How the iPod Ended the OS Wars

How the iPod Ended the OS Wars 1

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.

  1. I’m a windows user and i dont hate mac, i cant see why anyone would.

    Im a programmer which is an obvious reason i dont own a mac, seeing as about 3% of people own them.

    Anyhow i built my PC for around about

  2. I response to a previous post, I became a Mac user because of the iPod. As soon as the iPod became functional on a PC, I picked it up and absolutely loved it. I was instantly converted into an Apple enthusiast and went out and picked up an iBook as soon as my HP notebook died.

    The article is a little far fetched though…

    Mac’s have always come across as trendy and avant-garde, yes they are more pricey but if they were just as cheap as a Dell and everyone owned them, would they still have the same effect? What makes Gucci more appealing then Gap? The styles are not mainstream, they are carfefully designed, strong brand recognition and a heftier price tag. Does the heftier price tag matter? No people still buy it, because there is a market for it…

    Mac users are a certain kind of bread, we will pay more for a more well thought computer. I want a reliable notebook that runs all the programs I need it to. Sure there are more programs available for PC, but when all the ones I really need are on Mac, what’s the big deal? I get to work on a cool looking machine!

  3. My friend if you are spending $800 annually upgrading a PC just to run MS Office then you are being ripped off.

    Office runs fine on those $200 Walmart PCs – I know because I set one up recently for a relative.

    If you are spending $800 annually to run the latest games then that’s your business. In these days a high-end graphics card can cost $500 new. ut in a year a better card costs $200.

    Personally I think you’d be better off buying a PS2. And then upgrading your console every few years.

    And that’s a better model of how Apple pricing works. PCs are continuous while Apple’s are staged.

    Every few years Apple changes their product suite and sets a new standard price – usually around 30% higher than equivalent PC prices.

    Apple prices tend to stay fixed for around 2-4 years because Apple fixes them that way. Then they refresh their line and prices drop like a stone.

    Just like consoles. Because they are both proprietary platforms controlled by a single company with absolute pricing power.

  4. I’ve used Macs since 84, and owned several since 87. I’ve also used and owned PCs since 97. I also own a 3G 20GB iPod.

    Until Apple builds a G5 iMac without built-in video and prices it at $499, they will not get the same sales that Dell and e-Machines get.

    We need a cheapie Mac without the DVD-R and built-in video. When you can buy a 17″ monitor new for $60 people find it hard to justify $800.

    Something that I’ve noticed, 95% of the consumers out there do not care about quality. They want the $45 DVD player and think it’s just as good as a $300 one. It’s clear it’s not, but they paid $45 and don’t care. Not until they are buying a car…. Then, suddenly they look at bang for buck.

  5. Interesting article, although I can’t help thinking it simplifies the situation somewhat. But lets face it, as soon as the 2nd generation ipod arrived, there was suddenly no reason why PC users shouldn’t buy one. Obviously prior to that there were 3rd party software packges to link a Mac ipod to a PC, but for some it was not ideal.

    Basically, the reason people buy ipods is because they want the best MP3 player available. With Steve Jobs’ focus on design (and let’s face it, there are some gorgeous apple products out there), the only thing holding them back from a larger market share is the Mac OS. The (perceived) problems with using PC software on a Mac are a real issue for mainstream hardware users. I’m talking about those users who, although they know what they’re doing on a PC, aren’t particularly ‘techy’ people. If Steve Jobs could get over this hurdle, even just the looks of Apple products would ensure a much larger market share, even with the price premium.

    IMHO, of course

  6. I have a Windows PC. I have to spend about $400 every six months to upgrade the hardware so it will keep running the software that comes out, i.e., games and bloatware from Microsoft. I also have a Mac G4. I’ve used it to build complex web sites and do image editing and design. For over three years that Mac ran flawlessly without my touching the inside of the box,except for adding a 500MB RAM chip and a second video card so I could have two monitors.

    My discarded PC hardware is worth almost nothing when I take it out. I just bought a new Mac for $1,000, and sold my old one for over $600. For a three-year-old computer. Score goes to Apple for hardware that lasts for years.

  7. Wow… I’m thing on buying a new iBook but if you have to buy a new one every 4 to 5 years should I? I must admit that it is wonderful it come with all the software you need from the get go and really simple to use (the iPod… I love it’s simplicity and power) however I don’t thing I can aford a new mac every 5 years. Any advice?

    P.S. Be nice to each other pls.

  8. this is sad… I have seen very few facts in here. just assumptions and stats pulled out of people’s asses.
    Linux is growing though, many people I know are converting to linux, and linux probably has the best market position in my opinion. the fact that most people have windows pcs, and the fact that windows and linux can be install on dual boot(you can use Linux on the same computer, and keep windows there too until you want to actually uninstall it) will allow people to convert to linux much easier. converting to mac is a hassle because you need to buy an entire new computer which will probably be expensive and which many applications wont support at all.
    so I see Linux as growing to overtake windows and mac soon enough. the fact that OSX cant dual boot with pcs will be it’s ultimate demise. the ability to try an operating system, without actually buying a new computer, or even getting rid of your old one, is an incredible advantage.
    soon enough the OS wars will be not be windows or mac? but instead “which Linux distro should I use?” (the linux distro wars are actually in progress right now :-$ )

  9. Dual booting is *so* 90s. Virtualization is where the smart money is, kids.

    You can run virtual PC on OSX and run Windows and/or Linux in a window. Likewise on Windows you can run Linux in a window. One day, probably OSX as well. Finally, on many platforms you can run VMWare and run OSX, Windows, Linux, and lots of other OSes, all at the same time.

    I think the growing trend towards virtualization makes the “OS Wars” a relic of history. I don’t think the iPod has or had anything to do with it.

  10. Good Article. As a life long PC user, I have always laughed at everything apple. But when the Ipod came out for the PC, I just couldnt resist checking it out. There is no doubt in my mind that the ipod is the best HD MP3 player on the market today. After getting an ipod I have to admit, i dont look at apple with quite as much disdain as I used to. Quite the opposite, I often find myeslf browsing to see what they will release next. Maybe apple is “bridging the OS gap” per se after all, showing that apple is not such an “exclusive” user group anymore.

  11. I just chuckle at some of these posts. So, tell me windoze iPoder’s, if price is such a concern, why did you buy an iPod? Long live Apple, because without them you’d still be picking your asses with a c prompt.

  12. I just chuckle at some of these posts. So, tell me windoze iPoder’s, if price is such a concern, why did you buy an iPod? Long live Apple, because without them you’d still be picking your asses with a c prompt.

  13. I just chuckle at some of these posts. So, tell me windoze iPoder’s, if price is such a concern, why did you buy an iPod? Long live Apple, because without them you’d still be picking your a$$es with a c prompt.

  14. I just chuckle at some of these posts. So, tell me windoze iPoder’s, if price is such a concern, why did you buy an iPod? Long live Apple, because without them you’d still be picking your a$$es with a c prompt.

  15. OS X is crap! I use a G3 450 w/ OS 9.2.2 and it is THE BEST! OS X is just another crappy UNIX clone. And the G5 architecture is dumb. Apple will NEVER be able to make it scale above 2.0 GHz, and IBM will be sticking with the Power4 for many years to come… no G6 anytime soon, unless it’s a SPARC or something goofy like that.

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