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The Steve Jobs Squeeze

'We'd offer OS X if customers wanted it and Apple would licence it on reasonable terms. It's Apple's decision.' - Michael Dell January 2007


Ten years ago OS X - then OpenStep then Rhapsody - was an open system. Based on NeXTSTEP, it was the strategy of NeXT before the 'merger' with Apple to replace the earlier hardware lock-in. At the time NeXT CEO Steve Jobs predicted NeXT would be either the last company able to achieve a successful hardware lock-in or the first that couldn't.

He was 100% right. No one had attempted a hardware lock-in in the market since the early days of the IBM PC when competing OEMs such as TI and Wang had failed to dislodge the Big Blue standard. The survival of the Apple lock-in, a thin demographic anomaly at best, grew thinner all the time.

But OS X was not MacOS and times had changed. In the early days immediately after the merger, plans at Apple were to keep the 'OPENSTEP' standard and to provide the best possible OS for anyone's hardware.

Steve Jobs' coup against his good friend Gil Amelio changed all that - and now in a curious twist of fate things might be changing back again, according to Fortune's David Kirkpatrick.

'The tectonics of virtualisation are shifting', writes Kirkpatrick. 'It turns out Parallels are not such a little company after all. About three years ago they were quietly purchased by an enterprise focused virtualisation company called SWsoft, a fact that's never been publicly disclosed until now.'

SWsoft and their Parallels subsidiary are both Russian-American operations with SWsoft CEO Serguei Beloussov in Virginia calling the shots for programmers based in Moscow. Parallels employed only seven before SWsoft came into the picture; today they have one hundred.

Built In Virtualisation

'When Apple switched a year ago to using the same standard x86 processors other PC companies use they opened the door to all the progress on virtualisation', writes Kirkpatrick.

'Apple CEO Steve Jobs has always been adamant about controlling the hardware on which his software operates, but because of Apple's switch to x86 his ability to maintain that control is now diminishing.'

Parallels and VMware virtualise hardware for any x86 system but the excitement has been almost entirely about what it means for OS X.

'That's because OS X remains the easiest and most enjoyable software to use day in and day out', writes Kirkpatrick. 'Vista, despite being a major advance, doesn't really change that.'

And this spring Parallels will be enhanced with additional features that coincidentally make it easier to run OS X on non-Apple computers. Belolussov insists this is a consequence of the nature of the technology, now that virtualisation is built in by Intel at processor level.

Deliberately Crippled

Yet both Parallels and VMWare will remain deliberately 'crippled' to satisfy demands from Apple.

'But pressures seem to be building in a way that Apple and Jobs will increasingly have a hard time controlling', comments Kirkpatrick.

The VMWare release has been delayed because of friction with Apple.

'We were trying to do it the way they wanted but in hindsight we should have just gone ahead', says VMWare CEO Diane Greene. 'I wonder what Steve Jobs is going to do, because there is so much pressure to run OS X on non-Macs. There's no technical reason not to do it. He's so proprietary about everything, yet it could be a very strategic move for him to make.'

Consequently Kirkpatrick rang Michael Dell last week to get his take on the situation, and not surprisingly Dell came with the same statement he'd previously made.

'We'd offer OS X if customers wanted it and Apple would licence it on reasonable terms. It's Apple's decision.'

'The pressures are building on Steve Jobs', writes Kirkpatrick. 'As virtualisation improves it will prove harder and harder not to accede to Dell and others who want to sell his software in different ways.'

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