Why I want a Pentium Mac

comment It's time for me to explain, once again, why I think it'd be a good idea to put Mac OS X on Intel processors.

commentary It's time for me to explain, once again, why I think it'd be a good idea to put Mac OS X on Intel processors.

I'm doing so because of an opinion column that appears in the current issue of Macworld magazine. The headline, "Mac OS X on Intel? That makes sense for PC makers and PC users--but not for Apple," pretty much tells the story. (I'd link to the column, but Macworld doesn't offer the full text.)

The author of the column, Matt Deatherage, is a seasoned and mostly well-reasoned Apple observer. He suggests that the only people who want to see OS X on Intel are the folks I call "Mac voyeurs"--people who get all frothy thinking about what Apple does but who can be counted on never to buy a Mac. Worse, Deatherage says Apple would inevitably lose control of the operating system, Apple hardware sales would crater, and, because the company depends on hardware revenue to stay afloat, Apple would die.

Well, Matt, I'm a real Apple user and I'd like to see Apple build some Intel-based boxes, though I will add the caveat "only if the OS can be locked to the hardware." By which I mean, only if Apple can create a version of Mac OS X for Intel processors that it can limit for use on Apple manufactured hardware only. If that could be done, I'd think it's a good idea.

Making it an easier switch
This is very different than the free-for-all described in Macworld. Successfully locking down the OS is a pretty big "if," but it's something Apple should seriously explore. On the other hand, isn't Palladium supposed to be Microsoft's way of locking down Windows? So maybe Apple could use a hardware-based approach as well.

The reason Apple should do this is to make it easier for Windows users to choose Macintosh. Many people who would otherwise buy a Mac don't do so because the machine won't also run Windows. Sure, there's the Virtual PC Windows emulator for Macs, and it even works pretty well, but it costs extra and just isn't the same as a real Windows PC.

I know there are people who want a dual-boot Mac because I ran into them while researching my book, Mac OS X for Windows Users: A Switcher's Guide, and I've met them many times since, including while talking to would-be customers at the Apple stores I've visited.

I'd think an Intel-based Mac, built with Apple's usual brilliance and priced under US$1,000, would score with consumers. It would, of course, have to run Mac OS X hardware, because the real selling point would be the Apple apps for photography, music, and movies--as well as the stability and ease of use of OS X, Apple's industrial design, and (oh, yes) the ability to switch to Windows whenever that was required.

This Windows option would appeal to people who play games and others who are concerned that some piece of software they need won't be available on Mac. That's a very reasonable concern and one the dual-boot option would address.

Dual-boot happiness
I am not, however, suggesting that Apple should do anything beyond entry-level Intel products. I don't see any advantage to building dual-processor boxes that would only drain sales away from Apple's forthcoming G5 desktops.

As for my prediction, made almost a year ago, that Apple would do an Intel box "within 18 months," I must say that I've seen no movement in that direction--though it may be thinking like that expressed in the Macworld column that's holding things up.

My goal is not to convert Apple users to Intel, or to allow all Intel users to have Mac OS, both of which would be fatal to Apple. But equally fatal would be the unwillingness of most consumers to consider buying any computer that isn't a Windows box. An Intel-based, dual-boot Mac would appeal to many Windows users and introduce them to something they might like more than their PC.