The x86 Move: Is Apple Doomed?

      • In a IMHO thread I ragged on the Mac Mini as an overpriced sluggardly POS. Other people argued that it isn’t slow, and even if it is, that’s okay because the OS is so darned great. My argument centered on how much cheaper a similarly-performing PC with WinXP could be built. So this thread isn’t about all that: this thread is about the possible effects of the third way…
  • Non-Tech-Geek Background: Apple recently announced that they were moving to the PC platform. They sent out software and special PC’s to some developers, and copies of the PC OSX got leaked onto the internet (OSX or “Tiger” is the name of the current Mac operating system). The PC version of OSX that Apple gave out had a protection system in it where the PC had to contain a special hardare chip for the OS to work, but hackers quickly found and bypassed that protection, so it is now possible to install the Mac operating system onto a PC. This is a bootlegged early-development version of OSX, and there are various problems with different functionalities–particularly relating to what hardware you try to use it on–but it has been done.
  • One thing that I find interesting is that generally people are finding that a mid-level (and much-less-expensive) Intel P-4 with the same amount of memory will run the OSX considerably faster than even the fastest Mac hardware will–but the copies of OSX being copied around now aren’t complete, and it is not known how much slower a fully-functional copy would run. The other thing that’s interesting is that it is possible to build a PC that can run the x86 OSX with full SSE3 extentions, for only $200 or so (see the bottom of the first post in that link above).


  • Now the point of this post is to ask: what do you think this change to x86 will do to Apple in the next few years? Apple was fairly-well protected against software piracy, at least, much better than Microsoft and other PC-software companies were. Apple tended to bundle lots of nice software essentially free with the hardware, and then overcharge for the hardware. This made sense at the time, because while software is easy to crack and copy, Apple was the only place you could buy Mac hardware. Certainly there is come very-expensive Mac software that gets pirated and they don’t like it, but Apple could always be certain they’d make money on selling new hardware. They were the only source of that.

  • Here’s my theory, and it ain’t pretty: if people can build a PC for $200 (or buy a blank laptop for $500) and download a cracked copy of OSX and cracked copies of Mac software, Apple is going to see a big dent in sales. Most people won’t bother certainly, but it won’t take many Mac-PC users to try it before Apple ends up sitting on a huge pile of unsold hardware while they know their software is getting copied freely. College kids will tell the parents they need $1500 for a Mac, then build a PC for $500, download all the Mac software for free and blow the rest on grass and beer.

  • In order to try to stem this piracy, Apple is going to have to make their users net-dependent (like the Valve/Steam/Half-Life-2 system), and they’re going to have to introduce a security hole in their own product. They are going to have to find a way to gracefully force owners to connect to their servers on a regular basis, and then they will need a way to securely read registration data off the machine–and possibly, to write data to the machine as well. And certainly, hackers will be not-far-behind–if for no other reason that simply that Mac users aren’t aware of viruses and spyware, most don’t think they’d ever be a problem on a Mac!

  • In the next few years, Apple is going to gain a lot of new users, but many of them won’t be running legit installs, or using Apple hardware. x86 Macs will run way faster, but Apple’s main occupation is going to change from tweaking software and dreaming up trendy new hardware to chasing bittorrents. Also another additional concern is that in using controlled hardware, Apple greatly cut down on their technical support issues. If they choose to bring out an OS release that will run on any PC hardware, they are going to have to do a lot of hiring in the support department.

…Will they raise prices to try to squeeze the loss out of the few(er) hardcore Mac users willing to pay?

…Will Apple drop prices lower than Windows, to try to undercut them and force users to pay for Mac software and pirate Windows instead?

…Will they keep releasing protected copies that crackers run on vanilla-PC hardware, ignore the losses and just resolve to becoming an even smaller company?

First of all, Mac users will pay for anything (I say this as I type on a G5 iMac). I can’t forsee Apple EVER going out of buisness because their core of evangelists has maintained them through rougher times than this. And these times ain’t that rough, comparatively.

I do think you have a point in that Apple will certainly have some growing pains as they try to deal with the ugliness that is the x86 world–ugly in that their minority status will no longer protect them from the worst of the hacker element. However, I know that Apple’s had its own share of jackasses that pirate their OS already–you think this number will increase sufficiently to really make a difference? Apple has a brilliant design team, a ninja-like team of lawyers, and the recent success of the iPod to ride on.

Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time someone said Apple was going under, I would have made a million dollars in the 90s. And here we are.

I honestly can’t figure out what the fuck they’re up to. But…

• It’s inconceivable to me that the folks at Apple did not anticipate that the x86-OSX would be hacked to run on plain-vanilla x86 hardware. If they’re sitting in their offices saying “oh fuck” right now, then they are doomed in a dozen different ways. They just had to have known. Therefore we should strongly consider, if not assume, that this occurrence was anticipated if not downright planned on.

• If for every 1% of existing Macintosh users who quits buying Apple hardware there is a corresponding, oh I don’t know, let’s say 0.01% of existing PC users who never bought Apple hardware anyway who will buy a copy of MacOS X to run on their Dell, is that going to hurt Apple’s bottom line? It seems to me that getting OSX into the hands of the very type of PC geeks who are most inclined to acquire and install a hacked copy of MacOSX and modify their hardware to get the most out of it might be an avenue of advertising that Apple has decided to play with.

• I have no idea why Apple thought it was a great idea to announce a platform change instead of a platform expansion. To me it seems like a no-brainer to say “And now one more little thing, MacOS X will also run on Intel and we’ll be selling some Intel-based Macs soon” and look like an aggressive company doing an incursion, and instead Jobs said “We’re leaving PowerPC and jumping ship to the Intel processor used by the market leader Windows” and it has more of the sound and feel of a retreat. Be that as it may, the sucky part of IA is not the performance of the chips, it’s the antiquated instruction set. The PowerPC design should be faster, but Intel does better with a worse design, go figure.

Then there’s that whole virus issue. The average consumer won’t be cracking anything, and the percentage of crackers as a whole will not threaten anything, it’s too small a perccentage of the pool. The average consumer is pretty sick of MS and it’s virii, so Apple will have a logical selling point.

I just don’t see your argument.

Apple and piracy? A match made in heaven?

Happened to read this peice recently, took some time to find the article again…

Apple and piracy? A match made in heaven?
and Apple Matters: Is Piracy the Pathway to Profits?

Apple is fine as long as piracy of MacOS X/Intel is not something that can be trivially performed by John Q. Public. A handful of hard-core geeks jumping through hoops is not a concern, but widespread piracy of the OS is.

For the most part, the non-geek consumers who buy computers generally don’t care what processor is under the hood. As long as it’s fast enough and does what they want it to do, they’ll be happy.

Looking at Apple’s 2-year stock history I find it unlikely that they will ever be doomed. I think the faithful will always support Apple and they can only get more users not less. (typed on an iMac)

There’s been, I think, some pretty plausible speculation about Apple’s use of “Trusted Computing”, a kind of über-DRM technology being developed by Intel that may have had at least a little to do with Apple’s desire to switch to the MacTel standard. Buying into this technology would certainly mesh well with Apple’s increasing reliance on iTunes and iPods for growth, and the requisite willingness of major studios to play along with the downloading market. So Trusted Computing could easily be used to make it very difficult to install OSX on anything but an Apple-branded machine. Like anything, I’m sure TC could be cracked, but I doubt it will be easy. And even then, as rjung rightly points out, only the true geeks are going to go to the trouble.

And as phungi suggests, the reports of Apple’s demise have been greatly exaggerated for about 20 years now. It’s the analysts’ Energizer Bunny of idiocy; it just keeps going and going and going and going. Jobs so much as looks crosseyed, and some moron analyst goes batshit hysterical with the FUD. They’re always wrong. Always. I see no reason why Apple won’t do fine for another five years. After that, nobody can predict anyway, so why bother.

I think people have been overblowing the use of Apple’s use of TPM in their development boxes. This analysis seems pretty spot-on to me.

The plural of virus is “viruses.”

Well, there are the crackpots with paranoid fears of Apple going all Orwellian on their asses, and the realistic anticipation of how Apple might implement such DRM technologies to keep people from unlicensed use of their OS or copies of music files downloaded from the iTunes music store. I was was only considering those latter applications.

I personally refuse to use itunes or any other music player/service due to fear of them tracking my music. As many as half of my over 4k MP3s I downloaded back around 2001 using Napster and the p2p systems. They’re illegal, and I don’t want any company to insist I play my music through their system. I returned the last MP3 player I bought solely because it required me to transfer my music to it using Napster.

I may be crackpot, but I call it watching my ass so the RIAA doesn’t send me a letter.

That said;

I can’t believe people still use Apples.

And it’s very true that Apples users will pay for anything. Apples/Macs are extremely priced for what you get and what you can do with them. I once had a girlfriend that was an Apple person-and to this day I just don’t get it.

As the recent assault of lawsuits clearly demonstrates, they’re already tracking your music. Quite effectively. In fact, about the only surefire way I can think of to not “get a letter from the RIAA” is to actually aquire your music legally. You DO leave a trail. That trail can be subpoenaed, and your ass can get sued. The days of sane govt.-sanctioned free-use are over, gone the way of the dodo since VHS began its slow decline. It ain’t good, but it’s the reality.

Given that, not only do you seem paranoid, but your paranoia is completely misdirected. Do you figure stealing money from 7-11s is better than earning money on a job, because that way the IRS can’t track our income and “send you a letter”? Your approach to music makes about as much logical sense.

From a post on the dealmac forums.

“Petro” is an engineer at Apple that posts on dealmac frequently,2346098,2346566#2346566

      • Petro sounds like he’s divulging a little bit of facts with a whole lot of damage control.
        …Firstly–when people (Mac users I might add) are saying “it runs faster”, they are saying that it boots and responds faster than on much of the current Apple hardware. This seems to be more casual observation than actual precision measurement, but it is pretty widespread–and many of the people jumping all over the leaked x86 image are people who already own Macs themselves, so they have a pretty good idea of “how fast Mac PPC’s run”. The sad part here is that if Petro is arguing that “they can’t tell if it runs faster on Intel”, then all he can mean is that the final release will run slower. Because if he knew the final release was going to run faster on Intel, why even argue with the point? And if it does run slower, then it’s reasonable for legit users to investigate whatever’s missing and decide if they really want those “full features” enabled or not.
        …Secondly, whatever’s gotten loose can’t possibly be all that far from the final release, just because why would Apple bother to send such an OS to developers in the first place? “Hey guys, we’re going to change a lot of this later, but here’s something for you to do app conversion and testing on for now…” …?

Hooray! An unsubstantiated, prejudiced assertion! Wait, I can rebut this argument! Ready?

I can’t believe people still use PCs.

There! Parity has been achieved! Balance has been restored! Discourse! Debate! And so forth. Woohoo!

But what fun is that?

You might have missed the part where I said the majority of those downloads occured in 2000/2001, back when the law regarding p2p was certainly not as clear as it is today and when much of that trail wasn’t kept. It’s obviously far more dangerous to pirate music today, hence the reason I on longer use p2p for music but instead just burn it from friends when I do pirate.

But, as you admitted, iTunes (among others) does track the music you use, and beyond that they’re working towards dis-allowing the play of music that’s not in their format (which does irk me regarding the music I did actually buy). It’s simply not worth the risk to me to have that type of software on my PC.

Ok, lets look at:

Dual 2Ghz Powermac G5

**Dual 2GHz PowerPC G5
1GHz frontside
512K L2 cache/processor
Expandable to 4GB SDRAM
160GB Serial ATA
16x SuperDrive (double-layer)
Three PCI Slots
ATI Radeon 9600
128MB DDR video memory **

That’s the lowest end of the non-budget Apple computers.

Compare that to my PC:

2.17Ghz Athlon CPU (Athlon XP3000+)
ATI Radeon 9800 Pro
200 GB SATA Hard-Drive
120 GB standard Hard Drive
Sony DVD-RW Drive
ATI All-In-Wonder TV Card (w/ remote control)
Microsoft Optical 5 Button Mouse
17" Sony LCD Flatscreen (forget the refresh, but its fast enough for any game)
Aluminum Lian-Le Case w/ 5 Fans
Case Display (monitors cpu temp, sound pressure, and voltage)
Aura-Vision light-up keyboard
Klipsch 4.1 Speakers

And I got all that for ~$1500 including shipping. She’s not only beautiful (all black with blue keyboard, dials), but a blazing fast system. If you’d like to go into the bus speeds, MoBo type, etc. I can do that when I get home a little later but I assure you that this system will blow the Apple away for just about any application, and it’s a TON cheaper to upgrade whenever an individual component become outdated.

If you like Apples, that’s fine. That’s a personal decision, albeit one I’ll never understand. But you can’t pretend that they’re by any means affordable for the production the offer versus a PC in the hands of even a semi-competent owner.

Working on a Mac has a number of intangible benefits that don’t show up in your analysis. By and large, they’re essentially virus/spyware free (and yes, I am aware that if you do are relatively competent you can keep a Windows machine mostly free of these things, but on a Mac no effort is involved in doing so whatsoever); they run a clean, highly integrated, user friendly operating system; they exhibit almost no hardware conflicts due to Apple’s closed system paradigm; they maintain an exclusive and excellent package of software not present on any other platform; they age better than any PCs I have ever used; and they have the best techical support out of any manufacturer that I am aware of. Having wasted a ridiculous amount time dealing with the absences of these features on the PC platform, I will choose a Mac any day of the week even though the hardware tends to be inferior because the net result for me is a better, more efficient working experience.

But this is not a platform war.

At any rate, I do not see why a shift to the x86 platform will necessarily change any of the above reasons detailing why using a Mac is a pleasant experience (save perhaps the virus/spyware one). Because of this, and because Apple has proven to be absolutely invincible despite its best attempts to destroy itself, I cannot help but continue to laugh at those who would predict its downfall.


Oh, I see, you’re afraid of crimes you comitted in the more distant past, and figure iTunes is what’ll nail you. Well, then, by all means, keep up the brilliant subterfuge.