The Lite Side

Dvorak: Will Microsoft Adopt OS X?

Dvorak Comes to His Senses, Rewrites Article

- 2006.02.28

This would be the most phenomenal turnabout in the history of computing punditry. There's just one fly in the ointment - and there's ointment in my soup.

The idea that Microsoft would ditch its own OS for Apple's Mac OS X came to me from Yakov Smirnoff, a washed-up comic seen late at night on Comedy Central.

I was amused (admittedly, though, I was bit drunk and it was really late at night), but after mulling over various coincidences, I'm convinced he may be right. This would be the most phenomenal turnabout in the history of computing punditry. Aside from that whole abandon-DOS-and-Copy-the-Mac-OS-but-Claim-Apple-Stole-It-Anyway thing.

Where Do You Want To Get Stuck Today?

Smirnoff made seventy-four observations, most of which had to do with how computers were slower in Soviet Russia. The first was that the Microsoft "Where Do You Want To Get Stuck Today" ad campaign was over, and nobody noticed. The second was that he lost his Xbox and wanted to know if I had it. I allowed as I did not and read the rest of his missive.

Because the Xbox was designed to get people to move to the PC, the majority of computing pundits were having a hard time explaining Microsoft's declining market share despite the influence of the Xbox halo effect.

Though these points aren't a slam-dunk for Smirnoff's thesis, other observations support it. The theory explains several odd occurrences, including Microsoft's Steve Ballmer's freak-out and lawsuits over Xbox gossip sites that ran stories about a version of Halo that can actually run on a shipping PC. I mean, who cares?

(Story continues below)

But if Microsoft's saber-rattling was done to scare the community into backing off so it wouldn't discover the OS X stratagem, then the incident makes more sense. As does Steve Jobs' onscreen appearance during Macworld when Microsoft was taking a pot of money from . . . well, everyone except Apple. The OS X stratagem may have been a done deal by then.

This may also explain the odd comment at the PC Expo by a Microsoft spokesperson that Microsoft Office will continue to be developed for the PC for "five years." What happens after that? For most of us, it's landfill time.

This switch to OS X may have originally been planned for this year and may partly explain why Adobe and other high-end apps were already ported to the Microsoft x86 platform when it was announced in January. Most observers said that these new PCs could indeed run Windows now. For the most part.

Better companies than Microsoft have dropped their proprietary OSs in favor of OS X - Apple, for example. IBM also jumped on the Linux bandwagon over its own AIX version of Unix. Business eventually trumps sentimentality in any large company. It even trumps computer punditry.

Another issue for Microsoft is that the Apple platform is wide open, unlike the closed proprietary system Microsoft never really had full control over.

With a proprietary architecture, Microsoft could tweak the OS for a controlled environment without worrying about the demands of a multitude of hardware add-ons and software subsystems. But that's Apple's game to lose, and Microsoft comes late to the game.

OS X, as crappy as many believe it to be (myself included), actually thrives in this mishmash architecture. The best products, old and new, have drivers for OS X above all else.

By maintaining its own hardware and ignoring the OS it has wrestled with for years, Microsoft wouldn't have to suffer endless complaints about peripherals that don't work.

As someone who believed that the Microsoft OS x86 could gravitate toward the PC rather than OS X toward the Mac, I have to be realistic. It boils down to the add-ons.

Linux on the desktop never caught on because too many devices don't run on that OS. It takes only one favorite gizmo or program to stop a user from changing.

Chat rooms are filled with the likes of "How do I get my DVD burner to run on Linux?" This would get old fast at Microsoft. And it's been old for a long, long time.

Microsoft has always said it was a monopolistic behemoth of a company, not a software company. Now with the cash cow Xbox line, it can afford to drop expensive OS development and just make jazzy, high-margin OS X computers to finally get beyond that 95% market share and compete directly with the few holdouts of original thought left in the market.

To preserve the PC's lack of cachet, there is no reason an executive software layer couldn't be fitted onto OS X to eradicate the Mac look and feel. Various tweaks could even improve the OS itself. For example, adding a Start menu that is needed to shut off the computer.

From the Xbox to the PC, it's the graphical user interface that makes Microsoft software suck. Microsoft cannibalized and choked the modern GUI. Why not specialize in it and leave the grunt work to Apple? It would help the bottom line and put Microsoft on the fast track to real growth.

The only fly in the ointment will be the strategic difficulty of breaking the news to the fanatical users. Most were not initially pleased by the switch to Windows XP, and this will make them crazy.

Luckily, Microsoft has a master showman, Steve Ballmer. He'll run all over the stage like a maniac, and announce that now everything can run on a PC. He'll say that the switch to OS X gives Microsoft the best of both worlds. He'll say this is not your daddy's OS X.

He'll cajole and cajole, and still hear a few boos, and quite a bit of stunned disbelief that the whole MonkeyBoy thing just will not die. But those will be the last boos he'll hear, for then the PC will be cool. We will welcome the once-isolated Microsoft dweebs, finally.

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