Apr 2006

Boot Camp

I’ve got a bunch of work to do over the next few days, so blogging may be fairly light for a wee bit. Nonetheless, a news item caught my eye recently and I want to make a small comment on it. It’s the news that Apple are releasing a piece of software called Boot Camp which will allow Microsoft Windows to run on their computers. This is of little practical interest to me; I don’t own an Apple computer and doubt I ever will.

What I do find interesting, however, is the response by Apple users to this news. A comment on the BBC site reads… “What? Let Microsoft get a foothold on my lovely Mac? Never!” while others report being “appalled” at the idea. There are – of course – different reactions, but it is this hardcore group of Apple fanatics / Microsoft haters that intrigues me.

The first thing to note is that while Boot Camp is new, emulation is not. Mac users have been able to run Windows software (albeit slowly) for years thanks to Virtual PC. And PC users have been able to run Mac OS for years, thanks to VMware. On top of that, Microsoft have “a foothold” on a huge number of Macs already… Microsoft Office is a core application on that platform and – from the MS website – “The Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) at Microsoft is the largest, 100 percent Mac-focused developer of Mac software outside of Apple itself.” So the implication that Boot Camp is somehow a new development allowing Big Bad Bill to get his greedy hands on pure-as-the-driven-snow Macs is wide of the mark indeed.

But as well as being plain ignorant about the history of cross-platform emulation and multi-platform software, the Mac fanatics also appear worryingly ignorant about the realities of corporate policy. And that – in this day and age – is more than a little pathetic.

There is no doubt that Microsoft has a virtual monopoly on the Operating System market. Between 90 and 95% of all personal computers on the planet run a version of Windows. This monopoly was arrived at through both fair means and foul and there are clear arguments against such a situation. Mind you, there are also arguments in its favour – a fact that tends to be dishonestly overlooked by Microsoft’s detractors. But on balance, such a monopoly is almost certainly A Bad Thing.

What irritates me beyond reason, however, is the implication that – had history been different, and Mac OS gained the upper hand in the 80s – that somehow Apple Computers would have “played nice”. Apple, just like Microsoft, is a public corporation. This means it has a legal obligation to maximise return on investment. If Steve Jobs – CEO of Apple – was presented with two business plans… one which opened up the Operating System market to dozens of competitors; the other which gained a massive foothold for Mac OS at the expense of those competitors but generated twice the profits for Apple Computers… he would be breaking the law if he chose the former.

Apple fanatics have a laudable sympathy with the underdog, as well as an eye for a particular design aesthetic (an aesthetic which – as it happens – leaves me cold). And it’s possible that there are particular pieces of software which make it easier to do certain things on a Mac than on a Windows PC. But painting Apple as “The Good Guy” versus Big Bad Bill Gates is at best a delusion… at worst consciously dishonest.

Why, for instance, is Apple at the forefront of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) process? A Mac user could spend a small fortune on music from Apple’s iTunes shop and store them all on their expensive new iPod. If – in a couple of years time – that same user exercises their right to choose another mp3 player (say an iRiver or a Creative), Apple will politely inform them that while they may have paid an awful lot of cash for that music, they can no longer listen to it. Yes, there’s third-party software that will surreptitiously rip out the DRM and allow you to transfer your music, but that’s certainly not to Apple’s liking. Steve Jobs wants to lock you into his products just as much as Bill Gates does. Jobs simply isn’t as good at it as Bill.

There’s no difference in intent. There can’t be. By law.

And of course, the other point about Apple is that despite being The Good Guys, they saw fit to shit all over the memory of Albert Einstein; one of the greatest minds in human history. Steve Jobs and Apple Computers used the face of a man, long dead and unable to object – who made clear during his life exactly how much he despised commercial endorsement – in order to flog more product. That alone demonstrates the fact that; just like every other corporation; Apple Computers is a craven, greedy and unethical organisation. And those who profess a loyalty to this corporate edifice are deeply misguided.

Posted in: Opinion