nullstream weblog - Steve's Big Decision

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Steve's Big Decision


October 21, 2007 12:24 PM PST

With only 5 days left before Apple's big Leopard launch Steve Jobs is facing a difficult decision, probably the most difficult decision in his career. He has two different "And one more thing..." announcements sitting it front of him and he has to choose which one to present. He could take the safe path and announce some lame partnership with McDonald's, iTunes movie rentals, or Facebook integration etc. Or he could finally push the button on the big one. The secret weapon with the shiny red button. The one he as been carefully laying the ground work for all these years. The one that will finally allow him to get his revenge over getting sand kicked in his face by that little nerd Bill Gates. I'm talking about cutting OSX free to run on any PC.

Steve turned Apple around, no one disputes that. Once Apple was as good as dead, written off by the entire industry. Today Apple is wildly successful beyond anyones expectations. Apple's transition to Intel is complete, successful and all the kinks are worked out. OSX has proven that you can blend a powerful Unix core with a beautiful graphical user experience. Leopard is the "biggest system update in Mac history". It brings full 64bit, rounds out the OS feature set and pulls ahead with new features like the time machine. Apple hardware has already proven itself to be top notch and affordable. It is so good in fact that it stands on its own even without OSX, as evidenced by people buying Macbooks to run Windows. Apple already dominates the portable music business. Apple successfully released a kicking new phone into a completely saturated market. Steve did what they said couldn't be done do at every turn, that should be enough right? Well except for one thing, Steve's ego. Apple still only owns around 5% of the PC market. That is a significant achievement, but not exactly the world dominating vision he had when he released the first Mac over 20 years ago.

As it turns out the mass market seems content to buy their music players from a single source, but for some reason they seem to be far more diverse in their computer hardware purchasing habits. This is similar to the way consumers purchase cars. It is unlikely that you could get people to standardize on a single source for either of those products anytime soon. Yet the far majority of consumers don't seem to mind using the same operating system. An operating system Steve believes is inferior to his own. It's time for him to prove his is the best. Vista has not been received well by the general market. Sure new PCs are sold with it, but the majority of XP customers are choosing not to upgrade yet. There are six versions of Vista to choose from with a range of prices up to 329.99! Apple brand recognition continues to rise. General market discontent with Windows over security and stability is still generally high. OSX has been running on Intel probably since it's birth, and by now all the apps that mater have been converted to universal binary. Apple's own apps have been sneaking on to Windows for years (Quicktime, iTunes, Safari). When could you ask for better timing?

Yet, it is still a very hard decision to make. One that would very difficult for anyone, even one gifted with super powers like Steve Jobs. Would this decision rocket OSX and Apple to world dominance, or would it sink the sales of Apple hardware? Would it kill the carefully crafted "better than thou" image worshiped by it's loyal fans? Who can say.

In five days: "And one more thing... Starting now we are making Mac OSX Leopard available for every PC! Windows users no longer have to worry about which Vista version to choose. We are giving them the true 'ultimate' upgrade, OSX. Better than Vista and still only 129.99."


Comments (13)
George, October 21, 2007 06:14 PM:

I think Cringely has hacked into nullstream and is posting as John.

Paul, October 21, 2007 10:29 PM:

I don't think that it will happen quite yet if ever, for several reasons:

1. Apple's software works really well because it has a reasonably small set of hardware to run on. Putting it out in the wild world of PC hardware might expose them to a lot of problems that could damage their "it just works" image.

2. Apple still makes a ton of money from their hardware sales. Just go look at one of their quarterly earnings reports. They would take a big hit by trading a $3000 sale into a $129 sale. I think since they dropped the word "Computer" from their name, they realize that a growing portion of their income is coming from iPod, iPhone, iTunes Music Store and other random peripherals and accessories. But it's not large enough yet for them to sabotage a major income stream.

3. Steve's strengths can also be weaknesses. He's often been right about design and strategy, but remember the cube? AppleTV? You need to believe in yourself to succeed, but too much of that can blind you to good ideas. Steve's ideology of building beautiful things means that he's probably averse to seeing Mac OS X running on a creaky Packard Bell junker.

4. Trends are hard to see at the moment. Apple is growing their sales significantly faster than the market, but since their numbers are small, it's hard to see how much of that is noise. Apple has been making significant forward progress for a solid ten years now, so they may well feel that they should just stick to the current plan. Who knows where the trend line will go? 10 percent of the market? 20? Either would be a huge gain, but their already a very profitable company today.

It would be cool if they did that. I'd go and buy an Alienware desktop right away and dual boot it!

Paul, October 22, 2007 03:39 PM:

Did you guys see the latest price for AAPL after market: +$13 (or ~8%). They just had a record quarter that beat their previous record quarter by 25%.

More detail.

This is why they don't need "free" Mac OS X... it's doing great even when bundled with moderately expensive hardware.

John, October 22, 2007 04:43 PM:

Yes there are compelling reasons not to try and fix something that isn't broken. But yet I wonder...

John, October 27, 2007 10:30 AM:

Steve you are a coward. Bill Gates is way braver than you. He deserves to have more money.

George, October 30, 2007 10:34 PM:

Yup, Bill is way braver. He took on the iPod with the Zune. And a Brown Zune no less. That took some brass cojones.

John, October 31, 2007 01:08 AM:

Come on George, Bill took his OS to the mainstream. He stepped up. He took on the thousands of hardware combinations, crazy device vendors multiple processor vendors, and hordes of 3rd party developers. It's all nice to claim you have the best OS while keeping it limited to the laboratory 'clean room' where you control all the variables. Lets see them take OSX out into the real world and see how it holds up. I'm talking to you Jobs - its time to bring it!

Paul, November 1, 2007 01:03 AM:

If only Bill's OS actually worked on all that hardware they claim it does. 'Softies always love to claim how much hardware they support, then claim what a tough job they have when stuff doesn't work properly (i.e. Vista's driver nightmare). You can't have it both ways. Either it all works or it doesn't.

Apple's "clean room" actually works as advertised, and considering that OS X is Darwin (BSD), it already supports more hardware than Windows does (Windows for PowerPC? Alpha?).

GlaDOS, November 1, 2007 10:00 AM:

If you like OS X so much, why don't you marry it?

John, November 1, 2007 11:17 AM:

Ok XP runs on all the hardware they claim it does. Vista will eventually.

BSD might support more hardware than Windows, but OSX certainly does not. For proof of this take a dip into the OSX86 world and see just how difficult it is to make OSX work on modern PC hardware. It's not the hacking around the 'protection' scheme, it is the lack of drivers. Apparently it is not as easy as just dropping a BSD driver onto the disk. If it were All PCs would be supported, and that certainly is not the case.

John, January 28, 2008 09:54 AM:

More calls to open OSX.

Paul, January 28, 2008 11:04 AM:

His points are all silly, armchair nerd CEO stuff ignoring the fact that Apple is not a software company. They sell hardware that happens to have nice software on it. Not to mention that much of Apple's software was obtained through acquisition: Next, BSD, iTunes, Logic (and a bunch of other high end stuff). How does it benefit Apple to "open" Mac OS X?

John, January 28, 2008 12:00 PM:

Yeah it was pretty weak. I thought the whole 'open it' or 'we will' threat was pretty funny.

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