posted by Federico Biancuzzi on Tue 26th Apr 2005 08:10 UTC
IconThis could be a decisive moment for the software market. Microsoft's big cash cow is the Windows/Office combo. If you look through the company's financial reports, you'll see that profits come mainly from Windows and Office. This means that Windows sales support the existence of other products and services. An unexpected drop in demand of Windows could cause a domino effect. At the moment this seems highly improbable because Windows desktop market share is over 90%, even though there is an increasing interest in MacOS X and Linux.

The next Windows version, named Longhorn, should be released during the fall of 2006. Obviously Microsoft is trying to keep people interested by annuncing every month, or more often, some news about which features will be included, or that will not be part of it. There is also a parallel strategy to keep open a stream of money until Longhorn is released: Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. Microsoft hopes to fill this 18 months long period with an updated version of Windows XP.

So, could anything unexpected happen? Could any competing platform shake up this market?

Linux ? No, I don't think it could be called a desktop for "mom&dad". At least not yet. And there are various barriers to its widescale adoption in businesses.

And we need something unexpected. A surprise.

Let's try to correlate some recent news:

January 11, 2005
During his keynote at San Francisco MacWorld, Steve Jobs confirmed that Tiger (MacOS X 10.4) will be released in the first half of the year.

February 21, 2005
"Intel Corporation today announced the availability of five new processors for desktop computers with support for 64-bit memory addressability through Intel Extended Memory 64 Technology (Intel EM64T). Intel plans to ship EM64T on versions of every newly introduced Intel desktop processor."

March 11, 2005
"Apple will officially announce Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger's release at an event in early April and will begin shipping the operating system within two or three weeks afterwards, Think Secret has learned."

March 31, 2005
"Microsoft said that Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Standard x64 Edition, Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Enterprise x64 Edition, Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Datacenter x64 Edition, and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition all had been released to manufacturing, in time for a scheduled release in late April."

April 11, 2005
"According to Microsoft and Intel estimates, 2005 will be the year when, for the first time, the vast majority of new server hardware and high-end workstation shipments will be 64-bit capable."

So, let's immagine that...

April 29, 2005
Apple releases Tiger.
Apple releases Tiger for PC.

Nobody knows if this is going to happen with the Tiger announcement, but when a MacOS X release for PC does come, and I'm sure it will, it will be a surprise for everyone. We know that Steve Jobs likes secrets, and such an important move will be kept secret at any cost, even if it means moving the development labs to Mars. So let's proceed with our speculation...

Announcing MacOS X availability for PCs 18 months before Longhorn would leave Microsoft bewildered, because they will be ready more than a year later, and without some innovations already included in Tiger. Do you remember what Bill Gates said on Longhorn and WinFS ? Well, Tiger includes Spotlight.

The first result would be sales competition with Windows x64, and an unexpected challenge to some easy money Microsoft plans to make.

Releasing Tiger only for 64bit processors would be good strategy. It would:

  1. Take advantage of 64bit optimizations included in Tiger for G5 CPUs.
  2. Avoid performance and compatibility problems with older PCs (x86-64 cpus were introduced in 2003 by AMD.)
  3. Focus the marketing effort toward people that are already planning to buy a new computer.
  4. Focus on systems with a medium-high price to stay in the range of Apple's hardware prices.
  5. Oblige people with a 32bit PC that want to try MacOS X to buy a new computer: hoping they choose Apple's hardware too.

But there is another advantage. Apple will have more than 2 years to work on the next MacOS X version, and it could be announced in the first half of 2007, just 6 months after Longhorn availability, putting Microsoft on yet another catch-up cycle.

If Apple hopes to take any marketshare from Microsoft, catching them unawares will be an essential part of that strategy. Microsoft has proven itself to be tenacious when under threat, so it would be in Apple's best interest to keep pressing, and not allow Microsoft to hold the title of the "newest and most modern OS" for very long. If Apple could pull this off, it would have the double effect of gaining a new customer, but also luring away Microsoft's valuable early adopter customer base. And where the early adopters go, the steady stream of regular users who listen to them will follow, as older PCs are decommissioned and replaced with 64 bit ones.

When a "switcher" chooses to install MacOS X on his PC, three things will happen:

  1. Apple's market share grows up (percentage)
  2. Microsoft's market share decreases (percentage)
  3. Apple gets money for the license (Microsoft had already got the money)

But when a new PC is bought, and the buyer could choose the OS, and if he chooses MacOS X something different will happen:

  1. Apple's market share grows up (percentage)
  2. Microsoft's market share decreases (percentage)
  3. Apple gets money for the license (Microsoft gets nothing)

If this scenario occurred the market would truly be shaken, and for 18 months whoever bought a new computer could choose between a brand new MacOS X Tiger, or a 64 bit version of plain old Windows XP (originally released in 2001).

And you, what would you choose?


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