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Editor's Note: Apple a Day Won't Keep Linux Away

Jun 10, 2005, 23:30 (42 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

"Maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon. Maybe I am sticking my head in the sand. But I am not so quick to think that Apple's deal with Intel is going to harm Linux on the business desktop arena.

My friend and colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been pretty vocal on this subject this week, since the Apple-Intel announcement. And while I do not agree with all of his conclusions, let's get one thing clear: to call SJVN some sort of proprietary stooge is the dumbest thing I can think of. Just because you don't agree with someone about their views on open source software does not automatically make them a puppet of Microsoft. Once you start screaming FUD! at every article that does not promote Linux to the rooftops, I guarantee you people will tune you out and your points, however valid, will be lost in the screeching noise.

With that bit of common sense out of the way, here is why I do not think an Apple/Intel partnership is going to massively damage Linux. Note that I can do this, mind you, without calling anyone names.

One: Apple has said that it will only run OS X on Mactel machines.

SJVN thinks this is an impossible goal, since OS X will start showing up on PC clones, and Apple will give up and just let the OS go to other PCs. I think he is right, but he did not follow the outcome of this to what I think is its next conclusion.

Apple would be crazy to surrender OS X to the general PC population, because if they did, where would they make their money? Apple doesn't make its money on software. It mostly makes it on the hardware. If that were not true, you would have seen a lot of MacOS and OS X out on PPC clones a long time ago. If Apple threw up its hands and gave out OS X to Intel PC makers, it would lose a huge source of income and would effectively become a software company.

I just can't see that happening to Apple. If it did, I think they would be effectively killed. Certainly marginalized.

Now, I should pause here and mention Robert X. Cringley sees all of this movement as a precursor to Intel actually buying Apple. It's an interesting theory and, if true, would pretty much negate my argument for Apple grasping on to its hardware business. With Intel's backing, Apple could comfortably crank out all the software they wanted. I think Cringley's theory is a little too far-fetched, though it does make you ponder.

Two: What software are they going to run?

If Linux is deficient in business applications (and here SJVN and I do agree, though perhaps not on the scale of the problem), then by golly Apple is way more deficient. Macs are used professionally by artists, publishers, and filmmakers--users who need superior graphics processing.

Yes, there are other uses for Macs, but I rarely hear of Macs being used in a number-crunching office environment. Why? Because what business apps the Macs do have mirror the chapter Wintel machines exactly. Want an office suite? Guess what, it'll be Microsoft Office X.

So, with that in mind why would I, as a Wintel business owner, want to bother switching to an expensive Apple Mactel platform? Even if there were generic Mactels out there that had price points closer to my current Wintel machines, again, why would I bother? I'd still be going from using Office on Windows to Office on OS X. Where's the advantage? Cost? I don't think so.

Three: Businesses are not made out of money.

If people are going to go to all the hassle to switch their OS, why would they switch their platform and OS at the same time? Good grief, how expensive would that be?

Four: Security is still a factor.

Windows has viruses. OS X has less viruses. Linux has virtually no viruses.

That, my friends, has not changed.

Five: It may come down to philosophy.

This is what makes peoples' teeth hurt, but I do believe that there is a real decision making factor in choosing open source over proprietary software.

Yesterday, I spoke at the Indianapolis ITEC. It was a small group at may session, but it was a good, interactive discussion. And while some of them still seemed on the fence, the one argument I made that got them very interested was that of proprietary formats over open formats and closed-source software versus open source.

Philosophy aside, business are increasingly attracted to knowinfg that no matter what happens to the software vendor, they will still have the code. They will still be able to get at their older data.

Open is good, and OS X, while it tries, is not that open yet.

Those are my five reasons why I don't think Linux will take a big hit on the business desktop.

Do I think Apple will steal potential consumer desktop share from Linux? Possibly. Do I think Linux needs to improve its desktop offerings? Like any technology, of course.

The Mactel partnership is certainly something new that bears watching. But I don't think it will harm Linux badly. In fact, by calling attention to that fact that there are strong Windows alternatives out there, it may end up helping Linux adoption.

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