|Tuesday, December 20, 2005
22:32 - It slices, it dices
Interesting, if fanciful, take on the upcoming Intel Macs from Daniel Jalkut: he thinks they're going to drive Dell out of business.
A much under-discussed aspect of the new Intel Macs is that, as far as I have been able to glean, Apple has no plans to restrict the ability of users to install Windows on the machines. And why would they? Thatís the secret weapon! In the market for a new laptop? Has to run Windows? Why buy a Dell when you can buy a Powerbook with all the same abilities, a sexier design, and the added bonus of being capable of running Mac OS X? Apple is about start selling PCs, and the slightest bit of marketing or consumer word-of-mouth about this fact should ignite a huge increase in hardware sales for Apple at the expense of other Intel-based computer manufacturers.
Whenís the last time you sat in a room with a bunch of Linux/Unix nerds? Have you noticed what kind of computers they use? Sure, there are a bunch of PC-compatible laptops, but in many rooms Iíve observed that perhaps the majority of these users are using Apple Powerbooks. Why? Because people like nice hardware. Apple gained many of these customers without selling them on Mac OS X. They install Linux, BSD, or Darwin on their machine and otherwise continue their GTK/X-Windows/Whatever lifestyle as they did before. These users are the warning bell for Dellís collapsing customer base. People who run Windows in 2006 will be doing so more and more often on Apple hardware.
When Apple releases their first Intel-based computer, it will also be the first computer in history that has the ability to triple-boot Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, all with full performance and compatibility. When the computer maker whose designs have been the envy of the technology world for decades suddenly becomes the most compatible player on the block (Apple!?), youíre looking at a dangerous combination.
Letís imagine a hypothetical analogy. Youíve got all the car makers in the world. The Fords, Toyotas, Porsches, etc. They all make cars, and people donít love them, but they donít hate them. They get them from point A to point B, and some of them are even somewhat well designed. Now imagine the ďSuperlacarĒ that looks prettier and performs better than any on the market. Itís sexier than a Maserati, safer than a Volvo, and more fuel efficient than a Toyota Prius. The only problem is it runs on corn oil, while every other car on the market runs on gasoline. A small niche of the public buys into the car because itís just too sexy to pass up. They make excuses for the vats of corn oil they keep in their garage. They argue into the night with Honda owners that the Superlacar is a better choice, because itís just so sexy, reliable, safe, and (in the long run) affordable. The Honda owner agrees with most of the points, but itís damn inconvenient to store those giant vats of corn oil! For most people, itís just not worth it.
When Superlacar announces that, from this day forward the vehicle will run on gasoline, every other car maker in the world is screwed.
Interesting hypothesis, and there's lots of reason to doubt it, but there's plenty more there to support it too (mostly of the gut-feeling variety, but still, hard to argue with conclusively). True, Dell is still a significantly bigger company than Apple, but I haven't heard many fawning articles describing them as the darling of the burgeoning PC industry anymore. Ever since they brought out their first laptops with 802.11 cards, and said proudly that theirs were "the first wireless laptops in the world" (ignoring the fact that iBooks with AirPort were already a year old by then), their vaunted leadership in manufacturing efficiency has always seemed to be coupled with a curious lack of originality in design. Of course, originality isn't what people buy Dells for. But still, it's hard not to wonder whether manufacturing efficiency alone is enough to see Dell through the storms that have foundered IBM, Compaq, Gateway, and so many other PC manufacturers in a world where the trend has always been toward more of a closed-box computing experience from a big-name company and away from homebrew Frankenstein computers, a world where companies like the ones that have been fizzling ought to be thriving.
If Apple is indeed planning not to care about preventing people from running Windows on their Macs, it certainly seems like a win-win situation for themóit'd forgo any warranty on support, but for the people who'd do that sort of thing, a support warranty is worthless anyway. Apple certainly hasn't tried to keep people from putting Linux on their PowerBooks and taking them to geek conventions; why would they mind people spending the full price on a new Mac and then putting Windows on it of their own accord? Hell, I can see a whole potential business opportunity for value-add resellers who might put Windows on your Mac and support it for you. Why should Apple mind that?
The only unknown here is cost, and a Mac with Windows would certainly cost significantly more than a comparable Dell. Most people surely wouldn't have any reason to spend that money, just to get access to the Mac universe, regardless of how sanguine Jalkut is on the subject. But people within the tech industry would find it hard to resist.
Could this have been a factor in Apple's decision to go Intel? I kinda doubt it; but it would be a nice side effect, to be sure.
UPDATE: For that matter, the "Superlacar" metaphor is flawed; it only holds if the Superlacar still retains all its desirable traits if you run it on gasoline instead of corn oil. But to make the metaphor consistent, the Superlacar would have to become dowdy, unsafe, and inefficient if you ran it on gasoline; if you wanted it to remain sexy and safe and economical, you'd have to stock all that corn oil like you normally would.
A Mac that you only run Windows on is just a Windows computer that looks stylish; it's no Superlacar. You've still got to run Mac OS X and buy Mac OS X applications in order to get access to the Mac-ness you bought.
UPDATE: Bob Crosley has a much more sober set of predictions.