Strategically, is this a good move or a bad move for Apple? I’ve been wondering that for the last couple of days. Historically, there have been examples of Dual OS systems that have fared very badly, such as OS/2. Will Apple do better?
The driver in the OS business is developers. If you have lots of developers, and by extension lots of applications, supporting your API, then you will have success. Trying to create cross over systems which also support the competitors API and applications in the hopes of luring their developers is a bit like trying to catch a falling knife; a neat trick if you can pull it off with high potential for personal injury if you make a mistake.
The situation is different for Apple than it was for IBM with OS/2, however. IBM’s message was that OS/2 was a "better Windows than Windows", because it could run Windows sessions as well as OS/2 applications in separate virtual machines on the desktop. In OS/2’s case, there were relatively few native applications available, and plenty of pretty good Windows applications. The result was few developers wrote native OS/2 applications. Most customers just bought a Windows app, and ran it on OS/2. All Microsoft had to do was catch up to OS/2’s capabilities, and then there was no reason to buy OS/2 anymore. Unlike OS/2, Apple already has a large and loyal following of developers. What Apple has to do is hang onto those developers.
There are those in the Apple Community debating this question right now. Hadley Stern’s No Windows Boot Pledge is a good sample of the dialog. He writes:
Sure, I can hear already all the good responses. Like there is the real estate program I want to be able to run that is Windows only, or, look at all the cool games on Windows. But these arguments will lead to a further undermining of the Mac platform. Developers will just think, hey, if a Mac person wants it they can just dual-boot so screw the Mac platform. Not good.
Here’s an interesting thought experiment. What if Apple sees this as a no-lose gambit? Here are two possible outcomes:
Apple successfully hangs onto their large and thriving OS X developer community. They enlarge their business by bringing more Windows folks into the Apple fold, providing a safety net for users to cross over. Microsoft and Apple both win in the short term. PC manufacturers (Dell, etc) are the losers. Longer term, if this strategy is succesful, Microsoft is also impacted, as developers move away from Windows.
Apple’s OS X developer community shrinks. Developers reason that they can build one version of the software, and run it on Macs on Windows or OS X so why bother building two? As the number of developers building apps shrinks, Apple’s focus shifts to their excellent hardware, and they become a highly differentiated PC manufacturer. Microsoft wins the OS battle, but now Dell et al are stuck competing against Apple’s superior hardware, and Apple has gained a strong position in corporate America.
Personally, I find Apple’s move compelling. It might just get me to go buy a Mac after all these years. Who knows which OS I’ll run on it, though…