Cringely: Biggest threat to Microsoft might not be Google at all, but Apple

“What the heck Google is up to is a favorite topic of conversation this week in high tech circles. What’s driving this is a combination of things including the new Google Toolbar, Gtalk, but most especially the company’s announcement that it will shortly sell another $4 billion in shares,” Robert X. Cringely writes for PBS. “What does Google plan to do with all that money, people are wondering?”

“Nothing at all,” Cringely writes. “It’s just a hunch of mine, but with more than $2.5 billion in cash already on-hand, I don’t think Google has any plans at all for that extra $4 billion. The company just knows that this is the time when it can probably get the most money for the least stock EVER, so selling a few million extra shares now is just a cheap insurance policy against some later day when Wall Street might not be so enamored of the giant search company.”

Cringely writes, “Microsoft is totally obsessed with Google because Bill Gates is obsessed with Google. In a way, Bill needs a bogeycompany like Google to motivate the troops, since they are no longer being wowed by Microsoft’s stock performance. Not long ago, I spoke with someone from MSN who said the mood there was so tight that his co-workers were acting like ‘mad dogs.’ Bow-wow. But what if everyone is mainly wrong?”

“Here’s where I go out on a limb, but I think Microsoft’s clearest threat still comes from Apple, though not the way most people expect. Yes, Apple is about to take Microsoft to the woodshed when it comes to Internet movie distribution. Yes, Apple already super-dominates the music player market where Microsoft doesn’t even really exist. But the real jewel is one Microsoft has to lose, not gain — the PC platform, itself,” Cringely writes. “Microsoft is woefully late with its next Windows upgrade, while Apple is far ahead with even the current version of OS X. Apple is moving to Intel processors and hackers have already shown that OS X can run fine on non-Apple hardware. But Apple doesn’t want to give up its profitable hardware business to compete head-to-head with Microsoft. And remember, Apple totally dominates the portable music player market and will probably sell 25 million iPods or more this year.”

Cringley writes, “Every one of those iPods is a bootable drive. What if Apple introduces OS 10.5, its next super-duper operating system release, and at the same time starts loading FOR FREE the current operating system version — OS 10.4 — on every new iPod in a version that runs on generic Intel boxes? What if they also make 10.4 a free download through the iTunes Music Store?”

Cringely’s full article:
Interesting? Crazy? Plausible? What do you think? To work, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard would have to be very compelling, as Mac OS X 104 Tiger is already a very fine operating system. Heck, Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar was a very fine OS. What if Apple did the Cringely’s freebee with Mac OS X 10.2 instead upon the release of Mac OS X 10.5?

Related articles:
Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ ultimate goal: ‘to take back the computer business from Microsoft’ – June 16, 2005
The OS Wars heat up: Apple paves way to release Mac OS X for off-the-shelf x86 hardware – June 14, 2005
iPod success opens door to Mac OS X on Intel – March 04, 2004


  1. in 10 years we’re gonna look back, and either Apple, Google, or MS is gonna be standing, and the other two are gonna be gone. Thank God for Steve Job’s doctors, let’s go Apple!

  2. Apple certainly does things nobody expects – but seems to guard it’s operating system closely since it is the essence of the “Mac Experience.” Personally, I give the above idea about a 30% chance…

  3. I was talking about iPods as bootable drives ages ago.. the only problem is that you would have to have your software on the iPod too..

    That way all PCs are just thin clients.. dummies that ‘become’ your home computer

    Things like Firewire speeds become very important…

  4. His basic premise is right, but the OS X on iPod is way out there. No, the OS wars will re-ignite in earnest when Apple licenses its OS to other box makers. Which may never happen. In that case my prediction is that Apple will level off around 10% marketshare. Still not bad…

  5. Nope. I’d like to see the bridge Apple is probably setting up for their online movie store. For the movie store to work it needs to have a way to transfer the movies from computer to television. Currently the best guess would be to use the next gen iPod 5G which could possibly plug into another piece of hardware that is currently existing, or released by Apple. The problem with a piece of hardware released by Apple is that it will be harder to rope people into downloading the movies the same way they download music since the music doesn’t require anything but the hardware you normally use. I’d rent movies to my computer if I could download them, it would be ever so convenient, but not very useful if I couldn’t move to my tv in the living room easily, so yeah we shall see what’s coming forth.

  6. This idea, while interesting, is not going to happen. It would create too much confusion in the marketplace with multiple versions of OS X running around.

    Microsoft continued to sell obsolete versions of Windows for years. Even after XP was shipping, you could still buy Windows 2000 in various permutations. There was an article recently on that said there are millions of people still running on Windows 98. As a result, innovation occurs much more slowly in the Windows world when it comes to the OS.

    In contrast, Apple has done everything to keep the masses moving forward. Whether you think it’s a good policy or not, Apple continually introduces new technologies that are not supported by older versions of OS X. Just look at Tiger. What doesn’t run on Panther and Jaguar?
    Spotlight, Dashboard, and Safari 2.0, to name a few.

    When you get into under-the-hood technologies like Quartz 2D, CoreImage, CoreVideo, CoreData, etc. then you start to realize that there is no way Steve Jobs would let Apple be held back by millions of unwashed PC users running Panther sans Tiger technologies. The scenario gets even more ridiculous if Apple is shipping Leopard with brand new technologies and features that people can only guess at, and Apple has to deal with possibly tens of millions of PC users running an even more obsolete Panther. PC users who hear about the great features of Leopard and end up wondering, “Hey, why is Spotlight so slow in Panther? I thought it was fast? And I thought Safari had RSS built-in?”

    Sorry, Cringely, but this idea is totally wacko. Nice speculation, though.

  7. Some of the pieces of the puzzle that could make this a reality are described by Neo in this article:

    It’s not just Apple here, it’s IBM too — and Intel.
    Perfect Storm, Tsunami, whatever, microsoft could be hit by some big new trends in technology.

    Cringely is more likely to be right than wrong on his scenario, except that we should be talking at disk drive based iPods; not the new flash based minis and shuffles, because flash ram is too slow to serve system and home folders efficiently in the soon to be announced flash based iPod minis.

  8. As a follow-up, I think Apple would be much more effective porting key apps over to Windows, like it did with iTunes.

    Consider what would happen if they made iLife for Windows. Since there is nothing equivalent on the Windows side with the features and the level of integration, Apple would make a killing, especially if it piggy-backed on iTunes’ name recognition to get people to download and install the software.

    Apple gets PC users hooked on iLife. When it comes time for a Windows user to replace the machine, they suddenly realize, “Hey, 80% of the software I use already comes free with a new Mac! Switching will be pretty painless after all!” In one stroke, Apple will have severely undercut the software argument.

    This is the basis of the iPod halo effect. Windows users get used to the Apple experience, and when considering a switch, they have some comfort knowing that their iPod will work on that new Mac and iTunes is the same familiar piece of software. Except that as an incentive, the Mac versions always does more, better (iPod on the Mac supports things like address book syncing, for example).

    With iLife for Windows, Apple has the potential to dramatically increase its software revenues while getting millions of Windows users to dump Microsoft software and regularly start using Apple software. The Switch becomes a trivial issue then.

  9. iPod & video? Remember the iPod photo could display a slide show on a TV. So Apple already knows how to connect iPods to TV’s. So the iPod as DVR with DRM isn’t too far fetched. No need to bring the computer to the TV, just your already protable iPod.


    Jaguar was still a work in progress

    Panther was “a very fine operating system”

    Printing in jaguar was a sometimes iffy proposition. As we all know, if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. And “written down” really means printed on paper, and just as likely, photocopied numerous times.

    But Panther on a generic PC? Sure, that’d be great! But I’m not holding my breath.

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