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The title of the Digitimes article is a bit drawn out: “Commentary: What Apple’s Snow Leopard announcement tells us about its future plans for Intel Nehalem.”

It really should have been called, “Can Apple whack Microsoft with Nehalem?”

This is going to require thinking outside the box a bit. Most PC users haven’t gotten used to the idea that MacOS X is a real PC OS. Even fewer have ever considered even the possibility that MacOS X could be a performance leader. Even its adherents view it as a sort of AOL OS.

Let’s face it, most of us haven’t really wrapped their brains around the mere concept of a performance OS at all. Oh, we’ll tweak and reduce excess from Windows, or get our hands a bit dirtier with Linux, but we really don’t look to software to increase performance.

It’s not like PC software developers have ever encouraged us to think that way; they’ve relied on ever-faster hardware to make their bloat float, and even there, they’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to adopt newer hardware standards.

We could go on and on about this, but for every problem, there is an opportunity.

We are no longer in an era where hardware is going to get a lot faster fast. Software is going to have to get smarter, not just bigger. It will have to be aggressive in using whatever new hardware has to offer, not just wait until somebody gets around to doing a compiler that will do all its work for it.

Compatibility is a big problem, too. While Microsoft is hardly a poster child for lean and mean, much of the blame for the bloat and sclerotic response it gets is really caused by it having to support a huge hardware base created by manufacturers whose attitude about writing new drivers for older equipment is often “Let Redmond do it.”

A company with little stake in the past can be a lot quicker and nimbler than MS. And that’s Apple.

It doesn’t have to worry about any Intel-based OS having to handle old equipment; it just got to the x86 world. The MacOS X universe is much smaller than the world of Windows, and Apple has always exerted greater influence/control over its third-party developers than Microsoft. Apple is much more likely to be successful telling MacOS X developers, “Do 64-bit, now.” Right now, Microsoft can’t even tell Microsoft to come up with 64-bit versions of its software, look at Office.

Despite the shift to x86, Apple still doesn’t sell many Macs. Last quarter, they sold 2,289,000 Macs. While that’s certainly a lot better than they sold in pre-x86 days, it’s still only a little more than 3% of the world PC market, and desktop Mac sales are still dreadful (almost 63% of Mac sales were for portables).

A more highly optimized MacOS X could revive desktop sales, especially among professional users who may well have started with Macs.

Less obviously, notebook sales could see a boost, too. All PC equipment is pretty standardized, but notebooks are really peas in a pod. A better-performing OS in a better-looking box could provide a winning edge.

In either case, “cool-looking and faster” ought to sell more boxes than just “cool-looking.” Of course, Apple and Macsters have always claimed to have the faster machines, but it’s a lot better when other people say the same thing, too.

Overclockers may ask, “Why should we care? Any overclocked Nehalem Windows box is going to do better than any unoverclocked Apple box.” Yes, but given the ah-hem “unofficial” MacOS Xs out there, need I say more?

“Snow Leopard” (the code name for the OS revision), is supposed to come out around the middle of 2009, before Windows 7 would come out, but long after the core decisions on what Windows 7 will do and how it will perform have been made.

Obviously MS could optimize to the gills, too, but they have so much more baggage to handle or toss, and after all, this is the bureaucracy that gave you Vista. Is it unreasonable to think Apple might anticipate MS being asleep at the wheel?

Of course, Apple will have to succeed, and it’s not like they’ll take over the world, even if they do.

But it’s something to keep an eye on at a place where you’re not used to looking.

Ed


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