Miscellaneous Ramblings

Apple Could Buy Dell, and Linux Is No Threat to Mac OS X

Charles Moore - 2008.12.01 - Tip Jar

One of the things I love about writing for Low End Mac is the fecundity of imagination and variety of ideas presented on the site by its eclectic team of writers. I suppose that anyone who identifies with the low end approach to computing tends to venture off the beaten track of conventionality and be inclined to explore various "what if" side roads and detours as a matter of satisfying curiosity.

Apple Could Buy Dell

For example, we had Frank Fox's proposing last week suggesting that Apple use some of the cash in its money bin (currently in the neighborhood of $24.5 billion - more than the GNP of some small countries - and zero debt) to buy Dell Computer outright. It's an audacious notion - and the irony would be delicious, given Michael Dell's famous advice to Steve Jobs in 1997 regarding Apple: "I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders."

Apple's market capitalization surpassed that of Dell a little more than eight years later, and according to Wikipedia now stands at four times Dell's market cap.

In fairness to Mr. Dell, in 2005 he told Fortune's David Kirkpatrick, "If Apple decides to open the Mac OS to others, we would be happy to offer it to our customers." I'm sure that given the Vista debacle, he would be even more enthusiastic about that option today.

Dell, which was once the world's largest PC maker, dropped into second place behind behind HP in 2006 and has been laying off thousands of workers since last year.

Anyway, despite the company's current troubles, Apple buying Dell definitely isn't the stupidest idea I've ever heard. As Frank notes, Dell's current market cap has fallen to $18.55 billion, so Apple could buy it outright out-of-pocket and still have lots of reserve cash left for a rainy day.

I think Frank's suggestion that Apple could utilize Dell as its launching board into the enterprise market as well as a vehicle for entering the lower-priced personal computer market - such as the hot-selling netbook category - without watering down the Apple brand's premium cachet has a lot of merit. The Dell name has plenty of cred with the narrow-minded, Microsoft-centric corporate and institutional IT set, and those who patronize the bottom-feeder end of the market would finally have a way to run the Mac OS on cheaper hardware than Apple is willing to push out the door with an Apple logo affixed.

While the argument can be made that this would cannibalize some lower-end Apple branded hardware sales, I think that on the balance the expanded coverage and influence of the Mac OS on a wider spectrum of the PC market would more than compensate for any lost MacBook and iMac sales.

Linux Still Not Ready for Prime Time

Posted on the same day was Simon Royal's musing about whether Linux could ever replace OS X. That's a question I've been pondering for about a decade now, and I even went so far as to install first SuSE Linux and then Yellow Dog Linux on my WallStreet PowerBook back on the cusp of Y2K.

The answer that experience supplied to Simon's question was "definitely not at that stage of Linux development," but I've been vicariously following the progress of desktop Linux over the past few years and been tempted to try Ubuntu Linux, if I could ever find the spare time to climb the learning curve.

Also, being smitten with the idea of netbooks, Linux would be a way of dipping my toes into those waters without using Windows, which I detest.

As Simon observes, Mac OS X and Linux have a considerable amount in common, both being branches of the Unix tree, and Linux has the advantage of being free.

The flip side is that Linux is still geeky, and I have to confess that I've never taken the opportunity to venture into the command line side of OS X's potential, so all that is pretty much terra incognita for me, hence the aforementioned learning curve. I'm a GUI kind of guy, so the critical factor for me is development of the GNOME and KDE GUI interfaces for Linux, and my impression is that while they have improved substantially from where they were in the late 1990s when I was experimenting with Linux, they still fall well short of the, as Simon puts it, "gracefulness, reliability, and perfection of Mac OS X."

Be that as it may, the concept of desktop Linux at least provides me with a "plan B". Back in the late 90s, that was predicated on the concern that the Mac OS might disappear if Apple's than 2% or so of the personal computer market continued to erode. Happily that didn't happen, and the plan B issue has morphed into whether I sometime get fed up enough with Apple to jump ship - or a PC maker comes up with a piece of hardware I just can't resist.

It hasn't happened yet, but never say never.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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