I thought OSNews would be a good forum to talk about a matter that has been weighing on my mind lately primarily because the site has been so focused on Apple’s patents and litigation as of late. The news that HP, the largest PC manufacturer in the world is spinning off or getting out of this business is what really prompted me to write this article.
Those of us using PCs (that being the generic word to describe a computer that is not a Macintosh), see Apple’s actions as going against all that we stand for with regard to personal computing.
Software patents in particular are regarded by a good many in these forums as the antithesis of all that is wrong with this industry. For Apple to be litigating companies (at least partially) on the basis of this strategy certainly explains the light in which some tech news sites cast Apple in with regard to news relating to the company.
That there is still so much bile strewn about when discussing computing platforms particularly when Apple is referenced has much to do with passions and preferences but more to do with computing ideals… Those being “open” and “integrated.”
Two Sides To The Story
There are two sides to this story and I’m saying all this to show that I understand the side of a position which is most often taken on these forums. However, I think it important to reference the less often regarded position here as I so rarely see it.
The PC might best be best understand as a Robin Hood story. You might consider it a bizarre analogy but if you think about it, just like Robin Hood, the PC took from the haves and gave to the have-nots. That the PC managed to grow so quickly is the result of many factors but they all hinged on a single event that changed the course of history: Microsoft’s theft from Apple.
The Haves And Have Nots
Microsoft was given access to the Macintosh early on and made its own copy of Apple’s operating system. In addition to user interface concepts, Microsoft incorporated actual code from Apple into their software. When Microsoft sold their product, they in turn created a business model for countless PC manufacturers to build upon which would in turn create greater purchasing strength by the sheer number of company’s buying the PC’s standardized components.
It’s true, the result of that action did populate the world with personal computers, made jobs in countless industries and helped perpetuate the growth of other fantastic technologies all of which certainly explains the vehement defense of “open” architectures. What you don’t hear in that story is that Apple’s platform might have otherwise achieved all these goals and noteworthy achievements and in turn also allowed the company to see massive returns on their investments, if it were allowed to have its intended business trajectory run its course without Microsoft playing the role of Robin Hood.
The immediate response to that argument is that Apple would have kept prices high thus stifling potential growth. The “proof” presented to support that argument is that Apple had higher prices during the 90s when the transition away from Macs was taking place.
The retort that that argument is the diminished scale Apple had from the theft made it impossible to offer equal pricing without exclusively selling to high-end markets.
One need only point to Apple’s ability to out-scale the PC manufacturers competition for products like the iPod, Macbook air and the iPad as examples where Apple larger scale drive down prices and demonstrated that high prices aren’t a part of Apple’s internal culture as is often perpetuated in PC-centric forums.
When you look at it from Apple’s perspective, the (near) entirety of the PC industry was theirs. They were the ones that would have been owners of 95% of the market and not 5% as is the case now. It was a badly written contract and mitigated software patents that lost them their dominant position in PC computing’s history and allowed others to benefit from their innovations and first mover advantage.
PC aficionados dislike of software patents and thus Apple’s position in leveraging them was formed originally as a result of Microsoft’s initial theft. Why wouldn’t they argue that point though? They are amongst the many benefactors of the theft.
In the same way, I’m sure Robin Hood’s benefactors (The have nots) would have argued just as vehemently against “the have’s” going after their stolen money and implementing greater security at the same time. I’m sure they would have argued just the same, “but look at all the good we’ve done with this stolen money!”
Lead. Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way
Competition is great but if you can’t compete without the benefit of a business model created by way of stolen goods then perhaps you should sell your company to someone who thinks they can or better yet, simply quit that business and do business in other markets. IBM understood that, so did Amiga, Compaq, Gateway and now so does HP as Apple becomes the leader (or at least a leader) in the post PC era.
I had always wondered if Apple’s computers would have grown as quickly as the PC market had done if allowed to run its intended course without Microsoft playing the role of Robin Hood. The iPod and iPad are both perfect barometers to answer that question.
Can we really blame Apple for not wanting the past to repeat itself. Similarly, can anyone legitimately argue against them without casting themselves as a champion for Robin Hood’s methodology?