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John Dvorak reverses entire career, says Microsoft should copy Apple

Daniel Eran Dilger

John Dvorak needs your attention for his latest prediction: something new that should out-troll his previous efforts to rile up tech enthusiasts and send them streaming to his blog to explain exactly why his latest idea is so ridiculous: Microsoft needs to apply its Xbox 360 hardware savvy to produce its own PCs to rival Apple’s Macs.

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This is the man who decided that the 1984 Macintosh’s “computer mouse” was a dumb idea, then two decades later urged Apple to “pull the plug” on the iPhone in order to avoid looking stupid for delivering a product that was “trending against what people are really liking in phones nowadays, which are those little keypads,” and that “there is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive.”

In between these staggeringly tall pillars of outrageousness, Dvorak has strung a career arc that rivals the Golden Gate Bridge in its unique blend of ballsy engineering laden with tons of superfluous adornment; both also share the same business model: draw in the dumbfounded to marvel at an uncanny ability to connect wildly separated things and then earn a fat toll on the traffic generated.

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Apple as a software vendor

Dvorak’s most consistent position has been his decades of insistence that Apple should get out of the hardware business and begin selling its Mac OS just like Windows. Never mind the fact that in order to make as much money from selling software as the company made from Macs back in 2002 (when it wasn’t selling that many Macs), Apple would have had to minimally sell over 32 million copies of Mac OS X to PC users every year (according to an estimate provided at the time by John Kheit).

That’s more than the global number of users who have downloaded Linux to use for free, and those users don’t all grab a new edition every year. Apple’s $129 annual fee might have some impact on Mac OS X’s relative popularity amongst those same PC users who already have a free license to Windows thanks to Microsoft’s monopoly position. This is why Apple doesn’t license its OS.

In 2003, Dvorak also insisted that Apple would port Mac OS X to Intel that summer, something he likes to take credit for today as a prescient sage. Unfortunately, what Dvorak actually wrote was that Apple would port its OS to Intel’s Itanium in 2003, not its x86 chips in 2006.

Itanium, for those who forget, was Intel’s failed 64-bit processor with an entirely new ABI, meaning that porting Mac OS X to Itanium wouldn’t also result in its being able to run on standard x86 PCs. Instead, Dvorak predicted Apple would make Macs that had both PowerPC and Itanium processors during the transition. This sort of thing would cost several thousand dollars and require a heat sink bigger than Dvorak’s ego.

In 2003, Itanium was already clearly a dud and nobody with any clue was even still suggesting that it had any real potential in the mainstream workstation market. It wasn’t until this year, ten years after Itanium was regarded as dead by knowledgeable people, that Dvorak wrote up its eulogy with 20/20 hindsight, saying he’d “never seen anything like it before or since” in terms of wasted investment and dramatic failure resulting in massive industry consolidation.

Really? Wasn’t Dvorak also around for IBM’s spectacular decline following PS/2 and the OS/2-Taligent microkernel supernova that nearly destroyed it and Apple too; or the massive collapse of commercial Unix in the face of Windows NT; or the wildly ecstatic promise of PowerPC that fizzled into obscurity in less than a decade; or how about Pen Computing; or the implosion of Vista; or the rapid collapse of Gateway from the third largest PC vendor to an Acer brand name in the space of four years; or the failure of PDAs parallel to the prima donna face plant of Palm; or how about Motorola’s $5 billion dollar Iridium space odyssey in satellite phone failure; or the celebrated premise of satellite radio that resulted in Sirius and XM merging into a black hole; or Sun’s client side Java paired with Netscape; or Segway; or Zune; or HD-DVD; or any number of other companies, products or technologies hyped into the stratosphere by pundits like Dvorak before ultimately crashing down to earth in failure? Weren’t those all sort of like Itanium?

In 2006, Dvorak explained to his readers that Apple had transitioned to x86 because it wanted to get out of the Mac OS X development game and become a generic PC vendor selling Windows. “It would help the bottom line and put Apple on the fast track to real growth,” he wrote, saying that Steve Jobs would champion this transition to Mac users.

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Second verse, entirely different from the first

These days, with Microsoft having hit new lows in growth in its existing cash cows and having completely failed to deliver any new market opportunities in its decade of investment in consumer products within its Entertainment and Devices Division, Dvorak has a new line of reasoning: rather than Apple trying to copy Microsoft’s business model, Microsoft should be copying Apple’s. While completely different on the surface, this new idea is just as absurd.

Apple has been making hardware for over 30 years. It has just figured recently out how to successfully sell software, but still makes the vast majority of its revenues from hardware sales. In fact, despite setting up the blockbuster iPhone App Store and creating popular suites of Pro Apps, iLife, and iWork apps, it’s pretty clear that Apple’s entire software business is merely frosting on top of its core competency as a hardware seller, and quite intentionally so.

Over the same three decades, Microsoft pioneered software sales and subsequently earned vastly more money than Apple over the last two decades. It has similarly been a recent development that Microsoft has begun selling its own hardware. However, rather than making some additional profits that help sell its software, Microsoft’s hardware products have resulted in just eating up billions of the company’s extra profits and casting a cloud of failure over the future of its software business.

Companies are not automatically good at doing things their competitors do; Sony couldn’t even rival the iPod, despite being far more experienced and historically successful in consumer audio products than Apple had ever been previously. Apple’s ability to waltz into the MP3 market and then chassé into smartphones is not typical, but rather extraordinary and unprecedented. Microsoft has failed miserably in both categories, even in its attempts to beat Apple via software, following its Windows licensing model.

The fact that Sony failed to beat Apple via hardware and Microsoft failed to beat Apple in software does not suggest any hope for Microsoft beating Apple in hardware. But that didn’t stop most of the world’s punditry from continually betting on the Zune, even after it was clearly dead.

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Microsoft as a hardware maker

This makes Dvorak’s latest idea, that Microsoft needs to crank out its own PCs, not all that much different from his previous flurry of wrongheaded advice. But let’s examine for a moment just how backwardly inane this notion is.

Whenever I write about Microsoft’s disastrous attempts to sell hardware, I get hate mail from people who like Microsoft-branded mice and keyboards. So let me point out that a) Microsoft doesn’t really develop these products, it just stamps its name on them and b) the only reason Microsoft has a mouse and keyboard business is because it could leverage its monopoly software licensing program to tack its branded mice and keyboard sales onto most every PC sold. If anything, the company found out how to sell accessories according to its OEM software licensing model.

Microsoft’s real hardware business is typified by the Xbox. It spent billions developing the first version, which was about as heavy and successful as QuickDraw GX and didn’t live as long. It then turned around and spent more billions to develop the Xbox 360. While many hate mailers will be itching to impress me with tales about how much they like to play video games on it, the fact remains that even in Microsoft’s best quarter ever, it made less money on the Xbox and all of its other consumer offerings combined than Apple makes every quarter from its loss leader software sales. The company has, however, thrown many, many billions into creating it, money Microsoft will never make back before the current version reaches the end of its lifespan.

It’s also interesting to note how terrible the Xbox 360 is in terms of engineering. It has a spectacularly high failure rate, in large measure because Microsoft wanted to poop out the hardware as cheaply as possible because it knew it would not be making any profits on the hardware itself (if you look at Microsoft’s financials, game software licensing has not in any way paid for these losses as planned; it has only helped to cover some small portion of the jaw-dropping billions invested).

Microsoft’s product management and marketing of the Xbox 360 have also been disastrous. Despite wielding its entire PC monopoly to back the Xbox’s HD-DVD offensive against Sony’s PS3/Blu-Ray strategy, Microsoft completely failed to even remain in the game against Sony’s rival disc platform despite that company’s own incompetence of false starts, a selection of more expensive and not quite ready technology, relatively terrible initial sales of the PS3, and a minority installed base of Blu-Ray disc players outside of the PS3.

If Apple’s iPod trouncing of Sony’s Walkman legacy is impressive in terms of hardware, the company’s ability to marginalize Sony’s Blu-Ray efforts (which enjoys an installed base around 25 million) using iTunes (100 million credit cards on file) is even more surprising. Pundits all presumed Microsoft would be the winner with Windows Media; Microsoft barely remains in that game as an also-ran. Again: Microsoft’s consumer software has failed, not just its consumer hardware. It was supposed to at least get the software side to work.

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Dvorak: the people who said what I said were all idiots

Despite all this, Dvorak wrote that Microsoft needs to get into the hardware PC business as an extension of its stellar work on the Xbox. “Microsoft needs to go to its Xbox360 factories and design a computer and a laptop that it can brand and sell at the [company's retail] stores. There is no reason to open stores to sell the Xbox and the Zune and no branded computer.”

Well actually there’s no reason to open stores to sell the Xbox and Zune at all, as Microsoft already has thousands of retail partners that stock its products. In fact, Microsoft retail stores promise to do nothing but irritate its retail channel partners. Selling its own PCs would simply add Dell, HP, Acer, and every other PC maker on earth to this list of angry partners. This is what Microsoft did to destroy its PlaysForSure franchise with the Zune, and is also what the company threatens to do with its Pink Windows phone, if this ever manages to escape from the company’s ironically named Premium Mobile Experiences group.

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Dvorak then expunges his entire career as an Apple-naysayer and attempts to pin his losing streak of prognostications upon unnamed idiots in adding, “A majority of pundits over the years have begged Apple to release its operating system, or OS, to the wild, saying that the company could benefit from becoming more like Microsoft with what many perceive to be a superior OS. For some reason nobody notices that if Microsoft brought out a Microsoft computer it will now have this desired business model.”

If that didn’t sink in, take care to note that Dvorak just erased the reality of his own career-long insistence that Apple needed to license its OS to other makers, and that Mac OS X was such a problem that the company moved to x86 to order to jettison it for Windows, and that Microsoft’s business model was what everyone else in the industry should be following because it worked out so well in combination with the company’s monopoly hold over generic PC makers worldwide.

“For some reason” it appears that Dvorak still hopes that “nobody notices” that Apple has the “desired business model.”

39 comments

1 scotty321 { 10.24.09 at 8:51 pm }

Excellent article, Daniel. Excellent, excellent. One of your best.

2 gus2000 { 10.24.09 at 9:27 pm }

Beating up on Dvorak? Now you’re just being mean. It’s not like he’s TRYING to use logic or reason.

However, in some ways, Dvorak is on to something. Microsoft is running out of Epic Fail categories, so they’re going to need to get into the PC hardware game sooner or later. It’s just about the only thing Apple has done that they’ve not tried to copy.

If they sell the XBox as a PC, maybe the Blue Screen and Red Ring will cancel each other out…

3 tofino { 10.24.09 at 9:45 pm }

dvorak has been a troll since the print era. the difference back then was that trees had to die for his drivel and there was no way for him to get meaningful page counts…

4 isani { 10.24.09 at 11:24 pm }

Don’t forget, this is the same Dvorak who predicted this whole Internet thing was a fad and that people would soon go back to BBS’s and proprietary online services.

5 cy_starkman { 10.24.09 at 11:30 pm }

@Gus

I don’t think the BSOD and the RROD will cancel each other out. More like merge into the purple outrage of pain, or POOP and it will come with a sandwich only no pickle.

@Daniel – this is prize winning

“both also share the same business model: draw in the dumbfounded to marvel at an uncanny ability to connect wildly separated things and then earn a fat toll on the traffic generated.”

6 Imapolicecar { 10.25.09 at 1:08 am }

Just to think that back in the early 90s when I read his columns I was naive enough to believe he know what he was talking about. Oh, those heady days of blissful ignorance when no one could network 3.11 and no one knew that the option key could close all windows in OS 7.1 (after accidentally opening a hundred windows).

7 chuckb { 10.25.09 at 6:56 am }

Very well put. However, beating up on Dvorak is like shooting fish in a barrel. He, Enderle and Thurrott are the idiot troika in the Windows world. It is quite funny to see that churning commentary from the Windows apologists as Microsoft desperately flounders while trying to find a new business model.

8 Berend Schotanus { 10.25.09 at 7:05 am }

I haven’t read much of Mr. Dvorak so I guess I’m not in the target group who needs to be convinces that Mr. Dvorak is sending the wrong message.

With this naive background the article brings me a bit in an infinite loop. Mr. Dvorak is bad, Microsoft copycat behavior is bad, but if you combine those why wouldn’t it be a good idea for the Microsoft management to listen to Mr. Dvoraks advice? Like: -1 x -1 = +1
Of course it is a stupid thing for Microsoft to copy the Apple retail store but once you are so stupid there is no reason in the world to explain why it would be right or wrong to make yet another stupid decision in the same style. Mr. Dvorak is following Microsoft, recommending stupid decisions, but once you are in that style…
ai, ai, ai…
;-)

9 Per { 10.25.09 at 8:24 am }

@chuckb

It would be fun to see them do a super group-style podcast together. Super Best Friends Against Reality (and common sense).

10 John E { 10.25.09 at 9:49 am }

i cant’ figure out what this paragraph is talking about:

“If Apple’s iPod trouncing of Sony’s Walkman legacy is impressive in terms of hardware, the company’s ability to marginalize Sony’s Blu-Ray efforts (which enjoys an installed base around 25 million) using iTunes (100 million credit cards on file) is even more surprising. Pundits all presumed Microsoft would be the winner with Windows Media; Microsoft barely remains in that game as an also-ran. Again: Microsoft’s consumer software has failed, not just its consumer hardware. It was supposed to at least get the software side to work.”

what is the “game” referred to? digital movie sales/rentals? that is the only way that BR and iTunes compete.

11 snookie { 10.25.09 at 9:55 am }

Dvorak is looking for page views as always. Despite everything I still enjoy reading his articles. When he wrote for Mac User magazine his commentary on the back page was always the first thing I read. If you watch his cranky geeks video show he has repeatedly talked about how impressed he is by the Mac Unibody laptops. He is also really not impressed by Windows 7 and wrote an article recently on how awful the registry is. So yeah everything Dan said is true but i still like reading Dvorak’s stuff. I’ve been around this long enough, (Macs since 1984, and IT for 20 years), to know what to take and what to discard from what he says. I love that Dan has the background to bring up all these historical examples most of which I remember quite well. There a book or two in there somewhere Dan.

12 John E { 10.25.09 at 11:18 am }

Dvork is just a mess, whereas Enderle is a whore.

13 NoCaDrummer { 10.25.09 at 12:06 pm }

“both also share the same business model: draw in the dumbfounded to marvel at an uncanny ability to connect wildly separated things and then earn a fat toll on the traffic generated.”
But the Golden Gate Bridge was built under budget, has lasted over 72 years, and never crashed, nor gone to the wrong place time and again. And I’d rather be ON the GGB than NEAR Dvorak during an earthquake.

14 Dorotea { 10.25.09 at 1:13 pm }

Didn’t Dvorak write for Byte or PCMag in the late 80s thru the 90s. Didn’t like him then, don’t like him now. Never could see his points.

15 stuart001uk { 10.25.09 at 2:26 pm }

Daniel – I think you are being a bit too hard on JCD. If you accept for what he is, he really is quite entertaining & gradually coming over to the Dark Side here in Apple Fanboy-dom. At the moment, he might make a more acceptable regular on MacBreak Weekly than Leo does…

[Yes I usually don't take Dvorak too seriously when he's just playing up the entertainment schtick but here he's trying to be taken seriously on Marketwatch essentially saying "pay no attention to those dummie pundits, Microsoft needs it's own PCs to make its retail stores work." which is too rediculous to pass up.

It's like John Waters trying to make a pretentious highbrow movie. - Dan]

16 Scopie { 10.25.09 at 4:45 pm }

Resist the urge to mention anything about this guy in the written word. You’re much too smart and too good a writer to waste time giving him any validity (as if his thoughts were of value) by expending your talent responding to his drivel. There are plenty of people and entities who are taken more seriously out there whom you could castigate to they joy and enlightenment of all. Reading this piece was boring. You could argue that people need to know about him. The vast majority of people who read you, however, already know enough to disrespect this dolt.

17 The Mad Hatter { 10.25.09 at 7:37 pm }

Hey, I like Dvorak. He may not be the world’s greatest tech expert like he thinks he is, but he’s better than a lot of them.

Did you know that he recommended running Ubuntu instead of Windows?

The bit about Microsoft selling MS branded PCs though, that was hilarious. He’s realized that the Evil Empire of Redmond is vulnerable, and he’s trying to talk them into making themselves more vulnerable. And Microsoft knows it. He’s just told Microsoft that he now considers the company to be a total pack of idiots.

I’ll bet he’s not on Ballmer’s Christmas card list anymore.

18 sprockkets { 10.25.09 at 8:04 pm }

Thank you Microsoft, for killing all the good Unix workstations in the late 90s with crappy computers running NT4.
Thank you Intel for creating the worst processor ever made so as to kill off MIPS, SPARC and the best one ever made, the ALPHA.
And a big F U to Carly Fiorina as well for killing off the Alpha, and HP and Compaq by again, killing off your good hardware and your good support and replacing it with Indian support and yes, commodity hardware.

Soon we will only be able to buy $50 Microsoft desktops with a subscription to Windows and the computer might last long enough to format a document.

19 uberVU - social comments { 10.25.09 at 9:39 pm }

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by DanielEran: New: John Dvorak reverses entire career, says Microsoft should copy Apple – http://tinyurl.com/yh4qtpz

20 The Mad Hatter { 10.25.09 at 9:49 pm }

spprockets,
Or you could buy a Mac.

21 RDM nails Dvorak….again…. « The Mac Pundit { 10.25.09 at 10:32 pm }
22 Norm Potter { 10.26.09 at 5:37 am }

Dan:

What else are they going to sell in their store(s)?

23 oomu { 10.26.09 at 7:01 am }

@sprockkets

about hp : amen brother ! I so miss the old hp. but it’s over.

24 DavidSteward { 10.26.09 at 7:39 am }

Great article.

All we need now is for Microsoft to start making it’s own hardware. Once it fails, it will accelerate the demise of the company

25 Dorotea { 10.26.09 at 8:58 am }

@Sprockkets.. In the 90′s I had the privilege of working on a low end Dec Alpha running their version of UNIX. I was tasked with porting programming existing on a DG AOS/VS mini-computer to the Dec Alpha. The new UNIX based Alpha computer was a revelation. It totally rocked. Fast little beastie, ran well. Loved it. Was sorry that it is now extinct (i think).

26 ChuckO { 10.26.09 at 9:20 am }

One flaw I think is why would Microsft opening retail stores bother Dell, Acer and HP? They don’t operate stores. The more logical groups to be angry would be Best Buy, etc. but I don’t think this makes sense either as Apple has stores of it’s own and still sells through Best Buy.

27 ChuckO { 10.26.09 at 9:26 am }

Microsoft’s long term strength has always been cock blocking the competition. They have always viewed any other powerful popular software as a potential rival to the Windows OS. From Netscape to the Doom\Quake engine they realized any powerful popular software could easily be beefed up to become an OS. It’s the same with Playstation. So they spend all their time and have developed all their expertise in crushing rivals except now like the Nazi’s or Napoleon they’ve opened up too many fronts and their resources are strained too much and it’s all crashing in on them.

28 danieleran { 10.26.09 at 9:52 am }

@ChuckO:

Actually Dell does have some Apple-inspired retail stores, but the big reason PC makers would be outraged over an MS-PC would not necessarily be that MS’ retail stores were selling them, but that MS itself was selling PCs in competition with them.

Part of the reason why Mac cloners didn’t ever work out was because they had to compete against Apple. Either they couldn’t differentiate themselves, or they could… and subsequently risked being terminated for it. Competing against an MS-PC would be like competing against the Zune to make a PFS player. Why would MS help them sell theirs if it wanted the sale itself?

29 ChuckO { 10.26.09 at 11:19 am }

I think the MS stores will fail because they’re another goofy copy of someone else strategy. MS’s problem isn’t the lack of places to find and try a novel product. I think MS’s big problem is they have exposed themselves as a risky partner to business and consumers at this point with the Vista debacle and they’ve probably shot themselves in the foot with Windows 7 with the non-upgrade path for XP users. Combine that with the crazy Windows 7 price/version structure and Apple being stronger than ever and you’re begging people to switch.

30 ChuckO { 10.26.09 at 11:24 am }

For anybody not following the Windows 7 rollout anyone going from Windows XP to Windows 7 has to backup all files then INSTALL Windows 7 OVER XP and then REINSTALL all apps and restore your personal files. What is MS thinking with that!

31 ChuckO { 10.26.09 at 12:14 pm }

Here’s a question I have about Apple. I have a very hard time buying that Apple sells hardware not software. Is Apple working right now because they’ve finally gotten hardware right or because they’ve got software right or a combination? And is Apple actually succeeding right now or is Next succeeding after assuming Apple’s identity?

32 John E { 10.26.09 at 12:31 pm }

only one thing matters for the success/failure of MS retail stores: the scope of their free Guru tech support.

if they give free tech support to anyone about anything to do with MS software on any hardware, they will be a big success (in filling up the store at least). Because! so many PC users need so much help so often. and everyone else, like the BestBuy Geek Squad, charges rip off prices for it.

but i bet they don’t do that.

instead they will likely sell an MS version of AppleCare and/or provide tech support for hardware (including now PC’s) that you buy directly from MS in the store or on line (at retail list instead of web discount price). why give away for free what you can “monetize”?

so free help will probably be sharply limited in both time and scope.

in fairness, the free Genius Bar help at Apple stores is not really “free” of course. it is just part of the store overhead that is covered by the retail list prices you pay there for Apple and third-party products. but it sure is convenient.

on the spot warranty repair/replacement is the other big Apple retail store advantage. will MS provide that service for the PC’s it sells? of course, the XBox warranty desk will always be mobbed.

33 The Mad Hatter { 10.26.09 at 1:39 pm }

Here’s a question I have about Apple. I have a very hard time buying that Apple sells hardware not software. Is Apple working right now because they’ve finally gotten hardware right or because they’ve got software right or a combination? And is Apple actually succeeding right now or is Next succeeding after assuming Apple’s identity?

ChuckO,
Go into an Apple store, and look. What do you see? Computers and music players take up 80% of the store. There’s a small set of shelves in the back with boxed software.
So yes, Apple sells hardware.
Even better, go to your local Honda dealer and look at the cars. I just bought a new Honda Fit today, nice little car, great fuel economy, lots of room, etc. The software that runs the MP3 player, the engine, and the air conditioning is incidental. Honda couldn’t sell the car without the software. I didn’t buy the car because of the software. I bought it because I needed a car for my kids, and this was the one that satisfied our needs.
When you buy from Apple, you are buying the computer. OSX is incidental. You don’t need to use it. Hell, I know people who replace it with Linux/FreeBSD (programmers). Or even, god forbid, Windows (though it would make more sense to use Boot Camp, Parallels, or DarWine).

34 ChuckO { 10.26.09 at 2:37 pm }

I don’t think the software is incidental. I bought my MacBook Pro mainly for the software. A lot of people buy a computer and never buy any software. What’s great about Mac’s is the software. iLife in particular. I payed more for a Mac because of that and I felt like with the high end hardware it would last longer but mainly i bought it for the software.

35 ChuckO { 10.26.09 at 2:40 pm }

I’d believe software and hardware are equally important especially after seeing the 27″ iMac. That’s a fantastic move on Apple’s part. It’s like a combo hidef TV/computer. I could see a lot of people putting those in bedrooms to do double duty.

36 sprockkets { 10.26.09 at 11:05 pm }

Yeah, I do want a mac :)

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38 SteveS { 10.27.09 at 2:29 pm }

“When you buy from Apple, you are buying the computer. OSX is incidental. You don’t need to use it. Hell, I know people who replace it with Linux/FreeBSD (programmers). ”

@The Mad Hatter,

Huh? Sales of OS X may be incidental in and of itself to Apple’s bottom line. That is, Apple makes its money from the sale of hardware. However, if you think Apple would be selling the same amount of hardware with Windows or Linux installed instead of OS X, you’re completely delusional. Similarly, do you think Apple would sell as many iPhones with Windows Mobile installed on the same hardware? No, of course not.

39 The Mad Hatter { 10.27.09 at 6:40 pm }

SteveS,

I stand by what I said. You don’t buy OSX, you buy a Mac. The OS is a value added proposition with Apple products.

Whereas Windows has no value to the majority of users, and could be replaced by anything. In many companies that I deal with, Windows is deliberately crippled, so that only one application, the one that the employee uses, can be run. Whether that application runs on BSD, Linux, OSX, or Windows doesn’t matter, as long as it runs.

And its the same in many homes – the only application used is the web browser. As long there is a web browser, the OS doesn’t matter.

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