Okay, I'm getting tired of explaining this over and over in every discussion where someone whines that Apple could take over the world if only they'd sell OS X for generic PCs. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I found another blog that mentions this. Having nothing better to do, I responded to that posting and decided to really flesh out my argument and put it here (slightly edited from the version posted there) so I can just link to it in the future. So, without further ado, here it is:
"Release OS X for beige boxes... Your company could be the next Microsoft."
Uh huh. And look at Microsoft now: They may be a huge, rich company with tremendous marketshare, but it was proven in a court of law that they achieved those things through no small use of illegal means. Currently, they're the laughing stock of the industry, struggling to get Vista out the door (years-late and gutted of all its compelling features), and with their employees burned out, demoralized, updating their resumes and one step shy of open revolt (if you believe what you read on minimsft). I much prefer Apple just the way it is, thanks.
Have you even considered what would go into selling OS X for generic PCs? Everyone who advocates this seems to harbor the illusion that they could cobble together a PC from any old spare parts they had lying around, and by putting OS X on it magically end up with something that works as well as a real Mac. Not bloody likely.
First, tight integration of the hardware and software is what makes a Mac a Mac. The OS X developers know exactly what hardware they're writing for, and can take full advantage of its capabilities. The limited pool of hardware also makes testing a much less onerous proposition. The Windows developers have to code to "lowest common denominator,"-- the alphabet soup of acronyms and abbreviations representing the hardware standards Windows supports. All they can do is hope that all the commodity hardware implements those standards correctly, because they have no hope of testing all the possible hardware combinations that can be (and probably have been, somewhere in the world) assembled into a functioning PC. Microsoft has spent twenty years and untold billions trying to approximate the "It just works" aspect of the Mac, and the best they've been able to come up with is "It usually works, but quite often it doesn't and we don't know why. Maybe if you reboot..." I'm a field tech, and the most common Windows problem I hear is "[Feature/application] worked fine all day yesterday, but when I came in this morning it didn't."
Second, where would all the Mac drivers come from for all those commodity components? Jobs can't snap his fingers and suddenly have driver support in OS X for all the cheap, generic hardware pouring out of the factories in Asia. Even when NeXTStep was available for x86, it only came with a short list of supported generic hardware. If you wanted to install and run NeXTStep on something that wasn't on that list, you were SOL. So then the drivers would have to be produced by the companies making the hardware. Crappy hardware drivers are a big part of what makes the Windows experience miserable, and those companies have been putting out Windows drivers for years. What makes you think they'd do a better job of producing Mac drivers without any prior experience at it? Furthermore, multiple components from multiple vendors mean support becomes a nightmare. Right now if you have a Mac problem, it falls to Apple to solve it because they make the hardware and software. I don't know how many times I've heard of and experienced finger pointing matches between Microsoft support people and the hardware vendor support people, each blaming the other for some random problem instead of trying to address it. I've even had that happen with Dell, and they make the whole damn box! It's not a problem for techies who are able to troubleshoot their own problems, but OS X is supposed to be the savior from that sort of thing. It won't be if it runs on generics.
Third, it would not be profitable for Apple to sell OS X for generics because they'd have to price it to make up for at least some of the revenue loss due to the resulting lost Mac sales. The people who currently bitch about the price of a Mac will not buy an OS from Apple that costs as much as their cheap PC did (if not more). And don't even tell me Apple could price it lower and make it up in volume, because a stroll through the dot-com boneyard proves that the "we'll make it up in volume" business model flat out doesn't work. Most of Apple's revenue comes from their computer sales, not iPods. They have to maintain that revenue somehow to fund R&D, or you'll see OS X stagnate like Netscape Navigator did when Microsoft killed Netscape's revenue by making IE free.
Fourth, even if Apple did sell it for generic PCs, many, many, many people would still download it illegally, anyway-- particularly if Apple priced it to try to compensate for lost hardware sales. That means more lost revenue, because now people stealing the OS haven't even purchased a Mac on which to run it. So sooner or later Apple would be adding activation to OS X out of necessity. Honestly, considering how hard the "we want everything for nothing" crowd has already worked to crack the developer copies of OS X Intel and subsequent updates, I wouldn't be surprised to see OS X 10.5 ship with installation keys and/or activation.
Finally, do you think Microsoft would stand idly by while Apple made this incursion into "their" turf? Look what happened to Be, Inc. Hell, look what happened to Netscape and Go Corp, for that matter. The only thing that saved NeXT from the same fate was Apple purchasing them. No, Microsoft would quickly retaliate if Apple started selling OS X for any old PC. They'd probably discontinue Office for OS X, and lean on Dell and the other big-name PC makers to ensure they didn't ink any deals to sell PCs preloaded with OS X. In other words, Microsoft would just go back to their old, anticompetitive ways to the degree they could get away with it.
Reasoned replies and/or constructive comments are appreciated.