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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Apples in the Microsoft Carcass?

Trying to catch up on my blogging here after a few days away. If you read the news yesterday, you may have noticed Michael Malone's commentary at ABC News, in which he asks a tantilizing question: "Is Microsoft dying?" Says he can smell rot in the air. (Balmer and Gates are probably having the campus fumigated as we speak.)

He might have something there. Despite Microsoft's big strategy in mobile electronics, the key component of their business is of course Windows - and Windows is taking a beating from Linux, viruses, its own licensing cost; and, most of all, from the commoditization and nano-size margins of the Wintel business. Not to mention the lateness of Longhorn. And then, of course, there is IE's sudden loss of user share, for which Microsoft has only itself to blame.

If you've seen the tech news yesterday or today, then you've also probably read something else that's surprising - or will be if it happens. Steve Jobs mentions that he has been approached by three major manufacturers (reportedly Sony, HP, and, maybe, IBM - though this last is hard to see, given that Lenovo is now the IBM PC ) about licensing OSX. Now that would be a shock, wouldn't it? Mr. Own-the-Whole-Widget himself, allowing his OS to be run on PCs. But wouldn't it be a brilliant move on Apple's part? And at just the right time? If Jobs did this, Apple's OS market share would suddenly zoom ahead - from whatever it is now (3-5%?), to - who knows - maybe 35%? If I were Jobs, I'd practically give it away - pull a trick from Gates' own lair - at least until market share is in double digits. It - Mac OSX - is exactly what PC makers need - stable, virus free, and, most importantly, sexy and sought after - everything, in other words, Windows isn't, and something that would differentiate these makers' boxes from everyone else's.

It's way too soon to write off Microsoft, obviously. The company hasn't changed its hyper-aggressive, clever spots; they have vast resources; and they still own the desktop. In this latter regard, however - owning the desktop - licensing OSX could represent a sudden, profound breach in the wall, a breach that could begin changing Microsoft's fortunes overnight.

Real competition. Now that would be exciting.

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