Sunday, August 23, 2009

Apple's quiet toleration option

In a Stop the Noiz column, Low End Mac's Frank Fox discusses the potential for widespread installation of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard on generic ("white box") PCs. In his conclusion, he has this to say...
If people do speak with their wallet and send Apple a strong message, then Apple would be forced to move forward or close down access more. If people steal their copy of Mac OS X to install it for free, then Microsoft is right, and Apple will have to lock down its OS for protection.
I have to disagree. Apple has the option to vigorously pursue those, like Psystar, who flagrantly violate Apple's right to exclusively market its own intellectual property in its own way, and yet quietly tolerate the many end users who go to the trouble of installing OS X on their own, non-Mac hardware for their own use. The latter are hobbyists who aren't likely to ever represent more than a tiny fraction of the overall market, whereas the former threaten to erode Apple's market share and profitability. Note that I would include with Psystar those who make the process of installing Mac OS X on generic hardware as simple as plugging in a USB dongle. Apple could certainly pursue legal action against them without also going after those who've already purchased such dongles.

Those who argue that Apple's interests are covered if the copy of Mac OS X they install on generic PC hardware was legitimately purchased are missing a very important point, which is that the copies of Mac OS X Apple distributes independently of its computers are all upgrades, and priced as such. Mac OS X is included with and represents a significant part of the value of every new Mac. If Apple were to sell Mac OS X for installation on hardware other than what they themselves have designed, built, and sold, they might have to charge $300-$500 per copy. If they could actually get, say, $375 from every new Mac OS X installation on generic hardware, they might be tempted to release it this way, but if they were to release Mac OS X in a form that's straightforward to install on generic hardware it's more likely they would get paid for only about one installation in ten, maybe not even that.

Apple might, at some point, decide to license an OEM version of Mac OS X, carefully, to a limited number of competing manufacturers, but even in that event they'll need more for each installation than they charge for upgrades, say $200-$300 per copy, in part to keep the playing field level for their own hardware, sales of which subsidize the development of the operating system and associated software.

If people really want to vote with their wallets, they should acknowledge the added value represented by Mac OS X and buy a real Mac.

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