Now that Apple has released its long-awaited Mac OS X operating system, whats next? Is the company on the verge of going the way of Silicon Graphics, as Michael Dell stated in his self-serving comments in a recent issue of Business Week? I dont think so, but then, I never did. I wish I had a quarter for every time someone predicted Apples demise—Id be a jillionaire by now.
Rather than going under, Apple has increased its options by embracing the open-source world through its use of FreeBSD and the Mach kernel as the foundation for Mac OS X. As perhaps the easiest-to-install version of Unix out there, OS X puts Mac users in the position of discovering a closet full of applications they never knew existed.
Despite its birthing problems, OS X will outgrow its awkward and callow youth to surpass the smoothness and sophistication of the mature Mac OS 9. The real future of Mac OS X, however, lies in the development of Darwin, the open-source Unix foundation of Mac OS X, and in its eventual migration to the PC platform.
Mac OS has always offered a powerful platform for multimedia and graphics, but running on the RISC-based PowerPC processor has limited it to a niche in the PC firmament. To truly expand its market share, Apple needs to help developers bring Darwin to X86-based PCs.
A few years ago, Intel was the sole producer of X86 chips, but AMD and Cyrix changed that, and Apple can have its pick of X86 suppliers. Mac OS X offers Mac users a choice of operating systems, and now Apple has a chance to offer a choice of processors as well.
The open-source underpinnings of Mac OS X mean that Apple doesnt have to go it alone as the developer of the Mac OS, and its not as if the idea of an X86-based Mac is foreign to Apple. Rhapsody, Mac OS Xs ancestor, could be installed on Intel-based PCs, and those X86-based development tools are still floating around Apple somewhere.
Face it, its still an X86 world. By updating its Rhapsody tools for X86 machines and making them available to developers, Apple can instantly broaden its base of potential users. And right now, thats not such a bad idea.