Apple shakes loose

The gravity of a losing market finally pulled the apple from the tree. After quite a bit of speculation, some of which started a few years ago, Apple said yesterday it would cut its ties with IBM and move all its Macs to Intel processors by the end of 2007.

Apple’s dissatisfaction with IBM stems from IBM’s inability to produce enough PowerPC chips for Apple’s G5 machines. IBM also has been unable to deliver on speedier chips (running at 3 GHz or more).

Apple also has been looking to IBM to produce a PowerPC for its laptops that would run on less power and produce less heat than the desktop version. In a year when more laptops were purchased than desktops for the first time ever, Apple has been losing ground in a market where it traditionally held its own. To put it another way, Apple had no choice but to stop fighting and switch.

It’s a risky move but one with huge potential.

The first thing that’s going to happen is the Mac crowd is going to go berserk but, so what, they go crazy over every little change Apple makes. They’ll whine a lot about Apple going to the dark side and stuff like that, but once they calm down, they’ll see it as a change for the better.

Every time the company has shifted technology strategies, it has lost market share, but I don’t see that happening this time around. There is no more market share to lose, but a whole new market to gain. I’ll bet Apple will significantly expand its share over the long term (say, five years out) by introducing faster desktop models and portables that play into demand for super-cool, good-looking stuff that Apple is known for.

Steve Jobs and company are looking at a near future of computing where portability, wireless mobility and individualization, with a generous splash of style, will matter more than price. With the iPOD, Apple proved electronics buyers don’t want cheap—they want something no one else has and they really don’t care if it costs more than that other thing on the shelf.

Anyone shopping between a Mac and a PC has to weigh both the OS and the hardware. Few people have ever found fault with the Mac OS and many agree that its stability, ease-of-use, and look and feel, makes it a more compelling choice than Windows. The problem has always been the low bang and big bucks of Apple’s hardware, and that’s an issue that is about to go away.

According to today’s Wall Street Journal , Apple says it has no plans to offer an OS that will run on any Intel machine other than its own, although it’s not clear what security mechanism will be used to prevent that. I doubt that’s a strategy that will last for long. There are too many compelling benefits of being able to run the Mac OS and Windows on the same machine, and Apple is going to figure that out sooner than later.

Enterprise IT managers will have the option of offering their users two different OSes: one that is trouble free, less susceptible to viruses, worms and Trojans (for now, anyway), does not require frequent updating, has a low learning curve, and capable of running existing software like Microsoft Word and Excel. It’s worth considering, don’t you think?

Meanwhile, Apple will need to convince its developers to rework their software for Intel boxes. Analysts say many won’t want to do that, but what do they know anyway? I’m betting the developers who matter will certainly make the transition. It’s dumb to think they would let a potentially lucrative market slide out of their hands. The Mac market has been in decline; it was inevitable that developers would have to decide soon whether to continue supporting the PowerPC platform anyway.

I was a Mac user (and an Apple II user before that) for more than 10 years before I was assimilated by the Borg. Looks like I’ll be making a switch of my own in the next year or so.

About the Author

Michael Alexander is editor-in-chief of Application Development Trends.