I've been feeling pretty bummed since Steve Jobs announced, earlier this week, that Apple would be moving from PowerPC to Intel x86 CPUs. I'm not sure why I'm so upset, or even if I should be upset. Part of me is sad because I genuinely believe (even in the face of little or no empiricle evidence) in the superiority of RISC architectures, or, possibly, in the obvious (again, without empiricle evidence) inferiority of Intel architectures. The rest of me, however, knows that, so long as the box feels like a Mac, I really won't care if it runs on a PowerPC, M68K, Pentium XVIII, or a hamster in a wheel: the user (my) experience is all that really counts.
Now people are speculating wildly about how Apple will keep people from running OS X on non-Apple hardware. They're talking about motherboard dongles and DRM features in the CPU. Behind all this speculation is the barely concealed assumption of RIAA-like lawsuits. I think that all of this speculation is off the mark.
While Apple has been known to bring lawsuits against vendors seeking to clone Apple hardware, these suits were brought at a time when Apple's only real source of income came from hardware sales and Mac OS (then called simply "System") was given away for free. Times have changed: Apple began charging for system software back in the early nineties with System 7.1 and they now have several distinct income streams including software (including Mac OS X), online music sales, computer hardware and consumer electronics.
When Apple released Mac OS X, in fact, they only guaranteed that it would function with a small set of current and recent systems, reneging on earlier promises to support all G3-based systems. Despite this hardware support policy, however, Apple took little or no notice of efforts to allow use of OS X on older, unsupported, hardware. I don't see any reason to think that they would reverse this behavior with OS X on Intel.
The people who wanted to run OS X on the beige PowerMac G3s, or on pre-G3 PowerMacs, were mainly interested in saving money: they were not likely customers for new Apple products under any circumstance. Given the choice of enforcing the OS X licensing policy and slightly expanding the OS userbase, Apple chose to expand the userbase. Since Apple now charges for each copy of OS X, they were probably not actually losing money to the Old-worlders, so long as most of the ilicit OS X installs were actually paid for.
The people who will want to run OS X Intel on non-Apple hardware are also the most price-sensitive segment of the market. Given the choice of ignoring technical license breaches and passively evangelizing to potential future customers, I think Apple will choose to invest in the future and let people run OS X Intel on anything they want (of course, Apple won't guarantee that OS X will operate with anything other than Genuine Apple (R) hardware, and they certainly won't provide any kind of support).
It should go without saying, of course, that any attempt to distribute pirated copies of Apple software will be met by an army of rabid intelectual property lawyers.
Every installed copy of OS X represents a potential customer for other Apple products and makes the platform more attractive to application vendors. Apple would like it if every person using Apple software were also purchasing new Apple hardware. Even today, however, when the only realistic way to run Apple software is to have Apple hardware, many users either buy second hand equipment or nurse aging equipment along with upgrades and patience. Apple doesn't seem to mind the active markets for upgrades and second hand hardware (though Steve did kill the clone markets shortly after regaining the helm of Apple Computer Corp.) so I see little reason to expect this laissez faire attitude to change. Until Apple actually supplants Microsoft as the operating system vendor on the planet, it will be in Apple's interest to get their products in front of every person they can, regardless of official policy.