Perspective: Windows on the Mac, why the fuss?

To fathom why the tech world is in such a tizzy about running Windows XP on an Apple computer, we need to review some ancient history, well, ancient for computer technology.

Computers require two principal components to operate: a central processing unit (CPU) and an operating system (OS). The rest is, as they say, commentary. The CPU does most of the grunt work required to the make the computer run. The OS allows the CPU to interact with the rest of the computer and the outside world. Each OS is tailor-made for a CPU, since it translates everything to specific instructions the CPU can understand.
When IBM created its first personal computer, the PC, the CPU it chose was one built by the Intel corporation, the 8088. The OS developed to run on this CPU was Microsoft’s DOS. Microsoft DOS and its successor Windows, matured as the Intel (and AMD clone) CPUs improved in speed and design.

Meanwhile, Apple Computer had developed another personal computer, the Apple II. It used a CPU manufactured by Motorola. The Apple II’s successor, the Macintosh, also used Motorola CPUs, until Apple eventually switched to IBM PowerPC CPUs. The MacOS was designed specifically for the Motorola and PowerPC chips.

Then, Apple did something very interesting. In 2001, it scrapped its own MacOS for a new OS based on a version of UNIX, a veteran OS that has spawned many derivatives, including Linux and Sun’s Solaris. The new Apple OS was called OS X (as in the Roman numeral “ten”).

UNIX and its derivatives are very adaptable to different CPUs, including the Intel/AMD CPUs. So when Apple this year introduced Macintosh computers using the Intel variety of CPU, it seemed to beg the question if OS X could be made to run on the Intel platform.

Two computer hackers managed to do it, and posted their how-to on the internet. Experts suggest that Apple had to provide its own how-to, with the necessary software called Boot Camp, in self-defense. Too many Mac users had fubared their computers trying to install Windows, and were swamping Apple’s help desk with pleas for help.

In the computer world, the Wintel platform reigns supreme, with more than 85% of personal computers running some version of Windows. OS X and Linux run the remaining 15%. Generally speaking, computer users are reluctant to switch to a different OS, for various technical and emotional reasons.
So if Windows users can be persuaded to see Macintosh computers as worthy alternatives, they might buy Apple computers and perhaps discover that OS X is every bit as good (or better) than Windows. Apple may be able to increase its market share, and thereby make more money. Additionally, it could shake up the status quo in the personal computer world.

The remaining piece of the puzzle is whether Apple will release a version of OS X that will run on any Wintel platform computer, a direct challenge to the supremacy of Windows. And if it does, will Windows users be willing to try it out? A significant minority of Windows users have made the switch to Linux, myself included, so OS X making inroads into Window’s market share is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Apple is a sly operator. I am sure someone at Apple HQ is working on that next step right now.

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