I saw this post in Cult of Mac that references John Gruber of Daring Fireball’s contrarian view that Apple didn’t really miss anything by not licensing their OS. A big chunk of Gruber’s post concerns the impossibilty of porting the 80’s style Mac OS to PC/Intel hardware. The only thing is, I’m pretty sure he is totally wrong on that point. A few years back I read a couple of books on the history of Apple, and I’m pretty certain I recall that there was an internal experimental version of just this port – the then current Mac OS and Toolbox ported to commodity PC hardware – circa 1988 or 1989. I recall the account saying that it was demonstrated to company bigwigs, who didn’t want to pursue it because they didn’t want to canibalize the sales of their own high-margin hardware. I’d be all pompous about the rectitude of this point – like any self-aggrandizing pundit should – except that I really ain’t that sure on the details. Of course, if I was a real pundit I wouldn’t let that stand in my way.
I know that I have some readers of this blog that worked in and around Apple back in the day. Can any of you guys confirm or deny if I’m on the right track here? I believe the conventional wisdom that if Apple had chosen to license their OS prior to Windows 3 that they could have prevented the Microsoft domination of the world. At least, suffering as I am with doing a reinstall on the one Windows machine in my office, I would like to believe that.
Update: People who have come here from MacSurfer have been leaving comments filling in the gaps of my sieve-like memory. I was incorrect to use the terminology “totally wrong” about Gruber’s post. He was right for the era in question as far as that goes. Read the comment thread for more, but please let’s keep this civil if you leave a comment. This place is the cyberspace equivalent of my home, and I don’t want ad hominen attacks here.
Update 2: I’ve now talked with some friends who were at Apple when all this went down and placed such that they had inside knowledge of the Star Trek project. They say that they agree with Gruber’s basic point that this wouldn’t have changed anything, that Microsoft would be in still about the same position regardless. They say that the real reason that Star Trek didn’t continue on into the marketplace is that the team was repurposed as the group that ported the Mac OS to the PowerPC architecture, which makes perfect sense. Once you’ve ported to one different architecture, the next one should be simpler. They also think that the folksy warm fuzzy feelings about this project, that it was about giving consumers a choice in hardware, are incorrect. The motivation was to give Apple a choice of hardware vendors and to let them bargain harder with Motorola by saying “Look guys, we can run this on Intel if we don’t get the terms we want.” So, it seems I’m all wet on this, and Gruber is correct after all.