Mac Musings

Sour Grapes

Daniel Knight - 2002.08.09 -

They're back!

Who? The pundits who believe that Apple needs to create "Intel inside" computers to survive.

And although it would be easier for Apple to make the switch to a different hardware platform than it has ever been before, Apple doesn't need to go x86.

Yes, It's Possible

There is no technical reason Apple can't switch. Mac OS X is rooted in BSD Unix, the Darwin project is open source, and the whole OS could be recompiled for the Pentium 4, AMD Athlon, Intel's awful Itanium, Compaq's beleaguered Alpha, the Transmeta processor, an ARM chip, or IBM's Power4.

It wouldn't be an inexpensive undertaking, but Apple has cash in the bank, is growing market share, and, unlike most PC vendors, turns a profit even in these times of economic uncertainty. If Apple wanted to switch, they would.

Once upon a time Apple had a project code named Star Trek, which ported the Mac OS to whatever Intel processor was current back then. But instead of going Intel, Apple teamed up with Motorola and IBM to create the PowerPC, a more efficient kind of processor. And today's Macs are not only faster than ever, but they hold their own despite a gap in clock speed. Efficiency is good.

Think Different

The latest to jump on the Apple-should-go-Intel bandwagon is Korey Miller. In Apple: Time for a Switch, Miller shares his thoughts on the "MacIntel" rumors and concludes that Apple should get out of the hardware business.

Heresy. Even if Apple did decide to switch from the PowerPC to another processor, they remain the only fully integrated company in the personal computer market, the only one to make both the hardware and the operating system.

Why should Apple give up control over the most reliable hardware on the market and compete with Microsoft by only offering an alternative OS for PC boxes? Why should Apple give up the profits generated from hardware sales?

From Miller's perspective, it's mostly because he can't afford a Mac. He'd like to own one, but believes they cost too much. But then he's on a tight budget and likes to build his own PCs. I wonder if he's considered the value of used Macs....

Anyhow, Miller claims that Apple is "getting clobbered by the cheaper x86 market," which is like saying that BMW is getting clobbered by all the cheap Korean cars on the US market. It's nonsense; Apple doesn't compete in the "cheap x86 market."

Why does Apple make its own hardware? Because they want to ensure a better user experience - which is exactly why Apple had to approve the motherboard designs in the Maclones back in the clone era. Too many compromises would ruin the Macintosh experience, and some of the cloners really did make too many compromises to keep costs down to retain brand value as worthy alternatives to Apple's own hardware. I know. I've used them.

It Won't Work

What Miller wants isn't for Apple to simply design new computers around a different CPU; he wants Apple to abandon their profitable hardware business and port OS X to today's Windows boxes. And nothing would kill Apple faster than that.

I'm not saying that Apple couldn't double their market share by selling OS X for Intel. I am saying that much of what makes a Mac a Mac would disappear in the process. Sure, the OS would look and work just like it does today, but the integration of hardware and software that Mac users expect would disappear.

And Apple would probably go broke trying to support all the different CPUs, motherboards, network cards, video standards, and other hardware that PC users take for granted. They'd also have to greatly increase staffing to support users trying to make OS X for Intel work on the motherboard of the day or with the latest video card.

No, if Apple does decide to put Intel inside at some point, it will be in AppleDesigned hardware that retains the hardware/software integration that has so spoiled Mac users for nearly 20 years now.

And that, Mr. Miller, is the reason that Apple survives today when Commodore, Atari, Amiga, and so many others are faint memories for most of us - not to mention Packard Bell, Zeos, Tandy, PC Brand, CP-M/86, GEOS, and a host of other hardware and OS vendors that have failed in the PC market.

Instead of cobbling together your own econobox next time you want an upgrade, why not look at the used and refurbished market for the real thing: a nice G3 or G4 Macintosh. Get the kind of hardware you'll never find in a cheap PC and the kind of OS that has inspired Microsoft copying for two decades.

Then tell us whether Apple's quality computers are overpriced - and if you still think they should abandon the hardware market.