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Spy shots show OS X without the ‘Mac’; could clones return?

No run-up to Macworld Expo or WWDC is complete without the spy shots of the banners inside San Francisco’s  Moscone Center, and this time is no different. No making the rounds is a Flickr photoset of banners hung outside the keynote hall posted by Gernot Poetsch. One in particular is especially interesting. It shows two banners: one referring to the iPhone’s OS as “OS X iPhone” and another referring to Mac OS X 10.5 as simply “OS X Leopard.” No mention of “Mac” anywhere. This would mark the first time, well, ever, that Apple has referred to the Mac’s operating system without including “Mac” or “Macintosh” in its name (before Mac OS 7.6, the operating system was known as “Macintosh System” and then the version number).

Okay, so why on Earth would Apple do this? John Gruber of Daring Fireball seems to think that Apple is simply unifying the iPhone OS and Mac OS branding, and this is probably the simplest and most logical explanation. But another part of me wonders if Apple is up to something else.

This is the part where I come up with some absurd speculations.

Has anyone noticed that Apple has been remarkably silent in regards to the Psystar Open Computer? I’m not the first to speculate this, but maybe Apple is testing the waters to open up Mac OS X to the wider world beyond Apple-branded Macs. Would it hurt Apple’s hardware sales? Maybe. But I think Apple makes good enough hardware that many would want to buy an Apple-branded machine regardless.  Also, opening up OS X to the wider PC world would allow Mac OS X to compete in areas that Apple hardware doesn’t compete in (in other words, another company could sell a $400 desktop system with Mac OS X preinstalled, while Apple sticks to the mid-range and higher-end of the market). And maybe removing the “Mac” from Mac OS X is a strategic move so Apple can spread OS X without diluting the Mac brand. You want OS X? You can choose from a number of PCs with OS X installed. But if you want a Mac, you still have to buy through Apple.

Will this actually happen? I’m not holding my breath. But with Steve Jobs, you never know what’s next. Sure, he killed the clones in the late 90s, but a lot has changed since then.

So is dropping the “Mac” from OS X a sign of things to come? Or is it just to unify the marketing between the Mac OS and iPhone OS? Stay tuned.

55 Responses to “Spy shots show OS X without the ‘Mac’; could clones return?”

  1. It’s quite simply just a re-alignment/branding call it what you wish. When Steve presented the iPhone he made a point of saying it ran OS X, since then it has been clear that Mac OS X and the OS X on the iPhone have the same core but have been refined for the respective hardware they run on. If Apple can stress the fact that iPhone runs OS X, then it connects the pleasure of using the iPhone software to the software running on the Mac, thus creates more switchers.

    Regarding the other debate on here. Apple is first and foremost a software company. Steve Jobs has stated it himself. They just make the hardware to run the software allowing them to ensure the best experience of the software is achieved.

  2. If Apple is indeed just trying to distinguish between the OS running on the iPhone and the OS running on genuine Mac hardware, wouldn’t it make more sense to call them “iPhone OS X” and “Mac OS X”…as in keep “Mac OS X” as it has always been?

  3. @ #3: As I said halfway through the article:

    “Okay, so why on Earth would Apple do this? John Gruber of Daring Fireball seems to think that Apple is simply unifying the iPhone OS and Mac OS branding, and this is probably the simplest and most logical explanation.”
    “This is the part where I come up with some absurd speculations.”

    And toward the bottom:

    “Will this actually happen? I’m not holding my breath”

  4. BobPaul

    Jon – The current crop of Mac’s are built on stardard PC hardware. Very little inside is the IP of Apple; they’re outsourced as much as Dell or Sony PCs are.

    Mac has, for quite a long time, been a software company. That it only runs on Apple branded hardware is simply a way to diffuse the costs of software development. This allows Apple to sell OSX ‘retail’ for $130 because its always an upgrade. A new copy of OSX might cost $200+, but we’ll never know because new copies are always bundled as part of the whole system, which is inarguably marked up compared to a Windows PC.

  5. I have been saying this for year – we have been on a long road to doing this, and shrink wrapped OSX.

    First cut dependencies on MSFT (Safari, iWork).
    Take development tools in house – allows them to speed changing the platform.
    Move to Intel – now hardware is compatible, interchangeable.

  6. I think it’s quite simple really. They want the new trench of iPhone users to see they are using OSX. Then, when they see an ad for the new Macs, they will see that they also run OSX. It’s a marketing tactic to make the iPhone synonimous with Apple Computers.

    Think of it in the same was as Apple removing the word “computer” from their name. No one wants to buy phones, music, films etc from a “computer” company, it’s not cool.

  7. Edward Edwards

    Something to remember: Windows dropped the ball with Vista, but there’s starting to be a shift towards it being junk to being ‘not so bad’. If Apple were to make a big marketshare move, it better be NOW. Either they drop their prices dramatically, or profitably license their software.


  8. I vaguely recall something from the early days of Mac OS X. Apple had to use “Mac OS X” as their trademark, rather than “OS X” because of an existing trademark in the computer software market. Does anyone have the full details?

  9. It’s technically feasible to run OS X on PC’s. Apple has said that at least three PC makers have asked to license OS X. And when asked directly about such possibilities in the past, Steve Jobs big concern is how does Apple distinguish its hardware if not for OS X?

    If Apple has found an profitable answer to that question, OS X might ship on non-Apple computers, but they are in no hurry to get a half OSsed answer. :)

  10. subtledoctor

    Tantalizing. Consider that Apple has locked up something like 65% of the $1,000+ hardware market… consider that Apple has no interest in the sub-$1,000 hardware market, since the margins are lower… consider that “switching” is difficult fomr some people, by dint of the fact that it’s a named phenomenon at all – which means that when buyers of $500 Windows computers step up to $1,000+ machines, there is an impediment to switching to Macs.

    License OS X for cheap machines by other manufacturers, and Apple would create a whole class of OS X users on cheap machines, who would find it veeerry easy to switch to Apple hardware when they decide to buy more expensive boxes. It wouldn’t cannibalize existing hardware sales because Apple has no existing low-end hardware sales to speak of. And they wouldn’t face the driver issues that Windows faces, because they could limit licensees to a few big reputable companies (Dell etc.) and strictly control the available hardware configurations.

    Except… except… Apple already did exactly this, and it hurt the company, and Jobs killed off the clones. So it doesn’t seem likely.

  11. guybrush threepwood

    Not sure if Apple has been “relatively silent” towards Psystar’s operations, but if they were going to come up with something like this, I would assume they would NOT be silent, as their market would be compromised.

    That said, I think this speculation is absurd. Like everyone else has said, this is simply to unify the OS across platforms – which is exactly the motivation for renaming the .Mac service.

  12. herrbutzie

    I totally agree with Paul Robinson about your website, no white space and being flush against the left side makes it very difficult to read.

  13. paul robinson

    Please change your web page display. It runs flush up against the left-hand side– unlike any other web page I ever visit. There is no border, no white space, and that makes it hard to read!

    It’s just not worth coming to the site if reading the info is going to be headache producing!

  14. Yacko

    Alright lets try this. What if:

    1) Apple sells a version of OSX for “generic” clones and the price is higher, significantly higher than the regular OSX version. And they sue all, like Dell, Gateway, Psystar who do not use the proper version. This might give them a better legal standing than they currently have, ala Microsoft suing those with dodgy use of Microsoft licenses. Maybe Apple has been waiting for this all along, waiting for the market to set the time OSX busts out.


    2) Apple sells a generic version of OSX that specifically comes without any Apple support aside from defective media? If the HP box sux then let them do the heavy help desk lifting. It could work. I’m sure Jobs and staff have been war gaming the various options long before the line went Intel.

  15. Apple sells hardware. They sell this hardware by making software that allows them to deliver a “whole product”, capable of providing a solution to a common problem for typical consumers, be it digital photo organization (iPhoto/digital cameras), digital music management (iTunes/iPod/iPhone), etc.

    But the margins (and profits) come from hardware sales. iPods, iPhones, and Macs. Why give hardware sales away?

    Cloning is out of the question.

  16. Moe Itall

    No Daan, Apple is a hardware company (iMacs, iPods, iPhones, Power Macs, Mac Books, Mac Book Pros),that also produces software to run on said items. Their primary product always was, and still is hardware.

  17. You are reading way too much into this. It is simple to explain in that Apple is in the process of migrating OS X from only being a Mac platform, to the iPhone, iPod Touch and possibly soon some larger touch device. They are making that drop for the same reason they changed the company name and dropped computer from it. As far as supporting clones requiring the dropping of the PowerPC chip as some have suggested, this is simply not true. Linux as well as BSD has in a single source tree support for many different architectures and does not need to drop anything to appeal to a general machine market. The dropping of the Power PC chip is simply a reflection of the choice Apple has made. Apple has chosen Intel and they are not going back anytime soon. The have supported the old machines long enough. Now if any old Power PC users want 10.6 they will need to buy a new machine. All software will eventually phase out support for old legacy hardware. Commercial companies just do it faster than open source.

  18. interesting thought, I don’t know if it is meant as they are opening up OS X to other computers or it’s just a rebranding. Not too long ago during the switch to Intel, Jobs said they want their products to have Mac in them. Hence all of the name changes to Macbook this and Mac Pro that. We’ll see what happens

  19. Don’t think Apple will let PCs touch OS X, it could reopen the wound left by the Mac clones in the 90s.

    Dropping PPC? Smart move, in my opinion. If all macs in the future will be Intel, then it makes no sense further supporting PPCs. Might also be a strategy to push PPC owners to finally upgrade.

    My best speculation is that similar to what Aaron said, relating to an integrated OS for iPhone and Well, WWDC is merely a few days away, so we’ll know the answer really soon. :)

  20. Harupee

    I think that OS X is not released to the PC.
    As for that banners, inscription in order to step on rhyme.
    This: “OS X Leopard, OS X iPhone”
    If “Mac” is added in this, It becomes “Mac OS X Leopard, Mac OS X iPhone”.
    What is “Mac OS X iPhone”?? This is meaning unclear.
    iPhone is not a Mac.
    that is the reason, I think.

  21. Don’t want to add fuel to a highly unlikely fire, but perhaps that can explain some rumours of “Snow Leopard” being Intel only? OS X for PPC no longer makes sense if you’ve got clones.

    I HIGHLY HIGHLY doubt it, but hey – everyone’s giddy wtith speculation this close to ‘showtime’. Please pardon my wild imagination.

  22. Jon, Apple IS a software company, tend to listen to Steve more often.. points to D5, Interviews and Keynotes.

    About this article, it’s called: WWDC
    World Wide Developers Conference..meaning.. Software!!
    This event is about Software, about OS X and OS X – iPhone.. and yea, there will be an iPhone upgrade but that’s it.

    And i don’t know about you guys, but i see 3 macs on that photo.

  23. Aaron

    Like most things, the answer is simpler than what you are speculating. John Gruber has it right. The iPhone is not a Mac, but runs OS X and will use the new service. A lot of iPhone users do not own Macs. So, you take out the Mac reference as it relates to the iPhone and it results in the things you are noticing.

  24. I would not read into this too much, Apple is a hardware company not a software company. They only create good software as a vehicle to sell their hardware.