The Perils of Being Oz

Little Stevie Jobs has a big problem.

He announced a few IntelMacs yesterday, a notebook and an iMac.

The iMac uses a dual-core Yonah chip. There’s one little problem with such a system for somebody who buys a machine like this and expects it to last for five years or so: It lacks 64-bit capability.

This may not seem to be a big deal at first glance, but MacOS X Tiger is a native 64-bit operating system, and Windows Vista will be, too. Yes, they have/will have 32-bit compatibility modes, but
. . . .

(Update: I’ve been informed that while Tiger can handle certain 64-bit code, most functions are still 32-bit. Vista will come out in both 64/32 and 32-bit only versions. Nonetheless, the handwriting on the wall is clear.)

A few years from now, running in 32-bit compatibility mode will become more and more constraining, especially when software starts to move to 64-bit mode only. That’s not going to happen anytime soon, but in a few years . . . .

That alone is good enough reason to discourage would-be switchers from making a long-term investment in these machines. At this point, it’s foolish for long-term computer buyers to buy a 32-bit only desktop processor.

But that’s not Little Stevie’s real problem.

His real problem is having a machine that goes both ways.

You might think this would be a great advantage to Apple, and from the PC user perspective, it does. Anyone who wants to try MacOS X, but is afraid of giving up Windows (the reason often being the cost of replacing Windows software) now can get a safety net if things don’t work out, and the effective cost of a failed leap is much less. Rather than have wasted a thousand plus, one will have wasted only a couple hundred extra dollars over, say, a Dell, and people will surely tell themselves that the extra money was worth it for the design, etc., etc..

However, Apple is not going to do anything to encourage such people to jump, like selling preinstalled dual-boot systems, or better yet, let users be able to switch between OSs on the fly. They won’t stop them, but won’t support them, either. If you want to be able to run both OSs, you’re going to have to do it yourself. While that’s hardly going to be the deal-breaker for most reading this, not encouraging bi-OSual behavior will discourage those casual computer users most likely to give Apple a shot.

Why would Apple want to forfeit that?

Well, I think the reason for that is a lack of confidence in Mac OS X. Rhetoric aside, deep down inside, Apple is afraid of a flood of side-by-side comparisons between its OS and MS’s.

It is one thing to convince users (and for users to convince themselves) that MacOS X is a wonder when they’ve essentially burned their bridges and can’t make a side-by-side comparison. It is quite another when all you have to do to make that comparison is reboot.

If a flood of biOSuals switch over, try it out, then tell the world, en masse, for the most part, “No big deal?” Not that they’ll hate it, most may find it a little better overall, or a lot better in a few things, not-so-good at a few others, and about the same for most things, what happens to the mystique of MacOS X? Wouldn’t this be damning with faint praise?

What do the hardcore Macsters do? To a slight degree, this happens today, but what happens if it starts happening a lot? They’ll likely be outnumbered, and definitely outgunned (after all, the newcomers would be in a much better position to make the comparison than they are).

Why, it would be like Toto tugging the Wizard’s curtain.

You might say, “Well, isn’t the same thing bound to happen when people set up their own dual-boot systems?” No, it won’t. First, there will be far fewer people doing it; more like a company of Slashdotters versus an army of Sixpacks. Second, those in Macdom will find it easy to dismiss the Slashdotters as geeky and too uncool to appreciate the finer nuances of Macdom.

A truly confident Apple would encourage hundreds of thousands of side-by-side personal comparisons between the two. If Mac OS X is the real deal and most people after trying it out find it half the wonder that Macfanatics claim, those hundreds of thousands will increase Apple sales more than anything Little Stevie could possibly do.

Then again, if an invasion of curious Sixpacks comes, sees, and mostly shrugs, showing that only a small percentage of the population is truly susceptible to becoming addicted to Macness, and it’s really just a matter of smoke-and-mirrors and hypersensitive people getting very wound up over very little, well, that’s Toto tugging on the curtain and ending Oz’s gig.

Some may say that Apple will be in no position to do something like this until the MacOS X for Intel software base builds up, and there’s much to be said for that.

But isn’t that just another good reason for reluctant Windows users to hold off switching until then?

With the switch to Intel, Apple has a chance to refight the PC war it lost in the eighties, if and only if MacOS X is really a much better mousetrap than Windows, a Sixpack mousetrap, not a chablis-and-brie mousetrap.

Apple’s actions seem to say that not even they believe that.


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