Third ways

by Giles Turnbull

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?


2004-12-06 07:57:11
If I were Jobs ...

I would buy IBM's PC business and sell PC Laptops with OSX on them. Since they are controlling that hardware, they can deal with the issues of compatibility pretty easily.

The idea of a Darwin system running something like KDE has merits, but if it were me I would opt for OSX.

2004-12-06 09:19:38
If I were Jobs ...
There's rumours of the reverse e.g. IBM selling PowerPC based machines running Mac OS X:

2004-12-06 09:39:29
If I were Jobs ...
Check the final paragraph of my article ... I've linked to exactly that article at The Register! :)

It was reading their opinion piece that inspired me to post this in the first place!

2004-12-06 10:04:16
Forget it :-)
Will never least not in any way you've stated.
I don't think the enterprize is a big Apple focus. And, I don't think the enterprize is that big of a "prize" anymore.
Now, if IBM sells their PC division and ties up somehow with Apple, there may be that "third way".
2004-12-06 10:14:55
better idea
Apple could never put out OS X for windows while remaining a hardware company - they need MS's support (tolerance) for things like Office on OS X. If MS closed their MacBU Apple would be in trouble. Perhaps not lots and lots of trouble, but some trouble.

But consider: Apple has stated publicly that OS X has reached basic maturity as an OS, and in the future updates will be fewer and farther between. So all these very smart coders on the OS X team, what will they do with their time? Why not jump ship and start their own software company? They could produce a "Linux for the rest of us," a really nice, really user-friendly OS for x86 built on a Darwin or Linux or what-have-you-open-source core. As you suggested, it could be distributed with a Linux pricing model. Or charge money, just less than MS. Whatever. Apple could claim to feel betrayed about the whole thing, and thus stay in the good graces of MS.

Ah, we can dream. . .

2004-12-06 14:01:54

That's what customers want to hear...

[Paraphrasing the president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems]

"Mac OS X is giving customers a real option to run the same, 64-bit operating system on IBM PowerPC, AMD Opteron/Athlon 64, and Intel-based workstations/servers-on systems built by over 250 different manufacturers. Apple is the only vendor delivering the same OS across industry-standard workstations, servers and high-scale enterprise systems. The only one to give you that level of choice."

2004-12-06 15:20:49
If I were Jobs ...
Am I going mad, or was that link added later?
2004-12-06 15:39:59
If I were Jobs ...
Heh, no, it wasn't added later and was in the original. Not that I want to suggest that you're mad. :)
2004-12-06 23:20:26
If I were Jobs ...
Apple's license for OS/X specifically forbids its use on any hardware not built by Apple...
2004-12-07 00:07:13
better idea
Why this everlasting mantra about Apple requiring MS support? Just what would be lost if Office X wasn't updated anymore? I haven't upgraded Office since version 98/Mac, and survive just fne, thank you! Between AppleWorks, OpenOffice, BBEdit, Keynote, etc. I don't feel the need to buy any more overpriced, buggy bloatware from Redmond.

Besides that, MacOS X is the user-friendly UN*X! Porting a watered-down version to x86 machines might not be a terrible idea (and it's been done). And isn't Darwin opensource?

Anyway, Apple IS a software company, too! Ever heard of Keynote? iTunes? or OS X for that matter? Guess what -- those are software.

None of your arguments for catering to MicroSoft's delicate sensibilities hold water, I'm afraid.

2004-12-07 02:19:20
An Apple OS that won't run Apple apps?
This whole idea would be hugely confusing for customers. Not only would the two platforms not be binary compatible, they wouldn't even be source compatible for anything other than pure Unix apps.

Apple has zero mindshare among corporate decission makers that have already heavily invested in PC hardware. The Apple brand means litte or nothing to them because 99% of them have never even seen, let alone used an Apple computer. To them, at best, Apple=iPod. So why would an Apple branded Linux/BSD clone be attractive to them?

Finaly, Apple could kiss goodbye to their reputation for reliable, robust, easy to use software, and say hello to am world of technical support pain.

Simon Hibbs

2004-12-07 08:15:47
Ian Betteridge has some well-considered thoughts on this
From Technovia:

The problem, though, is that such a deal makes sense for IBM only if you believe that Linux is heading into difficult water, and there's little sign of that. Or is there? Rumours have been floating around for a while that Microsoft is preparing some kind of major attack on Linux through its ownership of intellectual property that the open source operating system may infringe upon. If such an attack were to take place, it would be advantageous for IBM to own a "clean" OS capable of support its systems and platforms - and Mac OS X would be a perfect candidate.