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Why I think Apple won’t sell/support OSX for PCs

Ever since the Intel announcement last year, people have speculated on the possibility of running the Intel Architecture version of Apple’s OS X on PC hardware (Dells, etc.). The speculation continues, fanned this week by the flames of Boot Camp and Parallels Workstation. Robert X Cringely apparently has a controversial post up about it (which I admit I haven’t read yet), and lots of the blogs are talking about his ideas.

But a thought just came to me that made me realize that we won’t likely ever seen Apple officially support or sell OS X for PC hardware. It can be summed up in one word:

Drivers

Running Windows on Apple hardware is pretty straightforward, because Apple has released Windows drivers for all of its stuff in Boot Camp (wireless, network, sound, display, etc.). But imagine installing OS X on your homemade PC with parts from a dozen different vendors, and having to track down Mac OS X drivers for all of that hardware. That would depend on every PC device maker developing and releasing Mac OS X drivers for their stuff, in addition to the Windows drivers.

Not very likely to happen, in my opinion.

What do you think? Would it be worth it for the ATIs, Nvidias, and Creatives of the world to develop and release Mac OS X drivers for their stuff, in case someone wants to run OS X on a PC with their devices in it? What’s the benefit to them, besides a few potential extra sales? Would they ever open up enough to let the open source community get the info they need to write the drivers? Post a comment if you have any thoughts.

EDIT: Just read the Cringley piece, and it’s painfully obvious that he doesn’t understand the technical means of how Boot Camp works (makes EFI emulate a regular BIOS), and why it needed to exist (Windows needs BIOS, and doesn’t support EFI). If he did, he wouldn’t imply that Apple could release a magic piece of software like Boot Camp that could make OS X run on standard PC hardware, as if they could get around the driver problem I mentioned above with a firmware patch (which, at its heart, is all Boot Camp really is). He also seems completely oblivious to the huge impact that decent, “real” virtualization (via Parallels Workstation) has had on people who want/need to run Windows on Apple hardware. Microsoft Virual PC is not the only game in town (not to mention VMWare, QEMU, etc.).

I know that the industry hangs on every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of Robert X. Cringely, and that he always has something interesting to say, to stir up the pot, but he’s misinformed on this issue. I wish he would do his homework before making one of his pronouncements like this…

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6 thoughts on “Why I think Apple won’t sell/support OSX for PCs

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Apple can support their hardware because they control their hardware. They simply don’t have to support any hardware that they don’t put in their machines, which simplifies their development and also lowers their cost for providing technical support. Individually, any one driver is actually probably fairly easy, but the sheer volume of drivers that operating systems like Windows (or Linux, for that matter) are staggering. I think it would be a serious mistake for Apple to allow themselves to be distracted from their core business to diffuse their efforts out into a broader PC market.

  2. If the average computer user would just understand the significant technical hurdle of passing copies of OSX out to the general beige box community, the computing world would be a much quieter place [again]. It’s been a few days since the announcement of Boot Camp, yet I continue fielding questions along the lines of “should I get a MacTel?” or “can I install OSX on my Dell?”.

    This goes beyond the scope of a “patch” as you’ve stated. Users need to understand that there is software, and then there’s hardware. Without hardware support, we’re left with nothing. Apple should continue developing for it’s own advancements and push forward to achieve a greater stance in the personal and professional computing markets.

  3. H says:

    Hrm, I’ve always been on the side of the driver problem group. However, a thought just flashed through my head. OS X is based on BSD which has been around forever and has broad support for common PC hardware. This doesn’t solve every problem, especially when it comes to the desktop graphics systems, but it does, in my mind, narrow that gap significantly.

    Disclaimer: I am a Unix guy, so pretty familiar with BSD, but haven’t played with MacOS that much at all (though I would, and would LOVE to if not for Mac hardware), don’t know how much of the actual BSD kernel is intact. But don’t see much reason why they’d tear it up too much.

    H

  4. Yeah, OSX is unix, so it really can be considered a linux-ish system with better graphics. Which means from a driver point of view, it should support all the hardware linux does. And yeah I read Cringley and was scratching my head trying to figure out what he was talking about. And I think he just doesn’t get Operating System architectures.

  5. Tom Hicks says:

    I hope this doesn’t sound mean and I haven’t read the link you referenced, but I just have to correct something.

    There are 2 problems with your argument. First, people were running the x86 version of Mac OS X on standard intel PC’s since before Apple actualy released the intel mac. Second, ATI nVidia and many other hardware manufacturers already do make Mac Drivers or at least Apple makes the drivers for their hardware. Have you ever noticed the PCI slots in your mac or maybe the AGP one even PPC macs used standard PC expansion cards. The real reason Apple won’t sell OSX for non-Apple hardware is because they make money selling hardware. They make a whole lot more selling a $3000 PC than a $100 OS.

    Oh and Vista works with the EFI too.

    All that being said I’m writing this on a Mac while my XP box backs up to a linux server in the living room.

    Peace,
    Tom

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