Linux, Microsoft and the Osborne

Whenever Apple drops a bombshell like Monday's, the reverberations tend to last. And, of course, the usual folk have already started crowing about how they saw it coming years back (no, I won't link to Dvorak, I have certain standards...), about how Linux growth is reaching a plateau and will be sandwiched between Mac OS X and Windows, etc.

All of it is, of course, pure nonsense. There is (and will always be) plenty of room for Linux, even considering its lack of focus (far too many variants of everything) and virtually nil marketing footprint (unless you consider RedHat and, more recently, Novell).

I am amazed, however, at the ineptness of some arguments, and how some people keep missing the point. For instance, some are afraid that Apple will lower hardware prices to the extent that Linux becomes "less attractive", without considering that Linux is software (and mostly geeky software, at that), whereas Apple's value proposition is much more about the experience.

i.e., Apple sells software, sure, but what you buy is the opportunity to use it atop their stylish hardware to do the things you want. And they have impeccable taste in price points.

Linux, sadly, has no such value proposition, and a price point that keeps trying to implode past zero. And the main reason for that, as far as I can tell ever since I installed Slackware for the first time, is that Its more outspoken advocates tend to focus on "freedom of choice" and end up spending more time justifying their choices than actually doing stuff.

However, there are signs that the Gnome camp (for one) is wising up to the fact that there needs to be less confusing choice and more actual functionality, so I think that the (phantom) menace of Apple walking in and biting a sizable chunk of the market will be good for Linux.

Emulating Redmond

Another interesting line of speculation is, of course, related to that other competitor, Microsoft. And Office, and Virtual PC, and VMware, and every other possible way for the Mac to go up, against, or alongside Windows in the corporate marketplace.

Come on, people, wise up. Your Dell isn't going to be replaced by a Mac anytime soon, if only because no corporate buyer I know of would consider entering a long-term relationship with a single hardware vendor on something as disposable (in corporate terms) as desktop computers - and I don't think that Apple is seriously considering licensing the OS to other manufacturers, not even in another five years or so like some pundits are hinting at.

So, Macs will probably become "friendlier" to corporate buyers - and, admittedly, more common, but I don't see them overrunning corporations. Plus we should remember that iLife was billed as "like Microsoft Office for the rest of your life" - a line that Steve Jobs used to embody Apple's focus (at least for now) in leisure and creative settings, and that iWork, with its limited scope, has done nothing to contradict.

Of course, another version of Office won't hurt, and Virtual PC will become a garden-variety x86 virtualizer (almost a straight port of its Windows cousin, with the requisite OS adaptations), but I don't see that helping Mac sales on the business segment - not much, anyway, and Microsoft knows that.

Cashing In

Of course, pricing and getting past the "Osborne effect" are also in people's minds. Now, I must admit that, even having publicly admitted to not intending to buy another Mac until the first Intel ones come out (which, incidentally, is common sense), I think that all this harping on about Osborne is fast becoming ridiculous.

I don't know anything about Apple's current hardware roadmap, but wouldn't you think that a company that has been testing its OS in another architecture for five years has thought things through? Heck, for all I know the chronic stock shortages we've been having in Europe could be part of the plan (I don't seriously think so, but it's as good an argument as any right now).

I honestly don't think that Macs will become substantially cheaper - for instance, all that power efficiency we heard about (and that Freescale wasn't that bad at delivering on G4 PowerBooks) will come at a cost, and, again, Apple has pricing geniuses in its ranks - they're sure to place new equipments just cheap enough to be affordable, and pricey enough to make them a statement.

I do hope, however, that Apple is considering creating an European distribution strategy to rival its US retail operation - I still think there's a lot to be done on this side of the pond, and Intel-based Macs might help.

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