Life’s an apple

A month ago I bought one of the last 12″ Apple PowerBooks. I like it. It’s a nice package, it was good value and I like the form factor. And the style, of course. I know new MacBook packs more performance, and Intel processor and (finally) some new design elements, but what the hell… 😉 I always wanted a Mac; it’s really surprising that no other PC manufacturer (except, maybe, for Sony) did ever discover the value of decent industrial design.

Anyway, I’ve been following the new about Apple Inc. for quite a while. There was the switch to Intel (wow…) and now you can even boot Windows on these machines (woa!). And of course some folks get all emotional about “where this is heading”, I heard that they even complained to their respective geek magazines for testing Windows on the new Macs.

Apple as a company, is in the business of selling hardware. That’s what behind their business decisions. Apple aficionados don’t seem to like this idea, they tend to think that Apple is (or at least should be) doing was Microsoft does. That it wants to put OS X out on every desktop.

But Apple only cares about you running OS X as long as they can sell you the machine running it. That’s why Mr. Jobs axed the Mac clones, and that’s why they don’t appear to be very keen on people running OS X on non-Apple hardware. This may even be the reason why they didn’t release the sources for the Intel kernel yet.

This is in line with the long-running strategy of locking customers in: As long as you want to keep OS X, you have to buy the hardware from Apple. And as long as you want to use the iTunes store, you have to buy an iPod. This strategy kind of worked for them: Apple Inc. is still in the business of making personal computers. IBM isn’t any more.
Unfortunately for Apple, this also makes it a hassle for current Windows users to switch. If you want to keep your software, you couldn’t buy hardware from Apple. And with their dwindling market share, this became their real problem.

This means that Apple will want to make it real easy for Windows users to switch while keeping the existing customers, and, if possible, keep the existing customers locked in.

Boot Camp is the first step in that direction. It makes Apple hardware interesting to PC users. In Apples book a Mac running Windows isn’t a lost OS X convert. It’s an extra unit sold.

I suspect that Apple is working on a real virtualisation solution that allows you to run Windows software alongside native OS X applications. If they’d make it possible to run Windows applications (and games) “natively” on OS X, there would be virtually no barrier to switching. But people would still be locked in if they started using some native OS X applications.

The danger is that this strategy may remove the incentive for third-party developers to make native OS X applications. Why make a native version, if the Windows version runs anyway? In my book, the answer to that question is open – the users will decide. Native versions will exist as long as there is a profit in making them. Just remember that Microsoft very quickly abandoned the idea of a shared code-base for office, because the Windows-like stuff just didn’t sell.

And even if third-party developers would abandon the platform, Apple itself would still keep making applications to keep it “exclusive”. I just wonder if it’s would be in Apples interest to put out a real cross-platform development kit. And if decent .NET support will be included in the next version of OS X.

Ultimately, the fate of OS X will be decided in the marketplace. If doesn’t help Apple to sell it’s hardware, there is a chance it will be ditched. But I don’t see it happening soon, because there is a lot at stake for Apple. Without OS X they’d be just another maker of generic PCs. They’d use the “exclusivity” (and the option to lock in users) and with it a big part of their “premium” brand image.

And that’d hurt really bad.

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