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Last Updated
03/06/2008 10:58 AM



Wanna talk about it?  Click here to discuss.

(By the way, it should go without saying, but these opinions are mine & only mine.)

Boot Camp - Being All That Apple Can Be

Jeff Porten has weighed in on the Apple Boot Camp release, and reports that: "Pundits are jumping up and down to declare the death or radical transformation of Apple as a company Mac OS."

He'll get no argument from me, but I'm much more interested in the words he's chosen than the point he's making about the pundits.   It's an almost subconscious association: "Death" and "radical transformation of Apple" - as if to suggest that radical transformation would be such an awful, painful ordeal that the only thing worse would be the death of the company itself.

If this was indeed his intent, Jeff would not be alone.  Apple has long been famous for their Mac Zealots.  Among the most brand-loyal consumers on the planet, the Zealots believe that Apple is a different kind of company.  Nicer.  Purer.  Out for something more than generating profit for its shareholders.  Out to make the world a better place.  The only company on the planet that would willingly forego something profitable for something "cool."  The Luke Skywalker to Microsoft's Darth Vader.  The Ben & Jerry's of personal computing.

Apple has reinforced this belief over the years by consistently producing high quality products that almost no one uses.  Most estimates put their market share in the personal computing space at somewhere between two and five percent.  By and large, the Zealots have reacted to this fact by relentlessly arguing with the other 95% of personal computer users that they've simply chosen the wrong product.

Despite this lack of wide acceptance, Apple has consistently enhanced their product line over the years, much to the delight of the Zealots (and just about nobody else).  Within that community, Apple's new product announcements have the aura of a mini-Academy Awards ceremony.  There is much speculation beforehand, plenty of self-congratulations afterwards for those who correctly predicted the winners, and tons of meaningless analysis where people explain (principally to others who already agree with them) how this new development is going to change the world.

But then there's Boot Camp.  Boot Camp is different in that it doesn't simply add a cool feature to an existing product (like the recent Video iPod) or extend an existing product line with a new twist (like the Mac Mini or the constantly pined for "iPod Phone").  Boot Camp is traumatic.  Like the announcement that Apple would use Intel chips in its Macs instead of the traditional Motorola line, this development opens up the possibility for major strategic shifts at Apple, and that just can't be a good thing.  In fact, the last time Apple did something like this (by entering the personal MP3 market in 2001), the Zealots decried it as a bad idea.  Many even denied the iPod's success ("Apple is a computer company, not a music company") until Apple finally announced that they were selling more iPods than Macs on a consistent basis.

"The Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated"
-- S. Clemens

The ability to run Windows XP natively on Mac hardware has captured the interest of more than just the Zealots.  People who have heretofore only dealt with the more popular Windows platform are now starting to opine on the possibilities this advancement brings.

The opinion that has generated the most discussion can basically be summed up like this: now that Mac users can run Windows, software developers are going to stop writing software for the Mac OS, and simply create one (Windows) version for everyone to use.  Since the ultimate, theoretical extension of this scenario is the complete disappearance of OS X, it has been hotly debunked in Zealot camps throughout the internet.

I think, as is typically the case, that the right answer lies somewhere between the two extremes.  There are plenty of things OS X can do today that Windows cannot do.  As long as that's the case, OS X will live on.  But the available pool of applications written natively for OS X could very likely decrease.  These decisions will (and should) be made based on market forces, not ideology.  Therefore, it stands to reason that existing software that takes advantage of native OS X features (like iChat or iMovie) will continue to exist in the Mac OS environment.  Apps that are basically the same across environments, though, such as Microsoft Office, will likely drop back to one version in order to reduce development and maintenance costs.  New apps will likely be developed in Windows first in order to reach the broadest possible market, unless OS X provides capabilities that make the app better/faster/cheaper right out of the gate.

"The Proof is in the Pudding"
-- B. Cosby

Of course, all of this depends on Boot Camp doing what it purports to do.  These days, personal computers have entrenched themselves as household appliances and basic office supplies.  Just as no one would use a telephone that worked most of the time, people will have a very low tolerance for a computer that runs most Windows software, or (worse yet) all Windows software most of the time.

I feel there are two courts of public opinion here.  The first is the Google-verse.  If Boot Camp is buggy, or isn't designed to support basic features within Windows, stories will begin to circulate around the internet.  The Moms & Dads of the world will come away with the message, "don't buy a Mac - some things don't work right on it." Note the distinction here: if a piece of Windows software is buggy (or if Windows itself has a problem), the story will be "don't use XYZ program - it doesn't work right." No one ever discusses the brand name of the PC when describing a software problem these days ("A new virus affecting Dell computers came out today…"), and it's unlikely that Apple would be any different, unless the problem was truly specific to Macs.

The second hurdle to jump over will be the corporate IT department.  The average home user doesn't go anywhere near many of the capabilities of Windows, and could easily use an environment for years without ever encountering an incompatibility with, say, VPN access.  A corporate IT department, on the other hand, will seek out these problems before deploying the machines in their network environment.  As I've noted before, if Apple can convince the corporate IT community that a Mac running Boot Camp is exactly the same as a Dell or Compaq running Windows XP, then Apple would become simply another viable hardware vendor.

In fact, in the case where an OS X app could be useful in the office (graphic design? Video editing?), it may even come away with an advantage.  As Jeff Porten said, paraphrasing John Gruber, "Buy an Intel Mac, and you can do anything you could do with a Dell or a Sony.  And then some." If, however, that upgraded BIOS, or that disk partitioning strategy, or some other tweak that hasn't been broadly discussed yet causes differences in the way this machine interacts with the network, the zeitgeist will be "Buy an Intel Mac, and you can do anything you could do with a Dell or a Sony, except some things."

The financial implications for Apple of getting this right are staggering.  John Gruber's claim that "Apple doesn't really want [price-sensitive] customers anyway - people who shop primarily based on price are generally lousy customers." is nonsense.  The price-sensitive customers that choose your product pay in currency that's just as valid as what he calls the "juicy part of the market." They do, however, cost more to acquire than the "juicy" customers.  But when the "juicy" part is only 2-5% of the whole, it behooves you to find a way to go after some of those "lousy" customers too.

"Well, it Looks Like an Apple.  I'm Sure It'll Be Fine."
-- Eve

Many, including Jeff Porten, have argued that Boot Camp's usefulness is limited because it requires you to shut down all of the apps you're using in order to boot into the other operating system, making the switch a logistical pain in the neck (SIDE NOTE: Wouldn't "Switch" be a deliciously ironic name for the product once it's out of beta? I could see the ad campaign now: "Switch.  Switch Back! Switch Again!  Switch All Day Long If You Like!").  Also, the rebooting strategy eliminates any chance of working across applications in different OS's.  In other words, you can't copy from your Windows app and paste into your OS X app.

This is a completely valid, but short-lived argument.  As Jeff points out, there are already technologies appearing that put Windows and OS X on the screen at the same time, and allow for the kind of inter-operability described above.  This is done by simulating a Windows machine within OS X, using either a software solution (emulation) or the built-in features of the Intel chip (virtualization).

The technical distinction here is very important.  This isn't Windows we're talking about, it's simulated Windows.  And while initial reports on Boot Camp have been very positive, reports of incompatibilities with virtualization techniques abound.  Certain peripherals are not supported.  Network connectivity is sometimes problematic.  Some of the more complex, custom-built Windows applications don't run in the simulated environment.

I'm sure these technologies can and will improve, but I think it's a mistake to assume that they will replace the Boot Camp model entirely.  Consider a very practical question: what kind of user needs to use two operating systems at the same time?

The most obvious answer is the uber-geeks.  These are the folks that have three or more computers currently running in their homes, not to mention another three to five "retired" machines sitting in a closet collecting dust.  These folks want virtualization to prove they can have it.  They want to experiment.  These are the folks that typically invent the "next big thing," so their concern is much more about what's possible than what's practical.

Another probable market is the Mac gamers.  Despite Apple's superior graphics, quite a few high-end video games exist only for Windows (I can only imagine this is a purely financial decision, given the enormous size of the Windows market relative to the OS X market).  Gamers will likely value the ability to play Half Life 2 without needing to power down their e-mail or instant messenger client.  If the issues with peripherals can be worked out (i.e., virtualization supported all the relevant sound cards, CD/DVD readers, game controllers, etc.), it could mean the end of games written natively for OS X, although at that point, no one would (or, at least, should) care.

How about your typical OS X home user? Here, I think it's a maybe.  There are several Windows applications out there that don't have Mac equivalents, but these folks have been living without them up until now.  I'm not sure how interesting it would be to suddenly have access to them (without rebooting), but if that sort of thing catches on, these folks might join in.  Also, it should be noted, that many of these folks are also gamers, so these groups aren't mutually exclusive.

Now, let's consider the typical Windows home user.  There might be a market here, but I'm not convinced.  The Zealots' talking points go something like this: "people who have been using Windows out of necessity can now buy the Mac they've always wanted, and only use Windows for those apps that absolutely require it." This was the basis of the old "Switch" campaign, which converted a small sliver of users that were vacillating between the two platforms, but still failed to cause a significant bump in Apple's market share.  Maybe there's another sliver out there of folks living in "OS Hell," who hate Windows enough to drop $2,000 on a new computer, but haven't done so because they absolutely must have Windows for a particular application.  If so, I can't imagine it's a lot of people.  This much over-hyped myth that all Windows users are desperately unhappy with their operating system is perpetuated mainly by those who don't use Windows, or those who used it back in the Win31 or Win95 days, when it was much less stable.  The only caveat I can see within this group is the multi-user household, where Mom & Dad prefer Windows and the kids have Macs at school.  Even this group, though, would be just as happy (and in some cases, happier) with Boot Camp than with a virtualization solution.

What about the telecommuters? Virtualization, as it currently exists, is a non-starter for them.  It only introduces problems in places where no problems exist today, such as VPN connectivity, user account management, Windows registry calls, peripheral use, client/server networking, peer-to-peer networking, and machine-specific rights/roles.  Technical solutions to these and other problems could probably be worked out, but I suspect many of them will remain unsolved for a long time.  Not because they're difficult to figure out or expensive to implement, but because the market is relatively small, corporate security rules are relatively tight, and most of these people would probably prefer to have a Windows machine at home than to jump through dozens of hoops just to make their Mac do what their PC does right now.

Similarly, the corporate users also have no real use for virtualization.  Just about any OS X application that serves a business purpose is probably available in a Windows version, and if not, can probably be approximated with a competing product.  Any decrease in productivity from using a sub-optimal application would be mitigated by the costs avoided in supporting an entirely new environment on the corporate network.  There's a caveat here as well: I could see several organizations experimenting with virtualization if it meant putting Windows and Unix/Linux on the same box.  Today, many folks need both of these on the client side, and most of them have two machines under their desks.  If there were enough need to justify supporting this configuration, then a Windows/OS X configuration may become a very small change.  But even with a reduced marginal cost, I believe the benefits would be so low as to make this a novelty at best.

When all is said and done, I think the dual-boot option will survive, assuming it lives up to expectations.  Emulation/Virtualization will likely have its day as well, but I think it will only survive to the extent that the uber-geeks, Mac Gamers and OS X Home Users make up enough of a market to support it.  In the meanwhile, the holy grail of operating systems will be a virtualization environment that is recognized by everybody as 100% compatible for both operating systems.

"Everything's Coming Up . . . Apples"
-- E. Merman

Despite its small market share, Mac Zealots have been trying to convince the rest of us for a long time that Apple represents a major force in personal computing.  Here's John Siracusa (hat tip: John Gruber):

When I encounter a tech-world luminary or up-and-coming geek today, I just assume that he or she uses a Mac.  Most of the time, I'm right.

Actually, John, no - most of the time (something like 95% of the time), you're wrong.  Unless, of course, you're suggesting that Apple's market share is ten times higher among tech-world luminaries, in which case, I'd suggest that you are defining "tech-world luminary" as "Mac user."

For those who tend to agree with John, here are some facts to clarify the matter: In 2005, Apple sold 4.5 million Macs compared to Dell's 37 million PCs.  And that's just Dell - I didn't bother looking up HP/Compaq, Sony, etc.  And for those (like John Gruber) who insist that iPods are computers too - a stretch if you ask me - then fine, add in the 22.5m iPods that Apple sold that year and Dell still has them beat by a factor of 10 million units (without even counting sales of their own relatively successful MP3 player).

Leaving all that spin aside, the fact of the matter is that Boot Camp and its associated technologies have a real chance to launch Apple into mainstream desktop computing in a very real way.  Imagine the world like this, circa 2008 or 2009:

Desktop operating systems are as much of a commodity as desktop hardware is in 2006.  Want to buy a PC? Pick the one you like: Dell, Compaq, Apple, etc.  Need an operating system? Pick the one you like: Vista, Leopard, Unix, etc.  They're all available on whichever PC you buy.  The only thing that dictates which OS you use is the "right tool for the job." In fact, most casual users don't even know what operating system(s) they use.  Software is the big differentiator now, as developers use the relative strengths of the various OS's to produce the best products they can, commoditization having made the size of each target market essentially the same.

As with most commodities, features from the various hardware and OS vendors start to converge: Dell starts shipping huge, translucent white monitors.  Apple starts shipping two-button mice.  The Vista interface starts to look more like OS X than Windows XP.  Prices begin to converge: gone are those silly arguments about which is cheaper - a Mac or a PC (much like price comparisons between Dell and Compaq are basically useless today).

On the financial front, every computer sold is equally good news for both Apple and Microsoft (in that each means they get paid for another copy of their OS).  Except that Apple actually makes out better, since they're also in the hardware business, and some portion of those computers produce revenue for them as well.  In the space of 2-3 years, Apple has gone from a niche vendor to a major player in the desktop computer market.

Windows XP generated $12.2 billion in revenue for Microsoft in 2005 (source: Microsoft's 2005 Annual Report, Page 24), so let's assume a similar figure for Apple in this new world.  That represents an approximate doubling of Apple's 2006 revenue stream (including the iPods).  Apple takes this new-found war chest and invests it in competing head-to-head with Microsoft to produce software that users want to use (a battle they often win today, but now they have twenty times the potential customer base, so even a 5% penetration gets them more sales than their most successful OS X apps in 2006 - see iTunes for a case study).

Apple has become a major player (if not a market leader) in hardware, software, and operating systems.  Microsoft, once the industry giant, is still minting money, but they no longer retain the monopoly status they enjoyed in 2006.  The playing field has been leveled and quality, not ubiquity, is what wins the day.

Not infeasible, huh?

Making it happen would require some bold moves on Apple's part, including production of a Boot Camp for Windows machines, the release of OS X boot disks to allow the same dual-boot environment on those machines, and licensing agreements with both Microsoft (to produce Macs pre-loaded with both Windows and OS X) and the current PC manufacturers (to produce Dells and Compaqs that are similarly pre-loaded with both systems).  There are many risks involved, as discussed above.

Amazingly, though, even if we could guarantee that events played out exactly as described, many Zealots regard this as a bad scenario for Apple.  Why? Common answers would include:

  • It would destroy Apple's coveted brand loyalty (True, but who cares?)

  • It would mean the "death of OS X." (Not true)

  • It would mean expanding Apple's focus away from its core expertise: hardware.  (True, but again, who cares?)

  • It would be "selling out" to profits and greed.  (Profits, yes.  Greed, no.)

  • It would mean consorting with the enemy - Microsoft
    (Microsoft, yes.  Enemy, no.)

This last point might be the biggest stumbling block of all.  Those who don't interact with the Zealot community would be blown away by the implicit and explicit disdain in which Microsoft is held.  Here are a few of the more tame examples:

Jeff Porten:
One thing that I think is self-evident:  Apple is going to do what it can to make Windows on a Mac better than Windows elsewhere.  Windows on your MacBook Pro . . . is going to blow the doors off your Vaio.  Somehow.

John Gruber:
This is a move of supreme confidence - Apple relishes the comparison between Mac OS X and Windows XP, and Microsoft has shown enough of Vista via its widely-available beta seeds that Apple quite obviously isn't afraid of that comparison, either.

Windows running on a Mac is like Windows running on a PC.  That means it'll be subject to the same attacks that plague the Windows world. So be sure to keep it updated with the latest Microsoft Windows security fixes.

Garth Algar:
We fear change. Change is bad.
(OK, I couldn't resist. But come on, does anyone out there doubt that Garth was a Mac user?)

Radical Transformation - Now, Without Death!

Since the late 1970's, Apple has been a niche player in the personal computer business, growing slightly faster than its competitors while maintaining a small, but significant market share and an unrivaled degree of brand loyalty (the Zealots).

Here's John Gruber again, on why the much heralded introduction of the Macintosh in 1984 didn't vault Apple to a market leadership position:

Microsoft looked at the PC market and asked, "How can we make the most money?" Their answer was to sell software to the business market, because that's where the money is.  Pure pragmatism: corporations are conservative, change slowly, and hold compatibility (and low prices) in high regard.

Apple looked at the PC market and asked, "How can we make something better than everything out there?" Their answer was the Macintosh.  Pure idealism.

The Mac competed solely on the basis of the quality of its design.  DOS/Windows competed on the basis of being compatible with what was already out there (and being cheaper (a factor that's probably too important to be stuffed into a parenthetical)).  Compatible with existing x86 PC hardware.  Compatible with existing PC peripherals.  And most importantly, compatible with existing software and software development techniques.

The result is that the Mac ended up appealing only to the segment of the market that values design over compatibility.  Five to ten percent of the overall PC market is probably about right.  Especially since in the Mac's case, it was design at the expense of compatibility — there was no way both to remain compatible with the DOS/Apple-II state-of-the-art and produce something insanely great. 

In October of 2001, much to the delight of its shareholders, management decided it was time for Apple to break out of its niche status, and radically change its business model.  It introduced the iPod, entering the already crowded PDA/personal MP3 marketplace.  At the time (much like today), the Zealots were not enthused.  Here are some comments from the MacRumors discussion board, a popular Zealot hangout, from October 23, 2001 - the day the iPod debuted:

I still can't believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently! Why oh why would they do this?! It's so wrong! It's so stupid!

Gee! an mp3 player with a HD! how original! kinda reminds me of a JUKEBOX i once knew..

All that hype for an MP3 player? Break-thru digital device? The Reality Distiortion Field is starting to warp [Steve Jobs]'s mind if he thinks for one second that this thing is gonna take off.

I for one am disappointed and think that apple is making a mistake by trying to get into this market.

Their invitation promised a groundbreaking digital device and they did not deliver.  I wonder how many reporters from outside the Mac press will show up next time they release a "groundbreaking digital device?"  Think Different is dead.

Why on earth would Apple get back into the PDA market when the existing PDA companies are losing money hand over fist?

And my personal favorite:

The only thing im really concerned about is [Steve Jobs]'s comment to maybe bring it to the wintels further down the line.  this is a scary thought, and it would defeat the whole purpose of switching over to a mac.

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20.  From 2003 to 2005 (the data that's most easily available - remember, you're reading this for free…), excluding iPods and other music products & services, Apple's sales grew 42.8%, compared to Dell's 34.9%, Microsoft's 23.6% and HP/Compaq's 18.7%.  Impressive, but not earth-shattering, especially given the fact that they were starting with a much smaller base.  During that same period, though, iPod and other music-related sales have grown a whopping 1,328%, bringing total revenue growth at Apple to an impressive 124.4% - more than 3.5 times its nearest competitor.

So what's the lesson learned? Radical transformation does not have to mean "the death of Apple as a company the Mac OS." I believe that Boot Camp could be the next big thing; the strategic move that vaults Apple into its next growth curve.  To Gruber's point about compatibility vs.  design, Apple has discovered a way to deliver both - not by building the uber-OS that "just works" in every environment, not by finally convincing 95% of the world to "switch," but by putting two products in the same box, and letting the user decide.

That's the right tool for any job.