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Boot Camp and the PC war

April 06, 2006

John Gruber, of the Macintosh site Daring Fireball, provides a trenchant, if not entirely unbiased, assessment of Apple's surprise move to allow its new Macs to run Windows as well as Mac OS X. He correctly points out that the ability to boot up a computer into two different operating systems is of no interest to the vast majority of PC users. Writes Gruber: "They use email, they use a web browser, they want something useful to happen when they plug a digital camera into their USB port. Whichever OS comes on their computer is good enough for this." But the dual-boot capability provided by Apple's free Boot Camp software "is inordinately appealing to the higher end of the market, the enthusiasts ... It’s a very specific self-selecting segment of the market: people who care about their computers, and who are willing to pay more for something better."

And because these elite users are far less price-sensitive than the average skinflint PC buyers, they likely account for a very large share of the industry's profits. Indeed, at this point they may be the only customers that provide decent profits to computer makers. As I've said many times before (too many, in fact), the consumer PC market has, like other consumer markets before it, split into two basic segments: buyers of commodities, and buyers of premium goods. The money's in serving the latter. That's why, for instance, Dell just bought Alienware.

With Boot Camp, Apple may be able to change the battle for the high-end buyer in a fundamental way. Gruber puts it succinctly:

The old equation - decades old - is that most computers ran Windows (or, if you go back far enough, DOS) and some other ones, the ones from Apple, ran Mac OS. As of today, the new equation is that all computers can run Windows, but some, the special ones from Apple, also run Mac OS X ... The point is that it recasts Macs from being “different” to being “special”. Instead of occupying a separate universe from that of PC hardware, it’s now a superset of PC hardware. Instead of choosing between a Windows PC or a Mac ... you now get to choose between a computer that can only run Windows or a computer that can run both Windows and Mac OS X.

I think that's the reason the Apple's stock price has shot up nearly 20% since the Boot Camp announcement yesterday. It's not that Apple may be able to expand its general market share by a couple of percentage points; it's that those percentage points are likely to represent many of the most attractive customers in the market.


This take on Boot Camps's implications unreasonably minimizes the very substantial 'commodity' part of the market, while at the same time unfairly treating it as a homogeneous mass. Certainly, a significant proportion of computer users want nothing more from their computers than to browse the internet and manage their photos; just as certainly, many people want to do much more. Contrary to your assertion, both groups of people tend to be very cost-sensitive, and Apple's switch to Intel makes it possible to do an apples-to-apples comparison (no pun intended) of Macs and PCs. Anybody can now make an informed decision about which set of hardware offers better value. Unfortunately for Apple, its OS doesn't afford it as great an advantage as it might hope.

Gruber was right that the ability to run two operating systems is of little interest to most people, but for the wrong reasons. People just don't seem to care for OSX, despite its real or perceived supriority to Windows. I would suggest that a computer's OS actually has a huge impact on buying patterns. The network effect that has so powerfully sustained Microsoft's dominance (the idea that if all my buddies are running Windows, and if most major companies are running Windows, then I had better be running Windows too, so that I can keep up and stay compatible) is ultimately what has driven Apple to provide Boot Camp. It appears to be conceding that its own OS is unable to meet the needs of the vast majority of computer users, and seems to be tacitly recognizing that users deliberately choose Windows over OSX. To make Apple's beautiful hardware useful, you really need to run Windows. Fully aware of the message they were sending, Apple went ahead and made it easy to run Windows on Macs. That's got to tell you something.

Please also note the great self-restraint I have used in not pointing out the alternate interpretation of Gruber's description of Mac users being “special”.

Posted by: Natus Nemo at April 6, 2006 09:02 PM

[Apple] appears to be conceding that its own OS is unable to meet the needs of the vast majority of computer users, and seems to be tacitly recognizing that users deliberately choose Windows over OSX.

As a long time user of both Windows (at work, by necessity) and Macs (at home, by choice), I, like so many others, have made the choice over the years to pay a premium dollar for a premium computing experience. As for Windows, ubiquity does not equate to superiority. There are lots of Fords and Chevys on the road, but BMW is working its premium niche quite successfully. But by all means enjoy your Ford or your Chevy, if that’s your choice.

I don’t think that Apple is conceding anything here with Boot Camp. It is a brilliant and confident move to open up another avenue for Windows users to give OS X a look. Most Windows users do not ‘choose Windows over OS X’ as you suggest — they choose what is common, familiar and easy. And that's fine. Some people, like myself, want something more. Apple delivers it.

To make Apple’s beautiful hardware useful, you really need to run Windows.

Hm. I have a 3 year old G5 (non-Intel) running OS X exclusively, and it is quite useful.

With extensive experience on both platforms, I have simply found the Mac to be more reliable, stable and enjoyable to use. So I buy Macs. And I think that Apple’s strategy will persuade many others to do the same.

Posted by: Stacy at April 6, 2006 10:25 PM

The former commentor seems to be proselytizing about the superiority of Windows with no actual data to back it up. I can find no data that shows when given a choice X number or percentage of people chose Windows.

When end users go to Best Buy, CompUSA or Circuit City they are confronted with shelf after shelf of HP and eMachine computers all running Windows XP. It seems to me users aren't given the choice. To say that "...users deliberately choose Windows over OSX" implies that those users have been confronted with a choice between Windows and OSX and have consistently chosen Windows.

In my experience out in the field as a computer repair technician, users don't even recognize the word "OSX". Many don't even recognize the word "Mac". All they remember is the word "Apple" and that from the Apple II GS they used in elementary school.

I believe if an actual market study were done, some would choose OSX and some would choose Windows. I also think that Apple has not marketed its computers in a way that gives it the kind of exposure it needs to compete in the desktop or laptop computer markets. I have only seen two Apple commercials in my life, but I see Dell and HP ads everywhere. If I were to walk into BestBuy and see Macs mixed in with the PC's, I could make a choice. Unfortunately, you have to go to an Apple store to buy an Apple computer. It is not a lack of functionality or asthetics that has kept Apple out of the game; it is poor marketing and a reliance on a closed system.

Posted by: mooreted at April 6, 2006 10:29 PM

The more I think about this, the more I am forced to conclude that I am, in fact, right (ha!). Boot Camp is just another affirmation of what Apple has claimed all along -- it is, first and foremost, a hardware company. OSX or any prior version of MacOS is only valuable insofar as it helps to sell hardware. Historically, allowing Windows to run on the Mac meant opening the Mac up to direct competition from companies like Dell, HP and Compaq, all of whom were surviving on leaner margins and operated with greater efficiency than Apple.

Now that the hardware barriers to competing head-to-head with the big PC vendors are gone, Apple has changed its strategy. Although OSX is roundly hailed as being superior to Windows, it's only a means to an end, not an end itself. Apple is confident that its hardware offerings will bring more customers into the fold than its software. To the extent that enabling Windows on the Mac will fuel additional hardware sales, Apple will support it. In other words, OSX doesn't matter to Apple, but Mac hardware does. In still other words, Apple wants you to love it for its body, not for its brain.

Posted by: Natus Nemo at April 6, 2006 11:52 PM

Another thing I would add, is that Boot Camp solves another issue: the upgrade incentive. For current Mac users happy with their G4s and G5s, suddenly the carrot of running Windows apps on their Macs makes their computers look out of date. Also, for people waiting for software makers (Adobe) to come out with universal binaries, a stop-gap answer has arrived: boot in Windows and run the PC version of the software. The more one thinks about it, the dual-boot answer solves many, many problems facing Apple in the short-term. Brilliant.

Posted by: Mr. K. at April 7, 2006 01:23 AM

I agree that Apple has had poor marketing with their PCs. But I suspect this is the beginning of a new campaign that will last years. For example, the Boot Camp site is branded. It doesn't say, "Use this to run OS's - one of which may be XP". In anticipation of Vista missing the xmas season, watch for a big new push of Macs this fall.

Even still, I don't think they will ever advertise like Dell or HP. Porsche is the most profitable car company in the world right now. They just bought VW with cash. Like Apple, they also have about $6b in cash reserves. Yet I've only seen 1 or 2 Porsche TV ads in my life. Porsches and Apples/iPods are not commodity products, and they never will be. And they can succeed extremely well this way.

Posted by: dan at April 7, 2006 01:58 AM

One thing I find constant about this debate is the number of people asserting, without much basis, that they know for sure how much people do or don't want to be running Windows/Microsoft software. Seems they've found their way to the comments here too.

So here's a link to a write-up of some market research that is somewhat relevant. It might be inaccurate, but it's certainly more trustworthy than "me and the other guys who post on the blogs I frequent think ...". It's unfortunate that it's written from a game-industry standpoint and that it seems to have been neutered from when I last read it, with some vital graphs removed (I guess they gave too much of the $800 report away).

But here are the relevant bits:
- "Microsoft's brand ranked 20 out of 22 brands"
- "Microsoft faces big consumer defection risk." Approximately 5.4 million households "know they run Microsoft software but would be just as happy to leave it behind -- if they could."

Posted by: SpiderMonkey at April 7, 2006 06:13 AM

Boot Camp solves another issue: the upgrade incentive. For current Mac users happy with their G4s and G5s, suddenly the carrot of running Windows apps on their Macs makes their computers look out of date.

Good point. Among existing Mac owners, I'm sure this will speed up the hardware upgrade cycle significantly.

Posted by: Nick at April 7, 2006 08:02 AM

People just don't seem to care for OSX, despite its real or perceived supriority to Windows.

Wow, where'd you get that idea? How many computer users do you really think have ever even heard of Mac OS X? Where are you getting the numbers that you're basing this on?

I would suggest that a computer's OS actually has a huge impact on buying patterns

Although I agree that the OS is important, I doubt that most users ever consider the OS. They buy Windows because when then walk into Best Buy that's what every computer is using. The majority of users have no idea what an OS is.

It appears to be conceding that its own OS is unable to meet the needs of the vast majority of computer users, and seems to be tacitly recognizing that users deliberately choose Windows over OSX.

Wow, another huge leap of fantasy. Maybe we're all missing the forest for the trees. Maybe Apple has no intention of trying to compete with Microsoft in an OS war. Isn't it possible that Apple would consider picking up another 1-2% of the Unix/Linux geeks a big win? They already have a loyal fan base and, based on the number of developers in my company who are now switching from Linux to the Mac, they may pick up some more.

The oddest reaction I've seen to the news of Boot Camp is 2 developers who have decided to move to the Mac for the following reason: they have Linux boxes that they boot into Windows for gaming. Now they can move to the Mac and get their command-line interface, Fink, X11, etc., MS Office *and* be able to boot into Windows for gaming.

The next move is for Windows applications to run in a virtual machine, hiding Windows completely from the user, and running the applications at native speed. A Mac running Windows in dual-boot mode is like running in hiking boots -- you can do it, but would you really want to?

BTW, Gruber said that the Mac was now "special" and not just "different" -- I don't think he said that it's users were.

Posted by: Tim Swan at April 7, 2006 09:05 AM

I get a little tired of Windoze flunkies saying that Apple is just a hardware company, its OS doesn't add value to the computer, blah blah. Why don't you actually learn a little about what you talk before doing said thing?

I have used all major operating systems in the course of work and play. Windoze, Unix/Linux/BSD, MacOS, OS X. I can definitively state that OS X is a superior operating system because it helps you get things done.

"Well that's fine for you because you're prejudiced."

Whatever. Should people who know nothing about wine attempt to elucidate the finer points of wine tasting to a critic? As a computer programmer and power user of computers, I have seen that anyone who says that Mac OS X isn't the real value of Apple Computer and not the hardware has:

A) Never used OS X in a work environment where things must get done.
B) Isn't familiar with OS X and Windows environments enough to speak authoritatively.

C) Would rather suck up to The Man and label afficionados "snobs" because we know more than they do.

By the way, most users of Apple and OS X are business power users. People who don't have time to muck around with something that doesn't fit their needs. If Windows was really that great an environment to work in, then the advertising and movie industries would overwhelmingly choose that platform instead of Apple. But they choose Apple. And not because they're snobs, but because it makes good business sense.

It also makes good business sense to have Apple hardware dual-boot Windows (although I would prefer to have it run inside OS X so I could cut and paste between Windows and OS X apps) because power users often need to move between the two environments, even though we'd rather not be saddled by that requirement.

And for what platform is the ENTIRE computer security industry grown up to support? Virus scanning? Email attachment scanning? Malicious software removal? Is that an example of the superiority of the Windows platform and a good business reason to "choose" that over OS X?

OS X is the most important part of the Apple computer. Sure, having 2MB of cache on the processor and being able to trounce any other hardware competitor in the processing tasks that take the most time is important, but in the end, it's OS X that makes using that hardware better than using something else.

Posted by: J. Brisbin at April 7, 2006 11:53 AM

I find Mr. Carr's interpretation of Apple's foray into the Windows side of the war to be very enlightening. But here's another view, for what it's worth.

With Steve Jobs, it's not about market share--at least, not with his computers--it's all about mindshare, something that hasn't appeared anywhere I've seen in conjunction with Boot Camp. You see, five or six percent of billions upon billions of dollars is quite a respectable take, and, while Steve knows it could be better, it is a costly battle to think about taking 100% of the market. Everybody knows that Apple won't--can't--win that kind of war.

But 100% of minds... that's getting very close to the Borg-like desire to assimilate us all in the way that MacEvangelists have accused Bill Gates of. Astoundingly, though, the iPod has achieved that 100% mindshare (rounding a bit, and, in fact, guesstimating completely). As others have already pointed out on other 'blogs, car manufacturers are not building in "MP3 player interfaces;" they're offering "iPod interfaces." It's not an MP3 player anymore. It's an iPod. At some point, Apple is going to have to start selling "iPod®-brand MP3 players" to ensure their trademark is not diluted by those of us who regularly call their Puffs® facial tissues "Kleenex®."


So how does this move get Steve closer to his 100% mindshare? Well, certainly it's not going to make the leap to 100%. Or even 50%. But what it does do is get the person who's buying that premium iPod to think twice about the computer that they might also be buying. It will, most certainly, bump the mindshare up a bit if the Apple-store-visiting, premium MP3-player-buying consumer doesn't get to reject the Mac out of hand because "it doesn't do Windows."

Because now, after Boot Camp, it does do Windows. And these consumers, whether they buy a Mac or not, might tell their friends about it, who might even look at a Mac, too. And who are their friends? My guess is, they're the premium-MP3-player-buying, Apple-store-visiting types, too.

The best part about it? It doesn't cost Apple much to do. After all, the hardware isn't going to change as frequently as it does at Dell, so periodic re-engineering the driver code won't be nearly as frequent for Apple as it is for Dell. Yes, I'm sure that the engineering effort that goes into Boot Camp and its subsequent releases is not going to be inconsequential, but it's an investment that Steve's apparently willing to make in order to push the mindshare up just that little bit more.

And that will make Steve happy, and a happy Steve is a Good Thing.

Posted by: Bill Eccles at April 7, 2006 04:00 PM

Quality of comments is high here. Must be an interesting subject.

Many people misinterpret why people "choose" Windows -- in either individual or enterprise contexts. In fact, few people actually choose it. For a long time the market has choosen for them.

Now it is a fact that Windows is an abyssmal system. Don't argue it. The market proves however that 'abyssmal' is good enough when it's the system that runs (barely) at work and it's the only system that's convenient to buy. And therefore it becomes the comfortable choice for home / work contiguity.

The forces that dictate the "choice" of Windows at purchase point are a combination of fear, peer-pressure, apathy, lock-ins (formats, API's), legacy continutiy, technophobia, convenience, and corrupt business tactics that the US government has demonstrated no political will to address. (Hence no investments ever made in Microsoft market segments and the glaring difference between adoption of alternatives ex-USA. And hence, the difference in the EU's approach to censure).

It's my belief that the markets and any individual oberving will be shocked at how rapidly the Microsoft Equilibrium unwinds because the elements which prop it up have largely eroded now and the only filliments holding up the carcass are gossamer social forces and the time it takes for the XP lifecycle to wend away.

As for the ECMA file format strategy: it won't work. [It's understood that the file format is the thing which unequivocally ties the whole works together, right?] You see the Minnesota and Norway news this week. No state government will durably elect a file format that is not "open." And it is agreed world-wide that ECMA does not satisfy the criteria of an open standard. Documents are too central to the business of state government. The next upgrade to XML formats will not be toward the ECMA format -- those which are, will be immediately changed in the subsequent administration when the mistake is recognized. It will be the total undoing of Microsoft and force an Existential Crisis worse than IBMs in the 90's. The ECMA strategy will prove to be among the worst gambles in the history of business -- even if enterprises favor it for a while.

Back to point: People "choose" Windows against their will, and have done for quite a while -- even in enterprise.

Posted by: Sam Hiser at April 7, 2006 05:32 PM

I have talked to many people both at work and on campus who would rather own a Mac, but are forced to use Windows because of one or two apps that the IT department has selected. I doubt that many IT departments will make the switch to Macs based on their newfound Windows capabilities, but many end users who otherwise would have picked up a Dell or an HP may very well consider a Mac instead.

The law school exam market, for example, is dominated by a Windows-only package called SofTest that must be run natively (VirtualPC, et. al. is not an option). Students use SofTest for a few hours each December and May, but other than that at most schools there is absolutely no advantage to using Windows, and many advantages to using OS X.

My guess is that there are many situations of this type that hamstring people from buying a Mac. As Gruber rightly pointed out, most people will still not buy Macs. However, giving them the option to do so without the need for any workarounds seems like a shrewd move on Apple's part.

As to Natus Nemo's comments about Windows being the real person consumers buy PCs, I respectfully submit that most people buy Windows PCs in spite of Windows. Commodity pricing, a vast array of software titles, and PC games have propelled Windows forward. There are certainly many people who prefer Windows to OS X, but judging from the gripes I hear from even hard-core Windows users makes me think they like the OS primarily because putting up with the slings and arrows makes them tougher than wussy Mac users.

Posted by: Erik at April 7, 2006 06:22 PM

But Apple is a hardware company. That's the way it thinks of itself. I'd sooner slit my throat than run Windows on a regular basis, but even I can see that Apple's money comes from the hardware side, and they know it. That's why you can't buy OSX for generic Intel boxes - OSX is a come-on for buying the hardware, not the other way round.

But I still think Natus Nemo's got it wrong. No one in their right mind will buy a Mac in order to run Windows. Boot Camp is aimed right at people like me - someone who wants a Mac, uses one every day, but every so often, just has to run Windows.

Posted by: Sam at April 7, 2006 07:02 PM

There are many reasons to by a MAC and Apple just provided one more. There are several reasons to want dual boot (at least for timeframe) - many people want to keep some applications going (much like Lotus 123 or Wordperfect when MS Windows started gaining ground).

Posted by: Arnie McKinnis at April 8, 2006 10:04 AM

> "I get a little tired of Windoze flunkies saying that Apple is just a hardware company, its OS doesn't add value to the computer, blah blah"

I think what they mean is that Apple *makes its money* from selling hardware (Macintoshes and latterly iPods). This is why Apple haven't, and won't, release OS X for non-Macintosh computers. The costs of developing it (and supporting it on a wider range of hardware) wouldn't be covered by the £99 they sell it for, and it would no longer be an incentive to buy the hardware, where they make their money.

OS X certainly adds value to the computer. It just doesn't make money for Apple directly.

(Disclaimer: I have no idea what Apple spends on developing OS X, so I may well be utterly wrong here.)

Posted by: Small Paul at April 9, 2006 09:42 AM

I'm just amazed at how everyone keeps trying to read so much into this. Apple released Boot Camp so that people wouldn't destroy their Intel Macs trying to follow the instructions on how to hack your firmware to install windows. This was getting to be a service call driver that was costing them money to deal with.

The biggest effect of this is that those people who had to keep a PC around to run that one custom app that their job requires, that will never be ported to the Mac, no longer have to have a Dell taking up space on their desk in addition to their Mac. It also removes the standard veto that low-skilled IT departments use to deny Mac purchases.

People who can't afford the $600 for a Mac Mini will still have to put up with Dells and Wal-mart PCs. Mac users will still use OS X. All that's really different is that instead of springing for a crap Dell or Gateway PC, you can just buy a copy of Windows XP for $20 from some Linux dweeb who doesn't want the OEM copy that came with one of his generic beige boxes that he's using in his server farm.

Oh, and Natus: What planet are you from?


Posted by: John C. Randolph at April 11, 2006 12:40 AM

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