Mac Lab Report

Why OS X on X86 Is the Stupidest Thing Apple Could Do

- 2002.10.17

Articles on the technical feasibility and the secret projects Apple sponsors regarding the idea of porting the Mac OS, in one form or another, to x86 platforms are in full bloom this fall. Matthew Rothenberg and Nick dePlume are at it, and so are a raft of folks at mainstream and obscure sites who probably know less than Rothenberg et al.

Alas, I am in no position to argue the technical merits of such a switch, and I lack the insider information to discuss whether or not Apple's actually done it already. But I do know one thing.

OS X on x86 would be the stupidest business decision in history.

This is going to be a short article (and those of you who know my know how painful that is for me) because my point is very simple. All of you folks posting messages and writing articles seem to forget one important point:

Here are the reasons I believe Apple will be well advised to keep its OS off the x86 platform:

Point 1: Apple will never be able to offer its OS at a price point that Microsoft can't undercut. Just to put Apple out of business, I imagine Microsoft would even go so far as to offer it's OS for free for a year (would it even take a year?) just to wipe out the competition - as they have already done with Netscape. You can't compete with a free product. (Sidebar: Since they've been required to remove IE from Windows, they've also been giving implicit permission to start charging for it again. Any day now.)

Point 2: No hardware vendor would risk its Microsoft Windows contract by offering a competing OS. Even now contract writers are writing in torment as they struggle to close the "OS-less" rule: No vendor selling Windows based machines can sell a machine with another OS installed. Cute tricks like including the OS on a separate disk for the user to install will last about as long as the current contract cycle with Redmond.

Point 3: Converting to x86 is tantamount to admitting that recent ad campaigns touting the power of the G4 against the Pentium were just so much hot air, which devalues all of Apple's carefully shepherded advertising dollars.

Point 4: If an x86 machine can run OS X, then if Apple rebrands some machine that can do that with an Apple logo, it stands to reason that the same machine could run Windows. Imagine Steve Jobs standing in a room and seeing an Apple-branded machine running Windows natively. Yup - that's what I thought. Jobs would rather sell Pixar to Disney than see that.

These aren't very technical points, and they don't have a lot of insider information in them, but I would be willing to bet a considerable sum they are more important to the future of OS X on x86 than pipelines, bus speed, and the availability of cheap components from questionable vendors.

I'll leave you with reminder you shouldn't ever forget when discussing the future of modern computing:

Microsoft is a monopoly and will crush any competition it can.

Now go out and buy something else. Anything else. Buy a Lindows machine if you can't stand Macs. The future of computing depends on it.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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