Some people are of the view that Apple should make its operating system work on non-Apple hardware.
The argument goes like this: Windows has a reputation for being, shall we say, problematic. Businesses spend millions of dollars every year just trying to keep their Windows-based machines free of malware, or coaxing them back to life once they’ve been infected. If a CTO or IT manager could be convinced that using Apple’s software might save him and his team time, and therefore money, they might consider switching from Windows.
Therefore, this argument concludes, Apple is missing out on a vast fortune by keeping its software locked into its hardware. It should free up the OS and reap the rewards.
But there’s another, equally valid, counter-argument. One of the main reasons why Mac OS X works so well is because Apple has such tight control over the hardware. Apple engineers don’t have to worry about the multitude of system configurations that Microsoft engineers do; they know in advance what kind of hardware setup their software will be running on, and can design it accordingly, for optimum performance.
So if Apple were to make OS X available for use on Wintel machines, it would be shooting itself in the foot. The complexity of hardware would soon show up weaknesses, and thousands of users would bombard the web with tales of how their installation of OS X on an x86 box failed miserably.
Two sound viewpoints, each a reasonable prediction. What’s a computer company to do?
Over here in the UK, we have a standing joke about something called “the third way”. It’s supposed to be a new political path for a nation to tread, something between traditional conservatism and traditional socialism, the political memes of the last 50 years. It’s a half-way position; a compromise.
Could there be a valid third way for Apple and the x86 architecture?
We already know that Darwin, the heart of OS X, is an open source project and will run on x86. It has no GUI of its own, but will run common window managers like KDE and Gnome.
So here’s one third way: Apple could create a new, separate operating system for x86 computers. It would not be a port of OS X, but it would have the Apple branding all over it. Just as with Linux distros, the basic OS would be free; but Apple could still sell a boxed version for a reasonable price (cheaper than OS X, and cheaper than Windows, of course).
Why? Why go to all that trouble? To show that there are alternatives. Those troubled CTOs and IT managers? They’d have something they could turn to that, to all intents and purposes, would be almost a Linux distribution. But they’d be able to say to their bosses and fellow vice-presidents: “This is Apple for PCs. We get to use reliable Apple software, without having to pay a premium for Apple hardware. This could save us a fortune.”
The sales pitch would be: “This is a reliable alternative to Windows, provided by Apple.” It would not be: “This is OS X for PCs.”
And then there’s another third way: hook up with one of the world’s biggest PC hardware companies. Team up with none other than IBM. Now that would get some attention.
Pretend you’re Steve Jobs. What would you do?