I doubt Apple would do this, but it's still a cool idea.Michael Michael Dell is interested in licensing Apple's Mac OS.
I've mentioned several times in the past few months that executives from several PC companies have told me of their interest in Apple's Mac OS X operating system. Sadly my sources would not let me attribute these assertions; PC executives are pretty leery of offending Microsoft, which holds enormous power over their businesses. So, many readers have challenged me on this point.
But Dell (the company) has for several years fearlessly—and lucratively—sold servers loaded with Linux, the operating system Microsoft reviles and dreads. And as the industry's top dog it wields more bargaining power with Microsoft than other PC-makers. So I emailed Michael Dell, now the company's chairman, and asked if he'd be interested in the Mac OS, assuming that Apple CEO Steve Jobs ever decides to license it to PC companies. (For now, Jobs says he won't.)
"If Apple decides to open the Mac OS to others, we would be happy to offer it to our customers," Dell wrote in an email. It's the first time any PC industry executive has openly shown enthusiasm for selling machines with Apple's software. Though that's all Dell would say for the record, I suspect his interest is not unknown to Jobs. So, as I said in this column last week (and in an article in the new issue of FORTUNE), the ball is in Jobs' court.
Dell's wasn't the only email I got last week. Scores of letters came in reacting to my article suggesting that Apple's move to Intel could usher in a new era of success.
A number of readers said it made little sense for Apple to license its OS to the PC universe, because one of Apple's advantages is that it has complete control of the specs for both the hardware and software in Macintoshes. "Having to support legacy hardware…would be the worst thing for a company that is forward-looking and not backwards-thinking," wrote one reader. "When a Mac OS can cope with all the random junk [that gets plugged into a PC] then you can have an 'Apples to apples' comparison," wrote another.
However, a reader who ID'd himself merely as "Mark" suggested a solution—Apple should license the next version of its operating system, known as Leopard, but only to PC vendors who agree to put it on systems with certain specifications. He also speculates that Apple would, in such a scenario, insist on a minimum system price. PC vendors, he says, would be pleased to oblige, since making money in that business is so tough. Perhaps Michael Dell is thinking along similar lines. (He wouldn't say.)
Many readers were surprised that Apple announced its partnership with Intel and not AMD, which despite being much smaller is ahead of Intel in x86 performance, energy efficiency, and other factors Jobs has said are important.
So, I called up Henri Richard, AMD's chief sales and marketing officer. He said Apple hadn't talked to AMD, and that in some ways that made sense. It was probably, he speculated, all about money. Porting the Mac OS to Intel and bringing along all the applications will be "incredibly" expensive, he said, "and the amount [of money] Apple can get from Intel is vastly greater than what it could get from us." With a marketer's optimism, Richard continued: "Steve [Jobs] is a smart guy. He'll get as much money as he can from Intel, and then go to the best architecture."
Richard also had a spin on the Dell angle of the Apple/Intel tie-up. (AMD has repeatedly failed to win Dell's business, so the company spends a lot of time thinking about the PC giant.) "Intel always wants to be the top dog," he said. "If there was any motivation in this deal from the Intel perspective it was just to keep Dell on its toes." He continued: "It's a cat and mouse game between these guys. This is a subtle way for Intel to remind Dell that there are alternatives that could be pushed."
A few other reader observations on Apple's move:
"Jobs' efforts in multimedia content…with distributors such as the telephone companies… will be strengthened with the move to Intel. It ties in well with the effort to make MPEG 4 HD the standard…" —Robert B.
"Is Apple ready to face software piracy? If it begins to compete with Windows [on Intel chips], it will surely arrive in developing countries where software piracy is high." —Felix, writing from Indonesia. Apple already sells in many developing countries, but not generally in very large quantities.
Another reader wrote: "[IBM's] PowerPC chips used to be the chip of choice for embedded applications, precisely due to power/performance/heat advantages that they have over Intel, which outweighed the popularity penalty for software. (In my business, the Bradley and Abrams military vehicles both use PowerPC boards for precisely that reason.) With new Intel chips that beat PowerPC in performance per watt, IBM is on the edge of losing not only Apple, but the embedded market, where the ability to cool the processor is one of the major design constraints for the system as a whole. My current program (which I will not name, but is in an industry similar to the…Army combat vehicles) is now using PowerPC, but I expect this to change, and the Apple rationale is probably the last nail in the PowerPC coffin on my program."
Finally, perhaps the most telling letter was written by Bob I., who simply said, "With the switch to Intel, I will be buying a Mac for myself."