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Apples, oranges and Windows

April 07, 2006

HAVING SOLD TENS of millions of iPods and more than a billion iTunes, Steve Jobs is turning Apple Computer's attention to selling ... Microsoft Windows? That's one upshot of Apple's latest move, which will give the latest Macs the ability run the Windows operating system. The point isn't so much to pad Bill Gates' quarterly revenues, of course. It's to sell more Macs, particularly to people who worry about the Mac's incompatibility with Windows programs.

Still, Apple's move looks like a concession, if not a defeat, in its three-decade-long battle against rival Microsoft. For years, Apple's advertisements have urged computer users to abandon Windows, asserting that the choice between Mac and Windows was a choice between easy and confusing, cool and geeky, good and evil. On Wednesday, however, Apple started giving away software for Intel-powered Macs that makes it easy to install Windows XP. Once XP is installed on a Mac, users will be asked each time they turn on the machine whether they want to run Windows or Mac OS X.

Of course, Apple won't supply Microsoft's software. People will have to pay a Microsoft dealer an additional $140 or so for that. But the implication is that Apple has shifted its competitive sights. Instead of trying to cure people of their Windows addiction, Apple is now an enabler; it wants to wean them off their Dell, HP or Gateway hardware. Its new slogan might as well be, "Think different -- but not that different."

The warming trend toward Windows began in June, when Apple announced that it was switching to chips made by Microsoft's longtime partner, Intel. As soon as the first Intel-based Macs were released in January, independent programmers started developing software to support Windows on the Mac. It seemed silly, like trying to fit a lawnmower engine into a Vespa scooter. But their motive was simple: There's an enormous amount of software written only for Windows. And although there is a work-around that lets most Windows software run on a Mac, it is expensive and slow. If a Mac could run Windows directly, the expense and sluggishness would evaporate.

Now Apple itself is opening the Mac to Windows. It's even building support for Windows installations into the next version of its operating system. From a business standpoint, the move makes perfect sense: Windows powers about 90% of the personal computers sold, while Apple's share is about 4%.

But from a cultural standpoint, it's jarring. It used to be said that the difference between the two tycoons of the computer age is that Bill Gates just wants your money, while Steve Jobs wants your soul. What Wednesday's announcement shows is that, if forced to choose, Jobs will take the money too.

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