How the iPod Ended the OS Wars | iLounge Article


How the iPod Ended the OS Wars

By Hadley Stern, Publisher of AppleMatters
February 20, 2004

Operating system (OS) wars go back to almost the very beginning of personal computing, and amazingly, they continue online and at water coolers across the world. Twenty years ago, it was Apple versus IBM, Commodore and Atari. Today, visit hard core computer news site Slashdot and you will see Linux people bashing Windows people bashing Mac people.


But these aren’t the days of DOS or command line prompts. It’s a simple fact that any machine running Windows or Mac OS X uses the same “windowing” interface, plus and minus a few features per platform. In any case, you drag things around a desktop to access and organize, throw them in the trash (or recycle bin) to delete, and within applications, What You See Is What You Get.

Sure, beneath the pretty graphical interface, the old command line prompt remains hidden - even the Mac has one now, after almost 20 years of doing without it - but most consumer machines these days behave alike. And amongst them, even PC fans will reluctantly admit that the Mac is the most elegant of the bunch, with nicer icons, a bulletproof environment, and best of all, no viruses or spyware.

Oops, there I go again! The OS wars. One tiny (truly mini these days) thing stops me in my rhetorical tracks and stumps me into silence. It’s not the patch of the week released by Windows, nor is it the latest horribly ugly desktop environment to come out of some kids basement for Linux. No, it’s that little thing in your pocket. The iPod.

Why? Because once and for all it has shattered the myth that you need a Mac to play well in the digital hub. Using either a Mac or a PC, you can transfer music to your iPod blisteringly fast, buy music from the Apple iTunes music store (heck, you can even run an Apple application on your PC - iTunes!), and share music between machines using Rendezvous. Thanks to the iPod, Apple is telling consumers that both from a hardware or software standpoint the PC can do everything a Mac can. (Sure, iPod use can be a little more troublesome on a PC. You may have to buy an extra cable, install some drivers, and cross your fingers, but the fact remains that you can use an iPod on either platform.)

So where does that leave the hardware and OS wars? Back when it was DOS versus the Mac, it was easy for Mac users to snicker at keyboard prompts. But now PC users use Photoshop, Quark, Flash, and all the programs that started out on the Mac. And Apple knows it. Suddenly the fight is not for the only machine on people’s desk, it is for the second or third machine they buy.

After trying “Switch” as a campaign to sell the Mac on its own merits, Apple is assuming that the iPod might serve as a gateway drug, demonstrating the company’s legendary ease of use and seducing Windows users into adding a Mac to the den instead of another PC.

There is still a possibility that this will work. But now with even Steve Jobs using a PC at Macworld SF 2004 (which was, in the history of computing, a very significant moment) Apple’s strategy could also fail. But from where I stand, Apple couldn’t ignore the potent reality in the marketplace. If Apple continued to market the iPod and iTunes to only the Macintosh audience it would have been a horrible business move and irresponsible to their stockholders.

Curiously, though, even as this little white and silver thing has started to turn PC users’ heads, it’s also muddied the waters: while PC users are looking at Apple, Apple is salivating over the 90 plus percent of the world using Windows machines, and even writing different applications for the competing platform. Recently Apple touted iChat’s interoperability with Windows machines. What’s next, iChat for PC’s? iMovie, iCal, iDVD, or, shudder, OS X? After all, Apple can no longer say that the Windows OS or Intel hardware is not powerful enough to run Apple applications. It clearly is. And by picking Unix as the underlying platform for OS X, Apple acknowledged as much several years ago.

No matter what happens, the iPod has been fantastic for Apple - both for profits and hopefully, for its long-term vision. The iPod has proven that it is OK for Apple to sell Windows products, and established Apple as a maker of premium computer and electronic goods around the world.

Even though all of the above is true, I must admit that when I went a year ago into an Apple store to ask about the availability of the first OS-independent 10-gig iPods, I was a little depressed when Apple’s sales rep asked me if I wanted the Mac or PC model.

But that is what the iPod has done. It has ended the OS wars.

« Taking apart the iPod mini

Future Pods »

Related Stories



I guess we’ll see an new round of OS wars like never before in a couple of years from now. When Apple will take OS X to the whole new level, Linux finally get a desktop it can be proud of and Microsoft fail to deliver the Longhorn. It’s not about peripherals (iPod, cameras, printers). Reliability,  privacy and security will rule.

Posted by Vlad Lebedev in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 9:39 AM (CST)


> Recently Apple touted iChat’s interoperability with Windows machines. <
Well, not really. iChat is an AOL AIM client and has always worked with PC using AIM clients. iChatAV extended IM to audio and video. AOL announced that their new AIM client on the PC now has the AV capabilities. Apple probably worked with AOL on the original iChat, they would have to as it belongs to AOL. Apple probably also helped AOL with the AV capabilities. It doesn’t end the OS war, it just provides interoperability. I doubt you’ll see iChat itself on a PC unless Apple develops it into its own platform with all kinds of other capabilities.

Posted by George in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 9:51 AM (CST)


You’re article is really a stretch!

Posted by Jim in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 9:53 AM (CST)


Unfortunately Apple’s insistence on higher prices (to protect higher gross margins) is what’s keeping a lot of people from switching. Add to that the very limited range of hardware or customization options within each product category (you can’t leave out a graphics card or HD and add your own cheaper or pre-existing device) and you have a lot of Windoze people saying “No thanks” to Apple products.

Their iPod and iTunes works on their DELL PC, plus they have tons more games and apps so why bother? Everyone gets virii on Windoze so its not that big of a deal, you clean it out or reinstall and go on with your work.

Until and unless Apple sacrifices its obscenely high gross margins or figures out how to make its products cheaper at the same margins you will never see Apple break double-digit (sales) marketshare. This isn’t the 80’s when everything else was a dinosaur compared to the GUI-fied Mac with Mac-only DTP and more.

Posted by Neo in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 10:08 AM (CST)


The iPod is not the first Apple product to do this. Way back in August 1993 Apple introduced the Newton MessagePad that worked with Mac’s and <gasp> Windows machines. This was the first Apple product I had ever owned. (I had used the computers plenty of times though) The Newton also got me to consider buying a Mac because of how wel thought out it was (It can still run rings around current PDA’s as far as functionallity, albeit the hardware is getting old)
This was also the product that soured me on Apple when Jobs stated he was keeping the Newton (pulled the spin-off Newton Inc. back into Apple) so Apple could devote the resources it needed, then killed the product. At that point, buying a Mac was not an option for me.

The iPod is the first Apple product I have purchased. As always, Apple has done an excellent job with it. I just hope they don’t allow someone else to take over the market. It would be ashame to have the iPod die out. I like Apple products but historically Apple is usually it’s own worst enemy.

Posted by Tom in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 10:11 AM (CST)


Yeah this article is definitely a stretch. By no means is the OS wars over and something as insignificant as an MP3 player is not goign to bring people over to Apple. I see this everyday, everyone loves the iPod but they don’t say to me, hey, I’m gonna switch over to Apple.

Price matters, if Apple is serious about taking some marketshare away, lower your damn prices. I’ve heard the stupid BMW argument and etc. What works for BMW isn’t going to work for Apple. Apple needs to start being more aggressive and Steve needs to take his head out of the sand.

Posted by Chomper in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 10:33 AM (CST)


As a matter of fact, the profit margin that Apple makes is much less than it used to be. That is, on most of its products. Currently, the highest margin is on the iPod. (which is purchased more than 50% of the time by Windows users) You are correct that you cannot purchase from Apple the way that you can from Dell. That is, essentially having a build it yourself experience but with out actually DOING it yourself. Apple is running ona different paradigm. They want you to have products in configurations that they know will work, and work with their apps. It is a different sort of experience. The DIY’ers are not the market, I would say.

Posted by Gregory Wostrel in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 10:55 AM (CST)


If anything has muddied the waters between operating systems it has to be the internet.

Posted by Recoil in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 11:09 AM (CST)


oops, correction to my earlier post.

The iPod is the first Apple product I have purchased since the Newton MessagePad.

<I didn’t see a way to edit my post>

Posted by Tom in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 11:17 AM (CST)


I do hope that Apple releases MacOS X for Intel. That is far more sensible than porting other iApps to Windows. I say that as a Windows+Athlon XP1700+ user with an iPod 40GB.

The Switch argument always depended on users switching not only 1.) operating systems but also 2.) hardware platform simultaneously—which only makes sense if you are completely starting from scratch. Ignore for a moment Apple’s relatively higher hardware acquisition cost.  So many users, like myself, have an existing, functional PC that we can’t justify buying everything all over again just so that we can run the MacOS and all its related apps. Moreover, I still run apps that have no Mac counterpart and seem poorly suited to both OS and processor emulation.

Apple has new appeal because 1.) the iPod is a masterpiece of engineering and design; 2.) Panther and the iApps are really starting to shine as the rough edges have been smoothed out (and users have been given a taste of that with iTunes for Windows); and 3.) Microsoft is mired in security deficiencies, a poor update managment process, a lack of new products/features for the next 2-3 years, and ever increasing costs/licensing constraints.

But Apple has a limited window of 2 years to attract significantly new developers and users before Microsoft and Linux on the desktop catch up.

Make it as easy and cost efficient as possible for users to switch. Break the switch apart into an OS switch and a hardware switch. If the G5s are as earthshatteringly great as the charts suggest, then, when I am ready for a new computer in a few years, I will buy an Apple G5 too.

Surely, the old argument that Apple can’t afford to release on Intel because it would jeopardize its hardware sales profits is signicantly less important today when a.) sales of software including not just the OS but iLife, .Mac and other software services; b.) hardware includes not just computers but the iPods and peripherals; and c.) forthcoming G5 hardware models look increasingly capable of competing even when the OS is available on other manufacturers machines/architectures.

Posted by mpc in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 11:19 AM (CST)


To sum: Increasing the OS user base will spread the cost of OS development across more users. Increasing the OS user base will increase the quantity, speed, and quality of applications on the Mac OS platform. Just the announcement of Mac on x86 alone could be worth hundreds of millions in free advertising. And increasing the brand loyalty through software will fuel future hardware sales.

Posted by mpc in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 11:19 AM (CST)


My boss switched from PC to a 20” imac months after buying an iPod for his wife, falling in love with it and keeping it, then buying another one for his wife. Total: $3000 to apple and one PC in the landfill.

Posted by Mr. Pink in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 11:38 AM (CST)


I think your article got it completely wrong.  iTunes on windows and iPod for windows doesn’t prove there’s no difference between the platforms—it proves that only Apple is delivering the usability and elegance that consumers want. Even if Microsoft could copy the look and feel of OSX entirely, it’s still driven by a “consumer hostile” mentality—more and more Windows (and it’s formats, i.e. Windows Media Player) is designed to lock content in a digital prison, and treat consumers like criminals.  And have you noticed that this year particularly, Windows is being hit with worms and viruses and adbots and spyware at an alarming rate?  The windows world has become a sewer.  Everyone knows how badly it stinks, and it’s getting worse.  So I couldn’t disagree more with the author of this article—the difference between Windows and OSX is like night and day, and becoming more so every day.

Posted by bruce in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 12:45 PM (CST)


If people are so damn worried about the profit margins on Macs, go look at MS’s last quaterly report. Their profits are 50% of their revenues. So who exaclty is gouging their customers?

Posted by David in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 12:56 PM (CST)


First, it’s not the Mac costs too much money - you are either not making enough or if you don’t really need much from a computer, you don’t need a Mac. Just like a Chevy Metro, if you just need basic transportation - like a PC, it’s cheap and does the minimal it’s supposed to. If you can’t afford more or don’t need more - nothing wrong with it.

When you can afford more - you can step up to the Porsche of computers. But that’s your choice and ours/mine to choose how we spend our money. Sure, it costs more but we think the VALUE we get is exponentially greater than just going by cost. If all you judge whether to buy a product is on cost - that seems pretty narrow-minded (presuming you’re not just in college), that’s your choice. You may choose to spend your dollars how you choose.

But don’t sneer at better things just because it’s within your means. Macs are costly because they are flat out better and really, much cheaper because they are several quantums better than a Pc but only a few hundred dollars more. In this case, you get EXACTLY what you pay for.

Take the Dell Mp3 player - looks somewhat like an ipod - main selling points - longer battery life and cheaper BUT ... it does NOT sync. And it goes silent when fast forwarding or in reverse. Or that it records low quality speech - sounds useful except you cannot EXPORT it even to a PC. Like many Pc products, it has ‘features’ galore but when it actually comes down to usefulness?

Because a PC cannot win on anything else, it can only get you to buy it because it’s CHEAP. Think about that and waht you stand for.

Posted by jbelkin in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 1:10 PM (CST)


All those programs the article mentions that started out on the Mac still run better on the Mac.  So, I don’t see the point.

By the way, ever tried running ProTools on a PC?  What a nightmare!

You’re right, but we all know MS is trying to control the Internet as well!

Posted by The Raven in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 1:21 PM (CST)


The Linux market share is now larger than OSX.

The battle is no longer between MS and Apple, it is between MS and Linux. Apple is a bystander.

And what the fuck does “several quantums better” mean, jbelkin? A “quantum” is something so small you can not see it. Something infinitesimal. Like your sense of what you are talking about.

Posted by Linux in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 1:21 PM (CST)


I don’t see grandma and the kids fudging around with Linux anytime soon.  Linux may be making it in the enterprise, but there’s a long way to go before it becomes as threat to MS dominance of the consumer desktop.

Apple is not a bystander.  Apple’s OS X is rock solid without the sloppiness of Windows and without the complexities of Linux.

OS X is everything Linux wants to be.

Posted by The Raven in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 2:21 PM (CST)


It would be a big engineering project for Apple to port to x86.  Having to deal with the myriad of hardware/shipset/pci card combinations that exist in the PC world.  Sure, they can qualify OS X/86 for a limited set of hardware combinations but then people would still complain it doesn’t work on their no-name boxes and cards and that getting brand name hardware is too expensive and we would be back to square one.  Point is, if you need work done, get a Mac.  If you want to contually upgrade and patch, get a PC with Windows.

Posted by Mr. Sensible in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 3:06 PM (CST)


Mr. Sensible sees the point clearly.  A Mac is not a piece of hardware and an OS (well technically it is ahha), but its a carefully designed experience.  Sure they could easily port OSX to x86 (in fact it could even exist), but then hardware becomes an unknown or unmanaged factor.  The “ease of use” would be tainted because they cannot manage the hardware configuration piece.

Apple has a nicely streamlined OS and some impressive hardware, but the key factor in the experience (i.e. “it just works”) is their control of everything involved.  They know what the hardware is and they work out the software bugs on the known hardware platform.

I would love to see OSX on x86 as much as the next geek, but IMHO the resulting fallout would tarnish their “it works” reputation.

Posted by Xenious in Irvine, CA on February 20, 2004 at 4:51 PM (CST)

iLounge Weekly

Recent News

Recent Reviews

Recent Articles

Sign up for the iLounge Weekly Newsletter

iLounge is an independent resource for all things iPod, iPhone, iPad, and beyond.
iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Apple TV, Mac, and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc.
iLounge is © 2001 - 2018 iLounge, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use | Privacy Policy