The Mac Webb

How Macintel Could Spell Trouble for Windows

- 2005.06.15

For the past three years, I have been arguing with all comers regarding Apple's future. Many positioned the Mac OS transition as the first step to Apple running an OS license program. After all, this would not be a new venture for Apple, having licensed several vendors in the mid-90s - to mixed reviews.

My response has always been that licensing the OS transforms Apple from a multibillion dollar company into a multi hundred million dollar company. I went on to add that Apple would crumble under the weight of cheap Intel boxes and Microsoft Office, eventually dwindling into obscurity.

Then the winds changed, and the Apple world found itself changed in the most significant ways. The bomb fell at WWDC. The move to Intel was upon us.

My first reaction was that this was a response to the fact that Apple could not foresee a way to get the top PowerPC chips into its popular portables. My second thought, and the one I still stick by today, is that Apple needed the Intel DRM offering to launch the Apple Movie Store. This eliminates the major barriers to convincing the studios that Apple can protect movie downloads from illegal use.

As I think more about the current situation and the move to Intel, it becomes apparent that one of the goals (not the only one) of the transition will be market share. Apple fans know that for all the praise Apple has received over the last five years, lack of market share has continued to be an issue. The debates over the importance (or lack thereof) of Apple's market share are constant when you get an Apple fan and a Wintel supporter in the same room.

In the end, Apple has decided that it needs to grow market share.

Looking back over its work with iTunes, the iTunes Music Store, and the iPod, it seems that Apple has been positioning this transition for a number of years. Apple diehards are aware of Wintel-only iPod users who are now more interested than ever to try Apple products.

Apple has been working to change the game from simply a hardware discussion to an integrated system approach - the digital hub. This focus has set them up nicely to make the shift to whatever processor provides the best user experience. Apple fans consistently tout the ability to be more productive running Apple products. This will not change regardless of the processor - Mac users will simply open the box and begin working as they always have.

If we follow the path to its logical end, we see a world where you can spend a premium on Apple hardware running Mac OS X or you can simply buy a copy of the OS to run on your white box Intel machine.

The benefit for Apple - they no longer have to carry the market, spending huge numbers to innovate on each release. If users want a tablet system running OS X, someone will license the software and design a product.

The drawback - open competition with Microsoft, something that the uneasy partners have not had since Apple lost the last war.

In Apple's favor, the next war will be fought over digital entertainment, media, and content. This is a battleground where Apple is much better equipped to win.

The initial casualty will most likely be Microsoft Office for Macs. The good news for Apple fans is that we have been waiting for years for a Mac developed alternative to the Office juggernaut. Picture a world where you can buy an Apple Office suite for Macs and Linux.

As nervous as I am about this change and its effect on my bond with Apple, it appears that Apple management has not made this decision lightly. Looking back on the past five years, a road map has been followed to position Apple for the next ten years. The prospect of Apple's next generation seems bright.

I will keep an open mind and look for new offerings (movies, music, and applications) and updated hardware.

In the end, it will still come in an Apple box and do the things I need done. Maybe things are not too bad after all. LEM

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