The news of Apple switching to Intel processors was somewhat anticlimactic for me. Surely, the rumor mill — which included a short article in a little newspaper called The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) — presaged the event by a number of days and softened the blow, but like others, I’ve long believed that somewhere in Cupertino (or Palo Alto), a PC was running Mac OS X.
Hearing the news was still awe-inspiring, but as consumer electronics guru Walter Mossberg said, as long as the Mac experience remains intact on future “Mactel” machines, consumers, including me, won’t bat an eye. If Apple can provide developers with tools to ease the transition, something far easier than the migration from 68K to PowerPC or the long metamorphosis from “Classic” MacOS 9 to Mac OS X, the move to Intel chips will be no more painful than filling up with Kangaroo gas instead of BP. Belly up to the Genius Bar: Now Serving… dual-core, 64-bit PowerBooks.
If anything about the announcement causes my head to spin, it’s the vault of opportunities that Mactel could crack open. For starters, how about the untold millions of PCs running a lackluster and vulnerable Windows? Crazy? I don’t think so. According to a recent report by AssetMetrix, 48 percent of all business PCs are still running Windows 2000. By 2006, a mature and secure Mac OS X may be much more appealing than a “1.0” Longhorn. Access to such an enormous installed base, one that’s already embracing iPod, could give Apple bite.
Reciprocally, more Mac OS X installs could translate directly into more (increasingly semi-proprietary) Apple hardware sales. Impossible? It may be counterintuitive, but there are ready precedents. Consumers can buy an Archos or even a Sony MP3 player, but most have chosen the iPod — independent of what kind of computer they own. And while Dell may be the champion of the Clone Wars, it and no other PC manufacturer has duplicated the fit and finish of Apple hardware. Running Mac OS X on Apple gear would be a matter of preference, even a statement or “lifestyle choice,” just like owning an iPod.
Moreover, in a world where both PCs and Macs are built from Intel chips, (and you know someone will port Windows to Mactel,) a consumer no longer has to choose one side of the aisle or another. PCs could become truly bipartisan. (If PCs can do it, how about you, Congress?)
Of course, PCs can already run a good number of non-Windows operating systems, including Solaris and our dear Penguin. So what does this all mean to Linux? I tend to agree with resident curmudgeon Jason Perlow (see “Shutdown” on the back page): Mactel puts Linux on notice.
In theory, any way. All of what I’ve said is pure speculation. There are any other number of scenarios.
For example, even if Mac OS X remains constrained to Mactel by Apple’s engineers or attorneys, the combination of Linux and Mac OS X is already quite compelling (and widely embraced by open source geeks). Mac OS X and Linux are practically siblings as compared to Windows and Linux.
Apple isn’t perfect and it often riles even its own community with litigation. But the recent news is a shot in the arm in the PC industry. It’s also a wake-up call: Innovate or die.