OSX: A Major Salvo Against Windows, or Just a Backfire?

There are many who say that OSX is going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. They say that by combining the power and robustness of Unix with the ease-of-use afforded by the Mac OS, that OSX is destined to be the straw that finally breaks Microsoft’s back and loosens their stranglehold on the computer industry.

This is an interesting theory, and as a rabid supporter of the Mac platform, I will be one of the first to say that it is an eventuality devoutly to be wished. Unfortunately, it has about as much chance of doing either of those things as Pat Buchanan has of ever becoming President of the United States….. In other words, NONE.

Let’s look at the facts for a moment. First of all, the “Wintel world” which constitutes more than 90% of the computer desktops on earth, pays little attention or heed to anything Apple does. To the world at large, the Mac is simply another ‘would be’ computer mentioned in the same breath as Amiga and Atari if at all. Outside of a few niche markets such as prepress/printing and 2D graphics design, Macs are very rare in the world of business. Sure, you might find them in the odd PR firm, or law office, but by and large, Macs simply are not seen as serious business computers. This is not due to any particular failing on the Mac’s part as a platform. There is certainly enough software and peripheral hardware for Macs to perform almost any office-related task, its just that the combination low cost coupled with the perception that the PC is THE corporate computer platform has made the choice of a PC running Windows a no-brainer in most corporations and offices around the world. The chance of even a small percentage of those companies taking any notice, whatsoever of Apple or its new OS, irrespective of its merit is pretty slim. Even if OSX does turn out to be the best OS on earth, as long as Apple is the sole provider of the platform, no one in the business world is going to take them seriously. A few years ago, I would not have said this, but each passing year since the introduction of Windows 95, makes it less and less likely that any alternative OS will ever be able to supplant Windows in the ordinary course of things (that’s not to say something artificial like an action by the US government couldn’t intervene and change the paradigm. I’m just not holding my breath). If Apple had stayed with its policy of allowing clones, if the PPC powered CHRP (Common Hardware Reference Platform) computer had been allowed on the market, and if Rhapsody or Copland had seen the light of day in the late 90’s, and had been designed to run on Mac clones and CHRP machines as well as on Apple-brand Macs, the situation might be somewhat different now. But these things didn’t happen. So from the standpoint of OSX being a world beater, its simply a case of being too little (no matter how good it is) too late.

The Apple Customer Base: To OSX or Not to OSX, That Is The Question.

Now we come to the second part of the equation. What are current Apple customers going to do with regard to OSX? The answer to this is complex and depends upon several factors.

First of all, it is just a fact of life that most computer owners NEVER upgrade their operating system, irrespective of platform. Usually, the OS which comes with an individual machine stays with that machine for as long as the owner has it. This is understandable. The average user knows little about the internal workings of his/her computer, and installing a new OS can look like a very daunting task. If one doesn’t have an IS person who takes care of this sort of thing or a “guru” friend to push one into upgrading, it simply doesn’t happen. So, to what is, most likely, a large portion of the ‘Mac Community’, OSX will mean little or nothing. If they even know about it, they don’t have any compelling reason to care, and if they are owners of Macs not supported by OSX it will remain a matter of complete practical indifference to them. So that leaves: (1) Those Mac users who can run OSX, (2) those who are willing to upgrade their OSes, and (3) those users who want to (or have a compelling reason to) change. This may or may not be a significant portion of the Mac community. Certainly the impetus to upgrade to the new system will be there for those in the pre-press industry. They are champing at the bit (so I have heard) to get their hands on the new system because of its native Acrobat PDF support which promises to give a whole new meaning to the term WYSIWYG (What You See (on screen) Is What You Get (on paper).). Others, who will need to run some of the Yellow-Box (Cocoa) NeXT-based Mac OSX applications waiting in the wings will certainly need to upgrade, and then of course there are the MacGeeks (like yours truly) who always upgrade to the latest-and-greatest as soon as its available. But there are other Mac users, some who fall into one or more of the above mentioned ‘must switch over’ categories who simply will not be doing so. And that’s due to Aqua.

OSX: It ain’t your father’s MacOS.

What Mac users have been wanting from Apple for over a decade (and certainly since Windows 95 shipped), is a new modern core OS with true multitasking, protected memory and perhaps multiprocessor support; all with the wonderful and familiar Mac GUI on top of it. Most Mac users would be very happy if this new OS looked and felt like OS-9 yet had all of the buzzword technologies working seamlessly and invisibly underneath. Unfortunately, OSX is NOT that operating system, and therein lies the rub.

OSX is a totally new OS, which, while it’s Aqua GUI superficially looks a bit like the classic Mac OS, is, in reality, as different from the classic and traditional MacOS as is Microsoft’s Windows. Many Mac users are simply not going to like it all. Some won’t like just the fact that its different from the MacOS they are used to. Some won’t like the way it functions, others won’t like what they consider the too-cute “eye candy” visual effects of the desktop. Apple has taken a big gamble with Aqua. They are running a very real risk of alienating a not insignificant portion of their customer base. Only with the final public release of this new system will we know if Apple has provided a Unix-based OS which is truly as easy to use and as elegant as is the current MacOS, or if Apple has taken a big step backwards and given us a new OS that is more akin to Windows NT than it is to any previous Macintosh operating system.