The Low End Mac Mailbag

OS X on Other Hardware, Missing Midrange Macs, and No Leopard Yet on Yikes

Dan Knight - 2008.04.23 - Tip Jar

OS X for non-Apple Hardware

From John Grimsley:

Dan,

I completely agree that it's time for Apple to reconsider licensing OS X to PC box makers. With only 6.6% of the market, OS X use needs to grow quickly to remain viable. Possible implementation:

  1. Apple charges $90 for OS X per PC box.
  2. Desktop selling price >$800 w/o monitor.
  3. Portable selling price >$1,000.

Not sure of legality, but (2) and (3) could prevent the last clone debacle.

John Grimsley

John,

I'm not interested in market share numbers: Apple has survived the 2% range and remained viable. I'm more interested in growing the number of people using the Mac OS, even if it means running OS X on a Sony Vaio handheld, a Toshiba tablet, a Panasonic Toughbook, or a midrange desktop made by Gateway or Dell.

For this to work, Apple should bundle the regular suite of iApps with OS X, and also include trial versions of iWork and MS Office (Microsoft makes more from a copy of office than it does from a copy of Windows, so this should keep them happy). And they have to insure that the other companies only address specified markets.

Of all the players in the Mac clone market (1995-98), only Radius and Umax seemed to understand that it was better to carve out a market (Radius with graphics specialists, Umax with some of the best low-end Macs of the era) rather than steal Apple's core users. I think Apple could do it right by very carefully picking the right partner and markets.

Dan

OS X on PCs

From Danny:

Dan,

I was just flipping through the site's articles for the day and saw your response to Matthew Wright regarding all the different hardware configs Apple may have to support. I say it's not such a big issue, and here's why: it's Apple's own hardware support.

There's no reason they couldn't release a very easy port of OS X for BIOS-equipped PCs (as opposed to EFI-equipped ones) if those PCs are very close to Apple's own Macs. That means a Core Solo/Duo or Core 2-based computer with an Intel chipset in the motherboard. They already have drivers for the Intel chipsets' various ICH8 and ICH9 variants (USB/SATA controllers), a kernel built for Core-based CPUs, and drivers built into the OS for every Core Image-capable video adapter out there going back to the Radeon 9500 and GeForce 5200 series. They also already use Realtek and Analog Devices' sound codecs, and every Intel Mac has either Realtek or Marvell LAN adapters. These happen to be the most popular sound and LAN chips in today's Wintel PCs. In reality, Hackintosh builders aren't writing new drivers from scratch, they're basically using wrappers allow their hardware to use Apple's built-in drivers.

Nvidia (among others) have websites designed to read what OS and hardware your computer have in the form of Flash applets. Specifically, Nvidia's website will find what OS your computer runs and what video hardware you have so you can download the right driver software, and Apple could have the same thing. Set up a website for "Can I run Mac OS X on my computer?" and let people visit it, let Apple scan the hardware ahead of time and see what issues OS X would run into ahead of time, and recommend upgrades that will let it run (which a hardware vendor or an Internet reseller could give Apple kickbacks on upgrades based on their recommendations, or Apple could even sell them through their own web store).

My other dream, if that doesn't pan out, is that Apple could just release a single piece of hardware you must build your machine around - a standard ATX format motherboard with FireWire, USB, LAN, and audio built in based on Intel's P35 or X48 chipset. Add your own CPU, your own DDR2 memory, your own PCI Express video card (therefore lowering the number of video cards a generic OS X would have to support), your own drives, etc. and roll your own Mac that way.

So I've thought really hard about it, and my conclusion is that the hardware support wouldn't need much augmentation - like Vista, OS X runs best on the current hardware of the day. Hardware support doesn't need to be an issue. :)

Danny

Danny,

It's the sameness of the Intel world that makes it relatively easy to hack the installer and get Leopard running on DIY PCs. As long as the builder chooses the right parts, everything should be fully compatible. That's what Psystar announced with its Open Computer. There's really nothing to prevent anyone from building and selling a PC designed to run Mac OS X, as Apple's move to Intel means that the parts inside Macs are available to everyone else as well.

I'd love to see Apple return to its roots and sell a bare bones computer. That's what the Apple I was, and that's what they could have with a Macintosh motherboard that fits into standard PC enclosures. I'd love to see that: buy the 'board bundled with OS X and the iApps, add whatever you want, and know you have a genuine Mac that's just the way you want it to be.

The only area where this wouldn't work is portables, as there are no DIY handhelds, notebooks, or tablets. In that realm, Apple should either compete or license someone who has experience in that market.

Before you know it, Leopard could be more widely used than Vista.

Dan

Licensing OS X Means Software Validation

From Andrew Main:

Dan,

The biggest problem I see with Apple selling OS X for Dell, HP, Gateway, and other hardware is . . . that Apple would then be forced to implement an odious, stringent validation system like Micro$oft's. If that ever happened, Apple would become a very different kind of company, and I think I might really, finally move to Linux.

Andrew Main

Andrew,

There's no reason that Apple would have to adopt any kind of validation system to sell OS X for non-Apple PCs. No version of the Mac OS has ever required activation, and most Apple software (at least in the old days) didn't even require a serial number. Just because Microsoft gives its users a genuine disadvantage activation and "proof it's legitimate" system doesn't mean anyone else has to do it. Apple doesn't have to assume that its customers are pirates and treat them accordingly - that's Microsoft's way.

Dan

Consumer Macs Should Have an Option for Better Graphics

From Seth Windoms:

Dear Dan,

I was thinking of the days when all Macs or most had a real graphics processor, and I was wondering why can't Apple offer it as an option on Macs like the mini and MacBook? I know they use the Intel GMA Graphics Accelerator to cut costs, but I would be nice to have the option at your expense to have a better GPU. Even if it's an integrated ATI Express that still sucks RAM from the main supply. It would definitely be better than the Intel GMA.

-Seth

Seth,

I agree: It should be possible to upgrade the graphics in consumer Macs. Problem is, there just isn't room inside the Mac mini or the notebooks for adding a video card. I've not heard of a notebook where you could upgrade the graphics processor, but I don't see why it couldn't be designed that way.

On the desktop, it just makes sense to use standard video cards, whether AGP or PCIe, and most of those couldn't fit in something as small as the Mac mini. Apple really should design a midrange Mac, something more flexible than the Mac mini, less powerful than the Mac Pro, and priced for the home market.

Dan

Midrange Macs

From Joe Blasi:

Part of the big uses of non-Apple hardware is to make up for the lack of a good midrange headless desktop with desktop parts.

Back in the PPC days, they had desktops staring at $1,200 and up. Nowadays the Mac Pro starts at $2,200 with sever/high-end workstation parts.

The iMacs have poor video cards for gaming and not the best of a built-in screen.

The mini is very overpriced for it's hardware next to just about any other system, and it should come with a mouse and keyboard as well.

Also lacking is in Apple's laptops - the MacBook black should have a video cards with it's own RAM for $1,500.

As for the hardware, nowadays you only have 3 big graphics processors, I/O chips, and chipset makes: ATI/AMD, Intel, and Nvidia.

Joe,

You're preaching to the converted on the midrange desktop Mac. Apple would sell them hand-over-fist if they retailed anywhere below US$1,000.

As for the Mac mini being overpriced, it depends on what you're comparing it to. It is actually quite inexpensive compared with other subcompact PCs, although it is a lot more expensive than the big ugly Windows boxes being blown out for $399.

As for the MacBook, all three models share exactly the same motherboard. For the black MacBook to have a GPU with dedicated RAM, it would require a different motherboard, which might raise the price even further.

Maybe someday we'll see a 12" MacBook Pro with a widescreen display and dedicated graphics....

Dan

Yikes and Leopard

From Rowan:

Dan,

Has anything else surfaced about installing X.5 on a Yikes machine. I have two of them with 1G upgrades and would sure like to run X.5 on them. A friend says it is the PCI graphics; that X.5 can't handle that. Do you know?

Thanks,
Rowan

Rowan,

I haven't heard anything further on the release version of OS X 10.5 running on Yikes! or a G4-upgraded Blue & White. My guess is that PCI graphics is the issue, but it's only a guess.

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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