’s a collection of conspiracies, separate movements that, while no doubt honorable in intent, would end up destroying Apple Computer as we know it.

    For now, I’ll ignore the claims from some tech pundits that Apple cannot succeed on the long haul, despite over 30 years of doing just that. These misguided theories suggest that Apple’s marketing plan of that particular moment is fatally flawed and that, while the company might experience some success for a limited period of time, it will ultimately fail.

    One particular movement is to make more of the Mac OS and perhaps some or all of Apple’s applications completely open source. Advocates of this point of view remind us of the Linux community, which has resulted in an operating system that has gained a lot of traction in the business world. Wouldn’t it make sense for Apple to do the very same thing, so it can benefit from improved market share?

    The answer is a resounding “No!”

    Apple strives to give you a complete personal computing solution, with an operating system tailored to specific hardware, and a set of exclusive applications to match. It is also, as computers go, reasonably user-friendly, even for rank novices. In contrast, Linux is a total mess, and is anything but easy for the casual user to install and configure. True, there are desktop-oriented interfaces, but most strike you as nothing more than a warmed-over Windows.

    Now consider the impact to Apple if it made its crown jewels freely available to the open source community without restriction. As one extremely knowledgeable writer, Daniel Eran explains in one of his brilliant (as usual) roughlydrafted.com commentaries, “If Apple lost their retail revenues for iLife and Mac OS X, they would lose profitability and have to scale back on research and development, making their overall package less compelling, which would sap new hardware sales. If Apple lost hardware sales, their ability to develop new software and drive innovation would stall, and their software would lose its market.”

    So you still think the open source route makes sense for Apple?

    Others suggest that Apple should license Mac OS X to other computing companies. Yes, we know that Michael Dell would love to install it on his PC boxes, and it’s certainly true that a few power users have induced it to run on their cheap computers. But compatibility and drivers are not quite there. Worse, the folks who suggest this maneuver forget the lessons of history. Do you remember when Apple actually attempted to license manufacturers to sell Mac OS clones? Firms such as Power Computing, Motorola and Umax put Apple licensed logic boards and its operating system into cheap PC cases. They also went after Apple’s most profitable markets with a vengeance and nearly killed the company.

    When Steve Jobs took over, he brought the program to a screeching halt, and the lesson is clear: Mac OS X for Intel is designed to work strictly on a Mac. Yes, some may succeed in making it run on other computers, but it will never be officially sanctioned by Apple, and they will continue to enhance security to stay ahead of the crackers.

    Another no doubt well-intentioned group wants Apple to ditch the core or kernel of Mac OS X in plug in the one from Linux. Forgetting the technical difficulties, they claim that Mac OS X is much slower, and that superior performance requires replacing its foundation. Again, Daniel Eran unearths the fallacy of such a maneuver in a series of columns, pointing out the fatal flaws in those few tests that attempt to benchmark this claim. Worse, even if it were possible, it would cause developers, many of whom are still struggling with developing Universal versions of their applications, more conniptions as they had to swim through yet another sea of change.

    I don’t know about you, but if I wrote Mac software, and had to undergo another major transition so quickly, I’d be ready to cry “uncle,” and take my products elsewhere.

    The folks behind these various movements for change appear to regard Steve Jobs and his crew as somehow ignorant of what’s needed to really goose Mac sales. Such people feel they have a better way, but, in the end, their ideas could very well destroy the company they want to save.

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