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Monopoly Charge Against Apple Signals Rising Respect For Mac OS X

Published August 31st, 2008
Psystar calls Apple a 'monopoly' in antitrust charges

It's amazing to me how strongly the readers of Computerworld agree with the monopoly charge and disagree with the views of those, like me, who believe Psystar is just frustrated at not being able to use Mac OS X on its hardware. Apple a monopoly? Hardly. But, as I said in my comment on Computerworld, it may seem so to those who think the Microsoft model of computing is both inevitable and superior to the Apple one:

Let's face it, the whole paradigm of computing is unprecedented in the history of manufacturing. And it's only... what... 30 years old at best? During that time, the two competing models that have emerged are:

  • Make operating system software and convince hardware makers to use your product (the Microsoft model), or
  • Make the computer hardware as well as the operating system needed to run it (the Apple model)

Obviously, the former has had much more success in the marketplace. But that doesn't mean it's the better model. Why? Well, for one thing, in this case the market didn't really make the decision... IBM did.

IBM was already a monopoly when it started making personal computers, and Microsoft just happened to be the lucky company chosen to make (or rather, buy) the operating system to run on it. That IBM chose Microsoft had much more to do with the sales savvy of Bill Gates than about the quality of their software.

Once Microsoft was in the door with IBM's PC, which was destined to dominate the business market because of IBM's existing standing in the corporate world, that market was simply theirs to lose. Since Microsoft never made hardware to begin with, they only stood to benefit when the IBM "clone" market developed. IBM protested, if you'll remember, but ultimately, since they'd published the specs already, there wasn't anything they could do about it.

Given this actual history, it's clear that Microsoft no more created the model that ultimately gave them a monopoly on corporate desktops than the market made a decision to adopt that model. It was just a fortuitous circumstance for Microsoft, and a reflection of the fact that their business model was in making software alone (until the Xbox and Zune).

On the other hand, Apple was a hardware maker that also made the operating system to run it. With only one brief period, the company has persisted with that model, and I believe they honestly think it's the only way to make truly great computers.

The issue today is that Mac OS X is becoming more popular, and other companies would like a piece of the action. That's well and good, but since Mac OS X is an Apple creation, they are in no way obliged to license it to others. It's like copying machines... Xerox created the market and the hardware, but ultimately other companies reverse-engineered it and made their own versions. Xerox was then forced to compete with other copying machines.

If anyone wants to compete with Apple's OS X, they'll have to build not just a hardware clone, but more importantly a software clone as well.

Because of the complexity and astounding sophistication of Mac OS X and its universe of frameworks, it would be very hard to clone. But ultimately, that's where the competition has to take place. Unless Apple agrees, they are in no way obliged to sell, lease, or share their intellectual capital with any other company.

That doesn't constitute a monopoly, folks. It just constitutes excellent product development and excellent engineering. It has nothing to do with monopoly at all, since there are plenty of competing computers on the market, and in fact Apple has a small minority share of that market.

Sadly, so many people simply forget history, or make up their own to suit their beliefs. Sad, and scary, too.

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