Now that Steve & Co. have confirmed the rumors by announcing that Apple will transition completely to Intel chips across its product line by the end of 2007, perhaps its a good time to flirt some more with the idea of whats impossible.
I predict that, shortly after the completion of Apples big move, the company will deliver OS X Unbound—a version of its excellent and innovative operating system thatll join Windows, Linux, Solaris and OS Xs own BSD cousins in offering users the option of running the OS theyve acquired on the hardware they choose.
In fact, I believe (and maybe therell be a magic Steve Jobs keynote moment in our future to confirm it) that this has been the Apple co-founders aim ever since he returned to the companys helm. Jobs knows that Apple will never wrest away a significant chunk of Microsofts Windows market share as long as OS X remains tied exclusively to Apple hardware.
Microsofts OS monopoly, in addition to putting a "start" button on almost every desktop in sight, has ingrained a particular sort of business model in the computer market—consumers can choose from a variety of system OEMs and processor vendors on which to run their software.
Computer consumers, particularly companies, arent going to surrender the flexibility of multiple vendors and abandon the still-valuable hardware they possess in exchange for a single, vertically integrated supplier that gets to call all of the shots.
Anyway, Apple itself cant afford to offer the breadth of hardware options that companies and individuals demand—wheres the four-way, dual-core Xserve, or the Mac tablet or the Mac home theater system? What about customers who opt for AMD64, for Transmeta, or for one of Vias fanless mini-ITX systems?
Apple can only take so many hardware gambles on its own, but an unbundled OS X will enable Apple to spread out the risk—the way Microsoft does—while reserving the choicest, highest-margin slice of the pie for itself.
Now, you may be thinking:
1. Apple is a hardware company, not a software company.
2. Without Apples complete control, an unbundled OS X wouldnt "just work."
3. Unbundling OS X would cannibalize Apples hardware sales—thats why Steve killed the clones.
For those of you who contend that Apple is primarily a computer hardware company, ask yourselves where the locus of innovation at Apple resides—its OS X and the suite of slick software tools that are built atop it into which Apple has obviously poured the most attention.
While Apple has also built some very nice system enclosures, the machines these cases enclose have been growing steadily more (gasp) Dell-like.