A few days ago a friend pointed me to an
that Gary Morgenthaler wrote for
Business Week. Gary's main thesis is that
Apple's products have a huge momentum in the market and
that they are taking away market share from
Microsoft. I agree with that thesis. What I don't
agree with is the evidence he presents to support his thesis.
His theory is based on four main points:
- Apple <a href=""Spaces
feature allows the user to run Windows applications and the Windows OS from
within Apple OS X;
- The adaptability and flexibility of the Apple core OS X kernel allows Apple
to move faster than Microsoft;
- As large companies become more mobile, Apple is strategically positioned to
take a big bite of that market with its line of laptops and the
- Apple software development kits allow independent software vendors to create
applications that run on OS X. I want to address each of these points
Gary wrote Instantly you switch from a Macintosh operating system to a
Microsoft Windows OS. He then adds This easy toggling on an Apple computer,
enabled by a feature called Spaces,... and further down he continues Windows
users, in the very near future, will be free to switch to Apple computers and
mobile devices, drawn by a widening array of Mac software, without suffering the
pain of giving up critical Windows-based applications right away.
He is mistaking a Virtual Desktop (VD) for a Virtual Machine
(VM). Spaces is a VD,
a feature that allows the user to work on more than one desktop at a time and to
toggle a desktop from foreground to background and vice-versa. The type of
software that allows the user to run an OS within another is a VM. There are
also emulators that provide a compatibility layer, which is usually implemented
as a library, and come in the form of Wine for Linux
or Cygwin for Windows. Maybe Gary was thinking of
Apple's Boot Camp feature
that acts as a boot manager for OS X.
But I want to give Gary the benefit of the doubt and assume that he means a VM
rather that a VD. A VM, however, does not give a strategic advantage to
Apple. VM software is an ubiquitous commodity: There are VMWare, Parallels,
QEMU, and Xen
just to name a few. This is more of a liability to Apple and to illustrate what
I mean I want to rephrase one of the sentences I quoted above from Gary's
article: Windows users, in the very near future, will be able to run Apple OS X
from within Windows, without suffering the pain of paying for the Apple hardware
premium. VMWare itself uses its own software to
run OS X on Dell and HP computers.
The ability to run Windows OSs and applications on the Apple hardware is also
facilitated by the fact that Apple has switched the CPUs in its entire product
line to Intel. This also means that Apple has ported OS X to run on Intel
chips. Which, in turn, means that OS X can, in theory, run on any Intel based
device. As a matter of fact,
the Apple OS X to run natively on non-Apple hardware and VMs.
OS X Kernel Flexibility and Adaptability
If you define flexible and adaptable as
susceptible of modification
able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions,
respectively, then the Apple OS X kernel is none of the above. At the core of
Apple OS X is an operating system kernel that is based on the
Mach implements a microkernel architecture, which means that the kernel itself
provides only essential core services such address space, process management,
and inter-process communication. The core of a microkernel architecture rarely
changes. What changes are the other OS services (Memory manager, Networking,
etc.), that don't necessarily run on kernel mode, and drivers as well.
Apple sells three models of laptops and three models of desktops. All of these
devices have essentially the same exact innards across the board. What changes
is the form factor. Equal hardware devices and peripherals require equal drivers
and software across the entire product line. The OS does not have to change one
bit to support that. Any changes can be supported with drivers for the different
Windows, in the mean time, has to run on several different form factors of
laptops and desktops, and several of them have manufacturer specific devices
built-in. The Windows kernel, in this regard, is the flexible OS kernel, not the
OS X kernel. The irony here is that
Microsoft's Senior VP of Research, contributed a lot of work to the Mach kernel
17 years ago when he was affiliated with
Carnegie Mellon University.
When Apple decided it was time to go through a major real change, it took them a
year and a half to make the necessary modifications to the core of OS X. In June
2005, Apple announced that it would switch to Intel processors across the entire
product line. They didn't actually ship the first Intel-based Mac until
January 2007. Microsoft did take almost six years to ship a new OS and this is
more of a reason for the current rise in market share for Apple. The Linux core
group of developers, on the other hand, can crank out work like this in less
than six months. I say that Apple's ability to deliver on major changes to its
core technologies is above average for a large company. But it is not as easy as
Gary has alluded to in his article.
Apple Products in Large Companies
Gary writes that Apple's products are well positioned to take off in the
enterprise world. I will argue that most enterprises are going to compare a
Lenovo or Dell laptop to an Apple laptop and say that they can't justify the
extra cost of the Apple machine. Apple's products are well positioned to gain a
lot of market share in the consumer market, however. I will discuss this again
Gary also writes that Apple's recently introduced Leopard servers compete in a
market of unhappy Vista server buyers... Vista server has not been launched
yet. The current server offering from Redmond is Windows Server 2003, and it is
doing very well still.
He also mentions that the iPhone will gain corporate customers for Apple because
it will soon provide corporate email access and calendaring. I am wondering how
it will accomplish that when the business is running an Exchange server and
there isn't an Outlook client for the device.
An OS by itself has never really meant that much as a strategic advantage for
any company. What really means something is the number of independent software
vendors writing applications that run on your platform. Microsoft became what it
is today because it understood this fact 20 years ago.
The fact that Apple has an SDK for the iPhone or for its lines of computers
means that more Windows applications will be ported to OS X. But it doesn't
necessarily means that the Mac or the iPhone will have more applications that
run exclusively on them.
What OS X needs is a killer app like the Apache web server is for Linux and
Office is for Windows. Some may argue that Photoshop is the killer app for the
Mac, but it isn't exclusive to the Mac like Office and Apache are mostly
exclusive to Windows and Linux.
Why is Apple Really a Threat to Microsoft
There are four reasons why Apple is a threat to Microsoft now. Gary
hints at one of them
in his article, but he doesn't explore it further.
The first reason is that Microsoft has really messed up bad with Windows
Vista. Users and developers who in the past were willing to put up with Windows
annoyances, have now left the platform in droves to Apple OS X or Linux. There
is evidence of this everywhere: Dell went back to offering PCs running Windows
XP and other free operating systems. Other PC manufacturers have followed
suit. Developers are blogging about it. All
this without mentioning the
class action law suit
filed against Microsoft on behalf of Vista users.
Second, Apple is not a hardware nor a software company. Apple sells cool.
Their main product is the coolness factor and their technology is just an
enabler for them to market the coolness factor. Cool has appeal to the masses
and people are willing to pay a thousand dollars more for it. Cool is Apple's
purple cow. People
are willing to care about you, as
Seth Godin so eloquently puts it. People
are willing to be irrational, as those who, in one breath, say that they don't
want to be locked into the Microsoft platform, and on the next breath, they buy
into the Apple lock in. Apple locks you in even more than Microsoft because they
control the whole experience: hardware and software. How does Apple get away
with that and Microsoft doesn't?
The third factor is that Apple is able to do work under a veil of secrecy that
none of its competitors can achieve. There is a great
article on April 2008
Wired issue that explains how this works. In a nutshell, Microsoft has to share
product plans and release schedules with its OEM partners so that hardware and
software releases match. Apple doesn't have to do that for obvious
reasons. Apple was able to work on the iPhone platform for three years before
anyone even realized what they were up to.
The real ace up Apple's sleeve is Steve Jobs, though. He's known for being very
hard to please and even a jerk at times, but he has charisma and inspires people
to do great work and overcome insurmountable odds.
I am curious to know what you think.