Sunday, April 16, 2006

Apple Boot Camp Won't Make A Bit of Difference

I have a good friend who is a long-time, die-hard Mac fanatic. He sent me an email titled Look Out Bill! and a link to Apple's Boot Camp beta. Boot Camp is an Apple OS X program that allows a Mac owner to set up a dual boot system that will run Windows XP on a Mac.

This is my response:

A). Bill has nothing to worry about from Boot Camp and he isn't going to lose money. It still requires an XP license so if anything, he's going to make money. But not very much, because...

B). Just about the only people who will do this are existing Mac owners or people who haven't yet purchased a desktop computer. What existing PC owner is going to buy an Apple so he can run Windows XP? It makes no sense. And Mac owners who do this are admitting that the title selection of software for the Mac is paltry in comparison to Windows. Plus, there is a little bit of irony in this: One of the most appealing aspects of the Mac is its relatively low need for users to have technical skills. For the average user, a dual boot computer is not easy to install or use. So, Apple is kinda violating the "easy interface" advantage with a dual boot environment.

When you find someone who has successfully ported Mac OS X to the Wintel platform, then that will be something worth having. I'd love to run Mac OS X on my existing hardware. There was a Japanese guy who did it last fall/winter after much confabulating. It requires a boatload of gyrations and software: VMWare, some open source stuff, some Apple stuff, etc. etc. When it is easy to do then I'll do it. I'll even pay the $100 for a legit copy of OS X.

The only problem is that Steve doesn't want to sell OS X to Wintel users (foolish man). He wants to bundle the OS with the box. Steve still believes that the hardware is cool. It's not. It's just a pretty box with a processor, RAM, a hard drive and ports to the outside world. A box is a box. Some are prettier than others but in the end, it's just a box.

To me, Steve's unwillingness to sell a Wintel port-able version of OS X is an implicit admission that Apple boxes are over-priced and were it not for Mac OS, Apple would have even less share than they do now in the computer market. Put a graphically boring OS like Windows XP on a Mac box and the market yawns. The Mac sizzle comes from the OS. The iPod is the only hardware that Apple makes that means anything. For that matter, the iPod is just about the only hardware that anyone makes that means anything. All other hardware are nothing but commodities. What makes the Mac great is OS X. The box is entirely trivial. And over-priced. The market has largely rejected Mac desktop hardware for the past 20 years. Boot Camp won't change that.

This is interesting from another perspective. It seems to suggest that the halo effect of the iPod on Mac computers hasn't driven the Mac sales Apple hoped it would. Were the halo effect powerful, then there would be no need to create incentive to buy Mac hardware with dual boot capability because people would be buying Macs hand over fist. And Boot Camp better be free because if people have to pay for it, they won't. They will look at a $600 Mini + $100 for Windows XP + $75 for Boot Camp and go, "Well this is dumb. Why do I want to pay $800 for a computer with no mouse, monitor or keyboard to run XP when I can just buy a complete Dell that runs XP for $400?" Even if Boot Camp is free, the argument is not compelling for the user who wants to have WinXP compatibility.

There is one simple factor that kills Mac sales even when most iPod users are Windows users: Windows iTunes.

Windows iTunes obviates the need to buy a Mac.

But if Steve were to cut off Windows iTunes, he would choke the life out of iPod sales. People aren't going to pay $300 for an iPod + $100 for almost necessary accessories like FM transmitters and cases then go spend another $700++ for a Mac Mini to support the iPod. Steve needs Windows iTunes to drive iPod sales. Boot Camp won't change that either.

I don't see Boot Camp selling much at all.