As an IT professional by day, it's a question that has confounded me for some time. I've tossed it around in my technical circles, trying to get a feel for what true reasons exist for Apple's double standard when it comes to not allowing OS X onto other platforms - but gladly allowing Windows to run natively via Boot Camp.
How come Apple doesn't allow PC users to install and run OS X on the hardware of their choice?
I know very well there are business reasons it doesn't allow it. And I also know that the company has legal restrictions in place to prevent it from happening as well. But that doesn't answer the why of what I'm digging at; financial and legal restraints are merely artificial boundaries for something that is otherwise quite feasible, as I'll prove below.
Apple makes a lot of money on the hardware it sells with each OS X system, and it is a corporation, so 2+2 here makes sense. It has a moral obligation to shareholders to maximise profits for the business. And as such, it has constructed licensing legalese to help keep the kingdom of Apple computers strong.
But I wanted to step back and take a more holistic, almost philosophical approach to this debate. One that takes into account consumer choice, hardware innovation, technical feasibility, and other points of interest that may or may not have been tossed around.
So that I can get it out in the open, I'll fully admit my curiosity on this subject stems from my own personal objections for why I have never purchased an Apple computer. Some would come to the conclusion that this makes me an Apple hater, but that's merely a convenient way for Apple loyalists to paint me as someone who doesn't have any merit to my opinion. How wrong they are.
I'm a tinkerer at heart, and can't stand the closed nature of the hardware around Apple's computers. Likewise, I've never been satisfied with the limited choice Apple affords buyers of its computers. It has always adhered to a Henry Ford-esque mentality when it comes to choice, and it goes against my every grain of consumer free will in gravitating towards more options, not less.
And perhaps my biggest stoic objection to Apple has always been a philosophical one coming from my dislike of the crux of what supports the Apple OS X computer business: a reluctance to allow OS X onto anything other than Apple-branded hardware. I'm a firm believer of keeping my dollar vote strictly aligned with companies that see eye to eye on things like consumer choice, software freedom, and price competition.
When it comes to these areas which I hold dear, Apple has never satisfied. As such, I've chosen to stay away from its products, which is my option as a consumer.
I know I'm not alone in questioning Apple's long held business practices. PCMag has covered the topic in the past, and online forum goers frequently opine on the merits of Apple's ways. Judging by online commentary, a big portion of Linux users stay on that platform because they refuse to allow Apple to control their system of choice.
Others, like Richard Stallman, go much further in outlining the reasons they refuse to buy Apple, covering things from its reliance on proprietary screws on devices to its love of DRM on most items sold in its online media stores.
For me, as an enthusiast and IT professional, I believe that Apple allowing OS X onto PCs would be a big move in showing the goodwill needed to win back lost trust from people like myself.
Would it happen? Could it happen?
Here's my top list of reasons why it definitely should happen.
8. Isn't Apple's Current OS X Stance Hypocritical?
Apple is no stranger to having zero shame for saying one thing and doing just the opposite when it suits its interests. The most recent example of this blatant double standard when it comes to Apple is its introduction of an aptly named "Move to iOS" app on the Google Play store aimed at - you guessed it - converting Android faithful back to Apple land.
Numerous outlets pointed out the hypocrisy of this shameless maneuver, seeing that Apple matter of factly rejects any app submissions into the App Store which merely mention another mobile operating system. Its official App Store submission policy makes no effort to hide this.
It goes without saying that one must ask the obvious: how come Apple has no problem with gladly helping users get Windows to work on its own machines, but refuses to budge in allowing OS X onto PCs? Wouldn't this be the fair, honest approach Apple could take to show its commitment to goodwill and a betterment of the technology world?
Its marketing department has tried to claim as much, in not these exact words, over the last decade or so. In my eyes, this would merely be an extension of its already established corporate mantra.
The Apple faithful see no issue with this, but as someone deeply entrenched in this industry now for a decade already, I've always wondered how no one has the audacity to call Apple out on its arguably biggest double standard.
The fruit logo company has similar opinion disparity when it comes to technology patents. Apple has a history over the last decade of calling out other companies (Samsung, Microsoft, others) in outright copying the "hard work" its company invested into bringing certain items to market. Yet, when caught on the receiving end of such complaints, Apple insinuates that the patent system is "broken".
And on the political front, Tim Cook's outspoken stance on gay rights in the USA pales in contrast to what he has refused to say on the global stage. There's economic convenience in Cook's obsession with gay rights only pertaining to the USA, because a large portion of the global markets Apple sells within have atrocious records on gay rights and women, as Carly Fiorina pointed out. Tim Cook knows full well that causing too much of a stir in many of these Middle Eastern and Asian markets would spell catastrophe for Apple sales there.
It's no secret that Apple is now looking to make inroads even in Iran, where gay people can legally receive the death penalty for their "crime". Where's the outcry from Apple's loyalists?
Time and time again, Apple has shown no reluctance to take stances where economic realities uphold the best return on Cupertino's dollar. Even if it means blatant hypocrisy in keeping such positions, whether it be OS X on PCs or gay rights.
7. OS X Already Runs on (Mostly) Standard PC Parts
Apple has been on an upwards trajectory when it comes to using standard PC parts, ever since it announced it was dropping the horrid PowerPC platform in 2006. This wasn't always the case. The 1990s were replete with Apple Macs that had proprietary boards and cards and memory chips. Repairing these machines with proper parts meant you had to always get the Apple variants - which came with expected price premiums that kept the Apple hardware market pricing artificially inflated.
But those days are long gone. Apple learned its lesson and has been stocking every Mac desktop and laptop with (mostly) standardised components which can be purchased at no premium by any technician. This is great from a repair standpoint, and even better for another reason: it means that there is little technical roadblock to preventing OS X on traditional PCs. Intel x86 on regular PCs is the same as it is on Macs in almost every regard.
This point was proven factually possible in the market by a company called Psystar which sold Mac clones for a fraction of what Apple sells its own systems for. Apple's legal department was able to squash the startup with ease in the courts, but the crux of the discussion on whether OS X can be reliably installed and sold on non-Apple hardware was already shown as viable.
And today, this mentality lives on in various websites that offer easy instructions for running OS X on nearly any PC system - a method dubbed "hackintosh" in tech circles online. We won't link to any of these so as to keep Apple's legal team away, but you can do your own searching. It's out there, it works, and proves that the only party standing between OS X on regular PCs is Apple.
6. OS X Could Finally Become a Competitive Desktop Gaming OS
While gaming on OS X is better than it has ever been, that's not saying much. Some popular titles are available on it, but a large portion of hot upcoming or already released games that Windows enjoys have no plans on releasing onto OS X.
I couldn't find a single example of a title that came out on OS X but not on Windows. Such a case doesn't exist from what I can tell, which explains why PC gaming is Windows territory by and far.
Does it have to stay this way? Absolutely not. Apple could grow OS X into a legit secondary PC gaming platform if it opened up usage on regular PCs. I'm of the belief that there are a few major reasons why the gaming industry doesn't waste its time on porting titles to OS X (on the whole, but not in all cases).
One major obstacle is Apple's arguably low market share, especially on the global market (currently just over 7 per cent, according to Net Applications as of Sep 2015). Windows makes up over 80 per cent of that space on the desktop/laptop side. It doesn't make fiscal sense to employ the time, energy, and money to make games for OS X with such a small sliver that OS X enjoys. If PC gamers could have the choice to purchase OS X for their PCs, giving Apple the same competitive choice to otherwise new Windows buyers, this may tip the OS X scale on a global level. As such, developers would likely give OS X renewed interest in the platform as a whole.
Another item that stems directly from this low market share perspective is the time and effort that hardware device makers - namely graphics giants like AMD and nVidia - have to invest in getting performance on par with where it stands on Windows. The overall mindshare that has been dedicated to this on Windows has been growing for over two decades already. On OS X, comparatively little attention is placed on gaming performance for reasons stated above.
And finally, I think Apple's artificially premium pricing on its own hardware isn't helping matters when it comes to penetration. If educated consumers were given a choice of buying OS X on a plethora of competing systems, many of them would appreciate the choice in cost and quality of their machine. Segments of the market which otherwise can't afford an Apple would now be welcomed into the ecosystem their friends may enjoy, shrinking problem #1 I referenced a few paragraphs earlier.
While the gaming community has never traditionally been one that Apple has cared to cater to, it could easily grow OS X as a gaming competitor to Windows with simply opening OS X up to the PC market.
5. OS X Could Move Into New Avenues
It goes without saying that Apple opening up OS X to the PC market as a whole would have larger ramifications than just placating its critics. There are numerous secondary avenues that some have only dreamed of OS X being usable within, but that nasty licensing roadblock sits in the way. What dividends could reaped from potentially opening up OS X to the masses?
Many, in fact. One major area that my company FireLogic has been involved in implementing for organisations are VDI solutions - namely Windows RDS backbones running on Hyper-V. I've penned previous deep dives on how fantastic the technology is with Windows Server 2012 R2. But the lowest common denominator in this equation has always been a Windows desktop as the endpoint.
Running OS X in a non-Apple virtual environment has already been proven technically feasible, as shown above as a proof of concept. If Apple tore down the licensing walled garden around OS X, it could turn into a potential VDI endpoint to compete with Windows. Increased competition would mean everyone wins. (Image Source: coolcrew23)
Is it implausible to believe that OS X couldn't be farmed into an RDS-style or Citrix driven environment for hosting end user desktops? If licensing restrictions were taken away, and Apple played nice, this isn't as much of a long stretch as some may believe.
Some offices that have spent countless sums on buying individual Mac desktops for staff could instead opt to keep their familiar work interfaces, but centralise administration and security of the solution on something like Microsoft Hyper-V or VMWare ESXi. Unheard of today, but this could become an easy reality given the will from Apple.
Another current obvious no-go is OEM sales from vendors like Dell, Lenovo, HP, and others. Psystar proved there is a market for non-Apple OS X machines, even if the law wasn't on their side when they went to market. I'd be much less critical of Apple if it allowed others to sell OS X based computers and allow the open free market to set pricing for competing systems.
This would also allow for Apple to move back into being trusted by another big market segment which has soured towards Cupertino over the last decade...
4. The Enterprise May Take Apple Seriously Again
Two years ago, I penned a piece that claimed Apple would never be embraced by the Enterprise ever again. Bold words, and I'm hoping it proves me wrong. It would only benefit the entire industry at large.
But as it stands, Apple has been sealing its fate with the Enterprise market for some years now. It shamelessly discontinued the last vestige of a proper Apple server, the Xserve, and told the community to oddly embrace Mac Minis or Mac Pros as server machines. While some companies have gone to great lengths trying to make sense of how to make this happen - a select few do succeed with style - the rest of us are scratching our heads on how the heck Apple intended its style-first systems to ever fit cleanly into network U racks.
It's nice to see that Rubbermaid organizers can double as Mac Mini racks for the office. But it goes to show the shortsighted vision of Apple's intentions for the Enterprise. Opening OS X up to standard x86 PCs would mean businesses could choose to purchase or build proper network closet servers running OS X - and forego the shenanigans with racking Mac Minis or Mac Pros. (Image Source: Random-Stuff.org)
And while the Enterprise values systems that can be easily repaired with spare parts, Apple places meandering archaic rules around how spare parts can be purchased by IT departments, and even took home the title of having one of the least repairable laptops ever with its 2012 Macbook Pro.
InformationWeek shared results a few years back from its Apple Outlook Survey, providing insight into the Enterprise's feelings on Apple's viability in big business. There were some key figures which I outlined before:
- 47 per cent believe Apple's products are too expensive for the value provided.
- Only 11 per cent rate Apple's product value as "excellent".
- 39 per cent say that Apple is making no efforts to improve enterprise support.
- 35 per cent dislike the difficulty of integrating Apple gear with existing infrastructure.
Could the Enterprise change it's tune on Apple? It would take much more than just allowing OS X onto PCs, but I'm a firm believer that this would be a catalyst towards moving channel vendors - the Dells, the VMWares, the Citrixes, and others - into helping build and sustain a viable OS X presence in the Enterprise beyond just the iOS penetration we see today, which may not have lasting presence.
Desktop computing is going nowhere quick, contrary to what some have been claiming for years now. Slowing tablet sales are already hitting the market. And recent stats show that a whopping 82 per cent of IT Pros are replacing existing laptops/desktops for like systems - NOT with tablets, as many have wrongly claimed. Only a minimal 9 per cent of IT Pros are putting tablets out to replace dying desktops/laptops, which is a slim minority given how many years tablets have been out already in force.
By allowing OS X onto PCs, Apple could potentially reverse its course on the losing end of the Enterprise desktop/laptop market, and in turn, help foster the beginning of a supporting ecosystem dedicated to furthering OS X in the corporate world. It's not guaranteed, but it's as good of a shot as any at this point.
3. Overall Market Share Would Easily Rise
While still doing better than Linux or ChromeOS on the whole, Mac OS X has never been able to rise above the ten per cent market on any major market share stats charts. In my eyes, Apple is actually its own worst enemy. It's true.
For starters, the high cost of Apple branded systems is a barrier to entry for a large majority of buyers who would otherwise consider an OS X machine. Apple's cheapest first party systems all hover around the $1000 marker (give or take a few bucks) which is out of bounds for not all, but a good majority of people (especially overseas buyers in emerging markets).
Take away the requirement that only Apple-branded hardware can run OS X, with OEM licensing extended to the market at large, and Apple could reverse the struggling woes of OS X on the traditional laptop/desktop side in my opinion. The market playing field would be substantially opened and leveled for OS X hardware, with a potential par for par competitive option for new buyers considering Windows vs OS X.
This would satisfy many enthusiast critics such as myself, who have long criticised Apple for its artificially inflated pricing tactics of now-standard computer hardware. Bringing down the price point of entry level OS X systems could let consumers decide on the OS of their choice based on functional merit and not just whether their pocket book was large enough.
While there are no guarantees there would be large swings in market share benefiting OS X, I see no reason why Apple couldn't eek out a good 20-30 per cent by opening up OEM licensing options for OS X. Increased adoption of OS X could therefore lead to Apple positioning its own systems as the counterparts to Microsoft's Surface devices - the premium experience for those who can afford it and want Apple's vision of computing on their desk.
But the masses would no longer be held at arm's length from being able to choose OS X if they really wanted to, due to artificial pricing floors. Consumers would end up as winners, and Apple would look like a hero of a company. A win win.
2. Increased Competition for Windows = Consumers Win
In the sub $1000 market for computers, Apple has zero presence today. Aside from refurbished systems or Craigslist hand me downs, you can't go to the store and find a Mac at this lower price point. As such, Windows has a stranglehold on what consumers can buy in this territory.
Sure, ChromeOS is an option and Linux has always been there, but I've written before for why Linux is also its own worst enemy when it comes to market share. For all intents and purposes, Windows controls the sub $1000 market space for computers.
Why does this have to be the de-facto standard? From a functional perspective, and from an ecosystem of apps perspective, OS X is by far the most seasoned alternate option to Windows for traditional desktop/laptop users. Most major desktop apps are cross compatible between both OSes, meaning if it weren't for price, more consumers could opt to go OS X if they really wanted to.
And therein lies my argument for this point. Few would disagree that the intense competition of the Windows ecosystem has not only brought down prices for consumers, but likewise, increased overall quality of hardware and software. Competition drives innovation, not stagnation, and this important fact is why Windows has not only survived, but thrived, as a platform.
One can point to the relative lack of advancement on the Mac from a hardware perspective as one example of Apple's negative hold on OS X. Sure, there is no question Apple is using premium processors and other internals when it comes to raw horsepower, but that's not where I am going here. I'm specifically talking about Windows platform innovations which have come to market and offered entirely new usage experiences for consumers.
Touch on laptops and desktops? Apple is nonexistent there. Convertible hybrids? Apple's nowhere to be seen. Stylus support on desktops or laptops? Again, Apple has never had an inclination to allow such functionality. There are undoubtedly plenty of buyers out there that would love to see some of these options available for purchase.
Apple's tight control over the hardware ecosystem for its OS X platform has stifled its own innovation, and with the growing reliance on iOS-devices for its revenue base, Apple has less and less incentive to steer outside of its comfort zones.
Giving the PC market a chance to do what it does best - test new ideas for hardware combinations that make sense functionally and fiscally - is perhaps one way OS X could stay relevant for the long term on the desktop.
Give others a chance to go where you refuse to, Apple.
1. Apple Fans Could Finally Have True Device Choice
This final point will probably have people either in complete agreement or vehement disagreement. But while many of the Apple faithful believe that Apple itself is the only one capable of creating OS X devices adhering to the Apple vision, I beg to differ.
While the status quo has tainted the opinion of many loyal buyers, I would ask loyalists to consider this: at any given point in time, the number of new Apple computers you can choose from on the market is somewhere in the range of 4-6 core models. While there are flavors offering more horsepower or battery life, the devices themselves all never stray too far from a common design baseline.
Many enjoy this limited set of choice in hardware. But from talking with others and reading comments online, there are just as many who hate the Henry Ford approach to hardware sales by Apple. Count me as part of this category.
On the Windows side, buyers have countless choices not only between form factors, but device brands and spec points. This plethora of choice has only benefitted in bringing new concepts to market, and giving consumers the ability to find the device that fits their needs best. Why wouldn't OS X fans benefit from similar open hardware choice?
While Apple's argument has always been that this limited set of hardware increases reliability, does this still hold fervently true? My company still offers residential computer repair for local customers and we get more than a fair share of Mac systems in our office each year that suffer from hardware/software incompatibilities, failed hard drives, incessant "spinning wheels of death", and recently growing with each month, malware infections that some believed were impossible.
If Apple cares about its dedicated fan base as much as it claims to, I would think that giving them the ability to choose the hardware platform that they run OS X on would only be beneficial for building and keeping the trust of its customers. Restricting hardware choice to a limited set of options solely for financial and business reasons may still prove to bring short term success, but I doubt it is viable for the longer term, as computing prices in general continue to fall.
Device choice would not only be limited to traditional form factors for the consumer market as we have come to expect. This could come in the form of OS X servers made by Enterprise giants Dell or Lenovo, just as an example. It could also be POS systems built on OS X for retail. It could even be integration platforms for the auto industry, akin to things like Microsoft and Android Auto already represent.
The penetration of OS X could go beyond the tried and true and open up new markets with more choices for vendors and consumers alike. And while Apple is convinced its fans would be losers in such a scenario, I think that couldn't be further from the truth.
If OS X is to continue to prosper as a platform, let it win in the market based on its own proven merits. It's time for Apple to tear down the moat around OS X and let it be free of its artificial restraints.
Eat your own dogfood, Apple, and consider Thinking Different on this one. You may make new believers out of some of us.
Main Image Credit: McdonnellTech.com