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  • The Tiger Report: Do You Really Want to Run Mac OS X on a Plain PC Box?

    October 4th, 2006

    Over the years, some analysts have suggested that Apple made a grave mistake in not setting up a real cloning program early on, so other computers could run the Mac OS. If only the company had listened to Bill Gates and others, today Apple might really own the computer market, not just in mindshare, but marketshare as well.

    It’s an intriguing thought, but one that is fraught with danger.

    When Steve Jobs first announced that Apple would switch to Intel processors, and you and I were reminded that Mac OS was still destined to run only on Macs, some folks tried to change things. They managed to induce the Intel versions of Mac OS X to run on their regular PCs. But that was not a legally sanctioned remedy, and compatibility with peripherals and even many applications was not a sure thing.

    Let’s forget the unofficial methods, and look at why Apple doesn’t want to open its operating system and sell it as a retail product that would run on any old PC that, perhaps, meets some basic hardware specs. You see, despite the hopes and dreams that the Mac OS would conquer the operating system world overnight, it would more than likely destroy Apple as a company.

    No, this is no extremist posture, and I’m not an Apple apologist. I’m just trying to face reality. And the reality here is that widespread compatibility with third-party computers conflicts with the concept of a lean, mean operating system development machine.

    Oh sure, Apple could get it to work reasonably well. They’d also have to expand their compatibility testing big time to account for untold numbers of PC configurations. Even if the list were restricted somewhat, that wouldn’t stop people from attempting and perhaps succeeding at unsupported installations, and you’d end up with chaos. Even Microsoft runs into trouble here from time to time, and it explains why a Mac “just works” most of the time and tends to suffer from fewer system hassles.

    The biggest issue, however, is that such a maneuver would simply gut Mac sales, which is still where Apple earns great profits. Now I do not accept the alleged conventional wisdom that Macs are more expensive than PCs. The condition is, of course, that the Mac and the PC are equipped with essentially the same set of options. When you follow those requirements, the Mac can actually be cheaper. But let’s not waste time on that argument.

    PC makers, however, sell millions and millions of stripped-down models. Apple won’t go there, simply because there’s little profit in it. Even the number one PC maker, Dell, seems to be retreating from promoting its cheapest products, and is emphasizing its higher-cost business  services. Falling sales and profits have forced them to tout a Dell 2.0 program to revise the company’s focus and prospects.

    But you can see that Apple’s hardware sales would likely be wrecked by predatory companies who will tout how you can run Mac OS X on a cheaper product. It doesn’t matter if it’s not an equivalent. It will simply take sales away from a real Mac.

    Lest we forget, Apple tried an official cloning scheme in the last decade. Forgetting some ill-thought, and perhaps desperate, elements of the contract with third parties, the scheme nearly destroyed the company. No wonder that Steve Jobs killed the program. No it wasn’t done in a fit of rage, but to save Apple Computer.

    Today, Apple has shown with the iPod and with the Mac that it succeeds best as an integrated company, one that provides the operating system, a lot of application software, and the hardware.

    Sure, things are far from perfect. But it’s not necessarily true that Macs are less reliable these days. Yes, there have been problems, but even if the percentage of defective units is unchanged from what it was years ago, higher sales mean more computers will be impacted. Even a small number of complaints will, if published in the right troubleshooting-oriented sites, spread around the world in a matter of minutes.

    Now maybe the day will arrive when Apple will decide to take the huge risk of sacrificing its hardware to really battle Microsoft in the operating system arena. But Microsoft will have to be truly suffering for that to have any real chance of success. The Apple you know and love will otherwise not survive an all-out war.

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