What does Apple's move mean for Linux?

What does Apple's move mean for Linux?

Summary: Now that the rumors have turned out to be true, what is this going to mean for Linux -- if anything? Well, let's look at the facts that we have so far.

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TOPICS: Apple
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Now that the rumors have turned out to be true, what is this going to mean for Linux -- if anything?

Well, let's look at the facts that we have so far. Linux has taken off in large part because it runs on commodity hardware (Intel and Intel-compatible), and provides a Unix-like OS that's great for a lot of tasks -- and much cheaper than its proprietary Unix cousins. Linux has a solid presence in the server market, and is developing a presence in the desktop market.

Apple, on the other hand, is working on developing a presence in the server market and the desktop market. While it's widely held that Apple has a wonderful desktop OS, it only runs on (pricey) PowerPC hardware from Apple and doesn't run all the apps that people are used to from Windows.

Apple's move to Intel isn't going to change much. Firstly, Apple seems poised to continue its exclusionary stance, and will require users who want to run Mac OS X to buy the whole kit and kaboodle from Apple. The ZDNet piece quotes Apple Senior Vice President Phil Schiller as saying that "We will not allow running Mac OS X on anything other than an Apple Mac." This means that Apple computers will still continue to carry a price premium that many users are unwilling to pay unless they're already convinced they want to run Mac OS X. Even Apple's low-end Mac Mini is still high-priced compared to similarly-equipped Dell computer. (Apple users can now abandon the "but PowerPC is so much better than Intel!" since even Apple is giving up that line of reasoning.)

On the other hand, users can try out Linux today on the computer they're using to run Windows. No serious financial risk involved, download a few ISOs or buy a boxed set and they're off and running. If it doesn't work out, they can go back to Linux secure in the knowlege that they won't have wasted much more than a few dollars and the time to test out Linux.

Also, the transition will be taking place slowly. Even if the move to Intel hardware makes Apple price-competitive with Dell and other PC vendors, it will be some time before it happens. A lot can happen in two years, and Linux will only continue to improve on the desktop while Apple works on their "Leopard." (Prediction: When the next OS X is released, we'll be inundated by headlines built around the "Leopard changes spots" theme.)

As an unwanted side effect for Apple, the Intel announcement may have a negative effect on sales in the meantime, since users may not want to buy a Apple computer based on the "old" architecture. Apple can assure users all they want about "universal binaries" -- whether it's logical or not, many users won't want to buy a computer that's already seen as discontinued. Pre-announcing products always means that a certain segment of your market will hold off until the new goodies hit the shelves. Yes, two years is obsolete by some people's standards -- I tend to buy a new computer every eight months, on average -- but that's hardly the norm. (Just in case you were wondering, my last purchase was a 20" iMac.)

From this vantage point, it looks like the net effect for Apple is going to be break-even at best. I don't think Apple's move spells doom for Linux on the desktop, or poses a serious threat to Linux in the server market, and it certainly doesn't mean that Apple is poised to defeat Microsoft on its home turf. If Apple planned to allow users to run Mac OS X on any x86 machine, that might be different, but as long as users are obliged to buy an entire computer just to run Mac OS X, it's not going to take over the world by storm. You can argue till the cows come home whether it's a good strategy for Apple to tie the OS to their hardware, but the fact is that it's much harder to convince someone to invest $500 and up on a new computer to run an OS vs. $129 to install it on their existing machine.

By the way, Apple may be abandoning the PowerPC processor, but Yellow Dog Linux (YDL), one of the premier distros for PowerPC machines, plans to stick it out with PowerPC processors. It should be interesting to see how YDL fares once Apple stops selling PowerPC-based machines.

Topic: Apple

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20 comments
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  • Might be great for Linux?

    Now if I heard the podcast right... Linux and M$ will be able to run on the new Mac86. If that holds true ( I think it does) Linux will port to the new Mac86 with ease and less hardware issues. We all love the PC because upgrades and parts are abundant. Linux still has issues with some hardware (cheap hardware). I hope it's good for Apple too. I like Apple always have, even though I have been a Unix/Linux user since back when long hair was cool!
    xstep
  • Error in article

    Fifth paragraph has the statement that "If it doesn?t work out, they can go back to Linux secure in the knowlege that they won?t have wasted much more than a few dollars and the time to test out Linux."

    Should read "If it doesn?t work out, they can go back to WINDOWS secure in the knowlege that they won?t have wasted much more than a few dollars and the time to test out Linux."

    Interesting read, though. I am a Linux user, but support the notion that Apple might bring desktop unix to the masses. Anything that brings a better equilibrium to the OS market is going to be good for the consumer.
    markjensen
    • He couldn't bring himself to say...

      ... users "can go back to Windows...".

      Thinking about Apple and the emotional reaction to a chip change, it's easy to understand what a deep emotional commitment can do to someone's logical faculties.
      Anton Philidor
  • Cool!

    You found a Dell computer 6.5 inches square with firewire, DVI video, USB 2 and a real video chip for $499?
    baggins_z
    • Well

      It might not have those exact DIMENSIONS but for $50 less you can get a computer with a 2.8GHz P4, FLAT PANEL display, a keyboard, mouse, XP Home, etc. You know, a COMPLETE system. Not only is it a complete system, it will also be substantially faster than the Mini. No laptop HD for instance, you know...

      http://www1.us.dell.com/content/products/features.aspx/featured_desktop1?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs

      These Mac Fanboys are so funny, lol. Clueless, but funny nevertheless...
      Qbt
      • Clueless... maybe but it may not be the "Mac Fanboys"

        Petie I think you're missing out on a lot (obviously). Not everyone
        buys a computer solely based on price. Some want form (size and
        esthetics), some want function (OS & applications), some want a
        combination (form, function, and price). If you want to base you
        next computer based solely on price you lose! Heck, a $199
        WalMart PC running Linux will beat your box. Who is the clueless
        one?
        TheCrow_z
  • The plan

    If Apple moves to x86, they'll be close to running Windows programs natively with Wine.
    dtfinch
  • Linux remains unaffected - Good Article

    Thanks for the reality based article, I had just read Mr. Dvorak's article, and was once again frustrated that he misses the point of Linux.

    I'm always perplexed about how people come up with Linux numbers and percentages. There is nothing out there that is going to affect my Linux usage. I use it on everything. When aquaintances are curious about what I'm running on my laptop, they are either confused or intrigued. While not a large percentage, those who are intrigued eventually decide to try out Linux, and eventually become just as amazed and appreciative of the community's efforts as I.

    Linux is perfect for those of us who run older or used hardware. It and all the software are easily installed and frequently upgraded.

    It fits perfectly in my small business. We never have to pay for software, antivirus, clean out spyware/adware, etc. When our normal desktops can run for an average of 200 days without rebooting or problems of any kind relating to the computer itself, we know that we have made the right choice.

    I guess my point is that for people like myself and family, Linux will always have a place. It's value is in the thousands of dollars we have saved in various software and services related to keeping the normal WinXP based business running. Once set up, Linux just keeps running, and I can't be thankful enough that such things exist for free.
    dingletec_z
  • Someone with a large, expensive software...

    ... collection on the Power chip may want to upgrade now to get the best performance possible while the software and hardware difficulties are resolved in the new Intel Apple.
    Unlike many changes, the Intel shift can be seen not as "new goodies", but as a potentially rocky transition initially.

    I could easily be wrong about this; Apple buyers have a psychology of their own. But it's the way I'd be thinking if I had a Mac and a huge software investment.



    You wrote:
    As an unwanted side effect for Apple, the Intel announcement may have a negative effect on sales in the meantime, since users may not want to buy a Apple computer based on the "old" architecture. Apple can assure users all they want about "universal binaries" ? whether it?s logical or not, many users won?t want to buy a computer that?s already seen as discontinued. Pre-announcing products always means that a certain segment of your market will hold off until the new goodies hit the shelves.
    Anton Philidor
    • Excellent point.

      I hadn't thought of it that way. Yes, if I were a Mac owner with a large investment in SW one way to handle the transition would be to buy new PPC hardware while I can, to hold me over with the software I already have for several years.

      So, this may cut both ways. Mac owners with a relatively small investment in SW may decide to hold off until the switch is made, and then some more while the early adopters work the inevitable kinks out. Others may take this as the chance to stock up and ride out on the current architecture as long as they can. It will be interesting to see which force is stronger here.
      enduser_z
  • Impact on Linux.

    Linux and Apple are alternatives for the Anything But Microsoft crowd. I have no data to prove the point, but I wouldn't be surprised if a significant number of Linux desktop users would have been Mac buyers if Linux didn't exist.

    If Apple prices are reduced, ABM buyers who consider Linux a bit raw could upgrade to Apple when their current hardware mandates a change. Particularly if Linux runs easily on Apple hardware, allowing a slow, convenient transition.

    Small number of users involved, but some negative impact.


    Servers? If Apple cared about corporate business they could probably increase sales. If they did, they might well compete more with Linux than Windows. But I don't see much change here, because Apple has shown little sign of wanting change.
    Anton Philidor
  • Yellow Dog Linux? LOL

    ".. but Yellow Dog Linux (YDL), one of the premier distros for PowerPC machines, plans to stick it out with PowerPC processors. It should be interesting to see how YDL fares .."

    Now that is a great investment. YDL will be as pertinent to the OS landscape as the Amiga PC at www.amiga.org

    IMHO, Linux is going nowhere on the consumer desktop. After the Linux crowd gets board pushing a rope on desktop Linux, they'll all go back to Home Depot and restart that project for a log cabin in the back yard.
    Prognosticator
  • Triple Boot

    I'm suprised not to see any mention of dual/triple boot possibilities yet. Though you won't be able to run OS X on a typical wintel pc, it sounds like you WILL be able to run Windows or Linux on a Mac. That should allow the possibility to have OS X, Windows and Linux all running natively on the same machine. For a small percent of the population, purchasing Apple hardware may be worth while for that reason. Windows and Linux users may also purchase Macs for their industrial design, which tends to be better than most PC's that are currently available to them.
    jpfieber
    • I can help lol

      Been there done that. Like back in the day when windows,DOS, and OS2 used to live together. Linux too with a creative bootloader. But even dual booting Windows and Linux is becoming a thing of the past like OS2 (do we remember OS2? lol) We want interopability. It's the heterogeneity applications we like to use and want to use. The documents we want to exchange, and the different file systems we want to mount and write to.
      xstep
  • Reverse Engineer

    If they can make PSPs and XBOXs run linux days after the products are released - its only a matter of time before the community breaks the code that limits where you can run Tiger. Apple is kidding themselves if they believe that they can contain where their OS runs if the hardware platform is the same as PCs.
    jf1225
    • OSX & Intel

      Apple will eventually be licensing OSX to PC manufacturers. Hewlett-Packard will be the first to sell a PC with OSX installed, example, the HP iPod. Hewlett-Packards logic is going to be selling hardware configured as the customer desires. Apple needs to quickly gain a substantial installed base, even if it means a pirated(cracked) version running on homemade/frankenstein PCs......because....this is all about increasing shareholder equity.
      majorazzo
  • Apple's move means a big adjustment for Linux because ...

    Intel is moving rapidly to hardware based DRM. Of course that has nothing to do with Apple's decision to migrate to Intel ... or does it? In any case the end result will be a desktop world largely dependent on an external DRM architecture controlled by Intel. Mac's DRM compliance will no longer be hampered by a non-Intel platform. So what does that mean for Linux? Certainly it means that corporate Linux users will be pounding the commercial developers for Intel DRM compliant Linux binaries. Like it or not, DRM is coming to Linux, but Apple's move has just sealed and accelerated that process.
    George Mitchell
  • This is great for linux!

    Most wintards have never experienced using a unix computer, this will prove it's superority! They'll be more open to trying other variants.
    Apple will have 60% marketshare in 4-5 years!


    Buy a Mac and be done with it!
    An_Axe_to_Grind
  • I think you overlooked something...

    Hmmm, OSX runs on top of *nix. Linux is a form of *nix. So what happens when the open source folks decide to "reverse engineer" the GUI running on a cheap x86 box with Linux?

    It would seem to me this is the GUI KDE and all the other pretenders want to become and now they have a method to pull it off.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
  • linux is good?

    Hi, I believe there are a few things in this article that make me
    wonder.
    Those that refer to Linux. I have used Macs and PCs for a long
    time and there have been three times in which I figured, if I cand
    do 2 OSes, I sure can do 3! Boy was I wrong!
    As much as I hate Windows and as much as I think it is a poor
    system, at least I can use it!
    Linux is great for those that can speak unix as I speak English,
    are computer knowledge monsters and appreciate the concept
    that configuration changes come after long typing sessions.
    I think I can count the number of people that I know that could
    use Linux on one of my hands (BTW, I am not your average
    computer user).
    I know this is a very abused analogy and I apologize for using it,
    but if the average car driver had to also be a certified mechanic,
    there would only be a few thousands of cars in the entire
    country.
    Linux is great for people that are programmers. For everyone
    else, it simply sucks, and badly too. Like I stated before, I dislike
    Windows extremely, but I would take it over Linux any day.
    There is also another little detail: where are all these great apps
    that run in Linux? Do MS and Apple make versions of Office,
    Final Cut Pro, iLife, Flight simulator, Halo (and I could continue
    for hours) for the Linux? Or maybe, if you can code this and
    program that, and maybe, you can manage to run Office on it?
    How many PC companies ship their average computer with any
    of the Linux flavours?
    And BTW, how many flavours are out there?
    Linux? give me a break.
    gio64