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Weekly Column

Easy DOS It: Apple's Plan to Provide the Best Darned Windows Experience Anywhere -- Even Better Than Microsoft

Status: [CLOSED]
By Robert X. Cringely

One part of last week's column on Apple's Boot Camp that slipped past many readers was the idea that Apple would actually start shipping OEM versions of Windows Vista with at least some of its computers. I believe that will be the case and, if so, it is a big deal, and could lead to Apple becoming the biggest vendor of Windows computers to business, which I think is a hoot.

The story came to me, as many do, from a reader. He's the night auditor at a hotel, and one evening around 2AM, found across from his Front Desk seven somewhat intoxicated Microsoft engineers who wanted to order morning wakeup calls. They started talking and my reader asked if Intel Macs would ever run Windows? That's all it took to start a 20-minute presentation (obviously prepared and long-practiced) on that exact subject, how Intel Macs will run Windows Vista very well, thank you. Not only that, but the Microsoft engineers were convinced Vista would be so superior that nobody would need OS X again.

These same seven engineers must have stopped for a drink not long ago at John Dvorak's house because he's been making the same claim -- that Apple will drop OS X for Windows.

That's not at all what I think will happen. Apple isn't going to throw away its clearest point of differentiation and greatest technical advantage just to become another Windows OEM. That would make them little better than Sony and Sony can out-manufacture Apple any day.

Where Dvorak is wrong is he believes Microsoft's version of the story -- that Apple will abandon OS X, at least for business, replacing it with Windows Vista. After all, isn't that what this Boot Camp stuff is all about, enabling the choice of OSX or Windows?

Not really.

The version of Boot Camp that will ship with OS X 10.5 will likely be very different from the version people are playing with today. The actual shipping version, I predict, will have full OS virtualization so that both operating systems can run side-by-side and a user can cut and paste data from one to the other. Apple may have already developed this capability, or maybe they'll license or buy it from outside. Parallel Workstation 2.1 sure looks nice from Parallels, Inc. Maybe Apple should buy the whole company.

If Apple's intent is to do virtualization, then why bother with this dual boot version of Boot Camp? My best guess is to throw off Microsoft until it is too late. Not that I think Microsoft will even care as long as they get their money, but Apple can be sneaky this way.

So Apple will at least offer the option for users to run a virtualized version of Windows Vista atop OS X, which brings with it two HUGE advantages. First, the bad guys and script kiddies will have to get through OS X security before they even have a chance at cracking Vista security. Second, by running a virtual version of Windows Vista loaded from a read-only partition, Microsoft's recommended method of dealing with malware (periodically wipe the OS and application from your disk and load them anew) can be done in seconds instead of hours and can be done daily instead of monthly or quarterly or yearly.

By running Windows Vista this way, Apple can offer the most secure version of Vista available with the lowest Total Cost of Ownership, which could lead to a leadership change in business computing. Down with Dell and HP and up with Apple.

Those other companies could do much the same thing, not using OS X, but possibly Linux or some other Unix variant. But it won't be the same, at least not at first. Apple, as a company that has made operating systems longer than Microsoft has, brings to this fight a huge technical advantage.

Don't be surprised, either, to see that OS X 10.5 has a new kernel, finally giving up Mach and a big piece of its NeXTstep heritage. I write this for one thing -- because OS X has kernel problems and needs some help, especially with swap space. I say it also because of the departure of Avie Tevanian, Apple's chief software technology officer, and the guy who hung onto Mach for so long.

I have no insider knowledge here, but it isn't hard to imagine an instance where Avie's favored position with Steve Jobs was finally undermined by someone pointing out just these problems, so Avie had to go. That's the way it is with Steve, who sees his people as either part of the solution or part of the problem.

Ironically, I predict that Avie will move north to Redmond and work at Microsoft with Rick Rashid, the father of Mach. Rashid, who runs Microsoft Research, taught at Carnegie Mellon University in the 1980s when Tevanian was a graduate student there. Microsoft has long tried to recruit Avie, whom I predict will now follow the money. I don't expect, though, that he'll have much technical impact on Microsoft.

Apple's software leadership will fall back on Bud Tribble, who first came to Apple more than 25 years ago when Jef Raskin hired him as the first-ever Macintosh programmer, even before Andy Hertzfeld.

So where Dvorak sees an Apple repudiation of OS X for Windows Vista, I see an Apple business strategy that combines OS X and Vista. Nearly all of Apple's own applications, like iLife and iWork, will still be OS X-only, as will be thousands of native OS X apps, so there will be many opportunities to lure Vista users into the light.

Given Microsoft's difficulties with data security and its long history of troubled OS introductions, there is the very real possibility that the Apple version of Vista will be by far the most stable. For awhile it might be the ONLY stable version. So Apple could, in a way, be Microsoft's savior.

But even saving Microsoft from itself has to undermine Redmond, because it brings back the old Windows software model. As one grizzled veteran of the PC wars recalled:

"One of the good things about the earlier versions of Windows was DOS. While DOS was most definitely a limited operating system, that was part of its strength. Since there wasn't much there, there wasn't much to break and it was easy to fix. As the world moved to Windows, DOS was still there. It was just hidden. When Windows was messed up, you could always drop into DOS and fix Windows. Over time Microsoft created the registry and a new file system, neither of which could be fixed from DOS. DOS was the 'trusted' operating system that we could fall back on to fix problems.

"DOS is no longer there and today the way to fix Windows is to wipe the hard disk clean and reinstall it. That is, if you have original bootable CDs from Microsoft. Once you've reinstalled it, you get to repeat the process several times as all the security patches replace the whole OS over and over again. Heaven forbid if we could get a "clean" latest version of the OS easily from Microsoft...

"In the days of DOS I could keep a master, clean copy of Windows on a server. I could run a file comparison program between the server version and the PC, and replace any damaged or corrupted files. In the days of DOS, the repair tools were quite good. Products like PC Tools and Norton had great file and disk recovery tools, great defragmenters, etc. From DOS you could thoroughly fix the system' disk storage. Today's tools are feeble when compared to their predecessors. It was possible to restore one's filesystem back to a cleanly formatted, fully defrag'd state without wiping out the data on it."

What goes around comes around, and in some ways, this Apple strategy is the revenge of DOS.

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