Looking Back: OS X on x86 “Stupidest Thing Apple Could Do”?

intelcoreduo.pngI stumbled upon an article on Low End Mac written by Jeff Adkins exactly four years ago (October 17th, 2002) detailing the author’s opinion that “OS X on x86 would be the stupidest business decision in history.”

That was the time when an x86 version of OS X (Project Marklar) was still very much under wraps, and all sorts of leaks–whether fabricated or true–to that effect had been making the rounds of email lists, forums and early blogs. Apparently, the author’s worry was that porting OS X into the x86 architecture would make no sense for Apple as it would only lead to the demise of the company.

While we know how things have turned out, it’s quite interesting to revisit the past, and to recall how we once thought of our favorite tech company/companies. Sometimes we get a good laugh over our past experiences. When we see how things eventually turn out, it’s either I thought so, or What was I thinking? Or perhaps it’s Why didn’t I think of that?

Fast forward to 2006. As history would have it, Apple did switch to the x86 platform, but it did not turn out the way the author originally envisioned it to be. The author had his points and I would say they were valid and very much reasonable. But history sure has a funny way of making things turn out not as expected.

Point 1: Apple will never be able to offer its OS at a price point that Microsoft can’t undercut.

My take: Apple never has to. By this time, Apple already has a cult following loyal enough (or more than loyal) to stick with the company even with comparatively higher prices. While this statement was made with the view that a switch to x86 would mean that OS X would eventually be sold separately from Apple hardware (i.e., for use with other-branded PCs like Dell, HP, IBM, etc.), I don’t think it’s reasonable to pit OS X against Windows this way. They’re simply different (this is the understatement of the century), and they cater to different people with different needs and preferences.

Point 2: No hardware vendor would risk its Microsoft Windows contract by offering a competing OS.

To the contrary, there are hardware vendors that will sell you OS-less computers or those bundled with another OS like some flavor of Linux. Dell, IBM and HP are not marketing this aggressively, though, but ask and you shall receive. The same goes for the Intel stronghold on the hardware market. Manufacturers like HP are giving consumers a choice by marketing AMD-powered laptops and desktops along with Intel-powered ones.

Point 3: Converting to x86 is tantamount to admitting that recent ad campaigns touting the power of the G4 against the Pentium were just so much hot air, which devalues all of Apple’s carefully shepherded advertising dollars.

Okay, you got me there. When Apple first released the MacBook Pro, they even go as far as saying “Up to five times faster than the PowerBook G4.” Tsk! Have we just been had?

Point 4: If an x86 machine can run OS X, then if Apple rebrands some machine that can do that with an Apple logo, it stands to reason that the same machine could run Windows.

One word: BootCamp!

(Or maybe two words? Okay, it’s a compound word!)

Steve Jobs standing in a room and seeing an Apple-branded machine running Windows natively. Yup – that’s what I thought. Jobs would rather sell Pixar to Disney than see that.

Wonder of wonders! Steve Jobs did sell Pixar to Disney. And Steve Jobs probably sees Windows running on Macs natively every day, by virtue of BootCamp.

My bold prediction

Arguing with something written in the past is probably pointless. Or at the very least, it’s quite amusing. We have yet to see whether Apple’s switch to the x86 platform proves to be a stupid business decision, indeed. But using Apple’s steady market share so far as an indicator, I would say the switch has probably even improved the company’s standing in today’s increasingly competitive industry.

Now here’s my bold prediction that I’ll probably either support or contradict four years from now.

OS X will eventually run officially on non-Apple hardware.

What say you, my fellow MacHeads?

Comments

  1. I say never. Apple’s whole business is about hardware. Mac OS X is what sells Apple’s machines. Microsoft’s business model is a completely different one, the develop software. Since day 1, Steve has wanted to sell computers, not CDs.

  2. I’m sure you’re already aware that it is possible to run OSX on non-Apple hardware (see http://www.osx86project.org), however this is not legal. I presume you were implying a legal way when you said ‘run officially’.

    The problem is that Mac OSX runs the way it does because Apple only needs to test it on a small number of hardware configurations, most Windows problems can be attributed to third party software (be it applications or drivers).

    If OSX could run legally on non-Apple hardware, I’m not sure it’d be any better than Windows. Besides, that would obviously destroy Apple’s hardware sales.

  3. I doubt Apple would ever allow OS X(or future operating systems) to be run on non-Apple hardware. Not so much because they want to force people to get their hardware, but because the reason their products are great is everything just seems to “work”. They would lose this if their operating system could be put any any machine that also could run windows.

  4. When I say allow in my previous comment I am referring to official support.

  5. I’d say it’s pretty easy to pick on a four year old article! However, you make some good points, and had the previous aurthor know that Apple couid have made a OS that was only locked to their brand of hardware – maybe he would have thought differently.

  6. I thinik you are right, to a point. I see a future where Apple may join with another hardware vendor, to offer OS X on certain systems, with certain configurations, only. That way, Apple keeps control of OS X (and away from driver hell), but lets the consumer have choice in hardware.

  7. Already this article is a bit outdated since Parallels Virtual Desktop seems to be a much nicer way to run Windows (XP or even Vista) on a Mac tan BootCamp. You have BOTH OS’s running at once on the same machine almost without loss of speed (as long as they’re not both doing a lot of work…). So: when will we be able to run Mac OSX in Parallels Virtual Desktop for Windows (or LInux?). Just simulate the difference in the hardware…

  8. Apple wants to supply the whole experience, that is why they took control of the retain and repairs, they are not going to let go of everything but the OS.

  9. Josh Chudnovsky says:

    I’ve never been one to believe the hype back when Apple touted that the PowerPC was faster than Intel Chips, but let’s be fair.. the G4 and G5 are really old chips… IBM has made very few incrementations to the line, and since its introduction how many times have Intel and AMD upped the Ante? Notice that the Mac Pro is only twice as fast as its G5 counterpart… not shocking that an intel chip thats basically the same from its desktop counter part is 4-5x faster than an incredibly old G4. The only fair comparison would be to toss in an old chip into a mac pro from when the G5’s came out and see how they compare running universal binary apps.

  10. I say the sooner, the better. I’m in the market for a laptop. In the past, I’ve always used either linux or windows for my operating system. I’ve long toyed with the idea of a mac, but couldn’t bring myself to pay more money for less computing power. Now that I can get a beautifully engineered macbook pro for only slightly more money than an equivalent windows laptop, the question becomes simpler: Can I stomach osX? To be quite honest, I don’t want to spend several thousand dollars finding out.

    If Apple sold a standalone copy of osX that I could install on my beige box and take for a drive, that would solve my problem. I’d be more than willing to spend $100 or so to find out what it’s really like. As it stands today, my only option (other than taking a huge risk) is to download a copy of tiger and try to install it into VMWare.

  11. I think that we should never say never. There could be an advantage for, let’s say Dell to offer a dual-booting Windows/Mac machine – the cult of Dell loyalists (they exist, honest!), would probably jump onboard for that.

    But, maybe it never will happen. But I sure as heck won’t say it never would. ;-)

  12. I think that now would be the perfect time for Apple to release OSX to everyone. Windows is just coming out with Vista, which has gotten plenty of bad press. During the same time that MS has struggled in public (2003-2006), Apple has regained its name in the consumer market with the iPod line. It’s already created a significant “halo effect” of users switching to Mac hardware, but now would be the prime time for Apple.
    Vista: 5 versions. Some over $300. Delayed since 2003. Many tools already released that give XP many of Vista’s new functionalities.
    OS X: 1 full-featured consumer version. $99. Updated about yearly.

    Honestly, people like Apple enough now that they could totally “kidnap” people who would otherwise upgrade to Vista. I know that there’s no proof at all for my statement, but it’s my hopeful prediction based on current market factors.

  13. This is part of Apples’ plan to stop innovating. Innovating is expensive and Steve Jobs only cares about cash.

    By simply creating a rebranded BSD variant with a pretty windows manager Apple cut development costs. By deciding to use the standard PC platform Apple cut development costs. They really haven’t innovated anything in quite a while.

    All the upcoming products I’ve seen are simply Apple branded and boxed products I’ve wanted for the PC.

    In the future I expect to see many more rebranded products with little innovation. I can only hope the some hold outs from the ‘olde’ times are working on projects that Jobs knows nothing about.

    I miss seing what innovation looks like. It seems to be in inverse of stock price.

  14. Also
    Is boot camp really the answer? Honestly is the best thing you can run on Apple hardware windows?

    That says a lot right there.

  15. I agree with J. Angelo’s prediction but I don’t think it is all that bold. The truly BOLD prediction is that Apple will sell a Mac bundled with Vista. People will pay top dollar for a premium hardware platform if it will easily (aka natively) run their applications.

    Gentlemen, start your flamethrowers.

  16. Think apple must make osx for non-apple machines. I would buy it in a heartbeat for my PC. Windows is way to bloated and full of holes with all the hackers bent on breaking it. A OS based on linux must be better than windows. Then I buy mac version of office and im set. Windows is a slow giant mess that slows to a crawl regardless of your hardware. When apple releases for non-apple and shows that its better than windows and theirs good supply of non-windows software, apple can finally kill the beast that is ms. Got to get all the OEM to include osx on their machines.

  17. I don’t think Apple will ever release OS X on x86 to install on a bare machine due to the massicve number of configurations they would need to handle (I don’t think they have enough programmers to handle the task).

    But why not release a VMWare or Parallels version of OS X which could run in a window on XP/Vista. You’d loose some of the performance of the display – a benefit to Apple as it would lead to people buying more Macs – but would also mean the distribution would only need to work on a single virtual machine configuration.

    My 2c

  18. Solaris already runs on x86 and is given away for free; you can download it from Sun’s website. Sun makes its money primarily from hardware sales too. Why can’t Apple do the same thing? I think Apple is indeed considering doing the same thing. I think Apple is watching Sun very carefully to see if giving Solaris away seems to boost Sun’s hardware sales (and/or any other interesting effects) before making their decision.
    From what I can see, giving Solaris away has definitely been a good move for Sun, and I think it would be for Apple too. Sun’s hardware sells because it’s really, really nice hardware, not because of software. Suns even run Windows and Linux, fully supported! Apple hardware also sells, I think, because it’s really really nice hardware (I know dozens of people who bought black MacBooks to run windows and then never got around to installing XP, they just used OSX out of the box and loved it – but that’s beside my point, which is that they bought the MacBooks because it’s nice hardware). And you can run Windows and Linux on your Apple hardware, just like Suns.
    Come to think of it… has anyone out there booted Solaris on an Apple x86? Or OSX on a Sun x86?

  19. That would be nice, but I doubt they will sell OS X separately. That would kill their whole hardware business. Who would buy a Mac for three grand when they could buy a regular PC for a third of that price or less and install OS X on it, thus getting the same experience.

  20. Regarding Apple’s claim that the new Intel-based machines trounce the older G4/G5 counterparts, which apparently contradicts Apple’s earlier claim that G4/G5 trounced the older Pentium counterparts:

    The newer claim is comparing processors based on the Intel Core microarchitecture (and don’t tell me it’s Core 2: the actual microarchitecture is called Core, the processors are called Core 2/Xeon) and the Core processors are better than the G4/G5s. However, the older claim was based on the lumbering Pentium processors which were based on the (far worse) NetBurst microarchitecture. These had, as most of you probably know, heat & performance issues which the Core processors have since addressed.

  21. I don’t think there is a ton of money to be made in hardware. Let’s see, you build a computer for $400 dollars. You sell it for $500. You make a $100 profit.
    or
    You write an OS. You press the discs for pennies and sell it for hundreds. You profit hundreds.

    I like the Apple Hardware. Heck, comparing Mac to PCs is like comparing BMW’s to Toyotas. I like all the bells and whistles that you get on a mac.

    However, I would like to see OS X’s install base grow. If folks can install it legally on P4 boxes. I can see more people buying the software for their already purchased computer.

    However, as Mac Sales are up, I don’t see Apple doing this just yet. But what OS are people really installing on their Macs?

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