Licensing Apple’s Leopard OS

In my previous post, I discussed why PC manufacturers are scared of Apple.  Here, I want to discuss whether Apple will ever again test the licensing waters (and if they should).

About fifteen years ago, Apple licensed its OS to 3rd party PC manufacturers.  I bought one of those machines.  It was great and cheaper than a comparable Apple Mac.  Licensing was the key to Microsofts rise.  Build an OS and let everyone else market and sell it.  Brilliant!  Apple, a little too late, decided to play copycat and failed.  The 3rd party manufacturers grew at a fairly fast pace.  However, they stole market share from Apple rather than from the PC manufacturers.  Licensing fees couldn’t make up the difference in lost revenue from sales of Apple’s own hardware.  Licensing was killed.

But oh times have changed — Leopard rocks in comparison to Vista.  The iPhone is the hot new smartphone.  Hardware is cheap and ubiquitous and the age of software commeth.

If Apple decided to license Leopard, I believe PC manufacturers would quickly line up and would agree, a la AT&T, to any of Apple’s onerous requests (such as an approval of every hardware design that was created to use Leopard).

What would licensing bring Apple?  It would add millions of dollars in secondary marketing.  The Dell and HP magazines that I receive in the mail would feature their Apple OS designed computers front and center as would ads in magazines, on TV, and throughout the web.  Also, these companies have entre into large corporations that Apple simply does not (although it is beginning to build those relationships).  There is the potential for a huge increase in sales of Apple’s OS.

What is the downside?  Licensing could bring the same problems that Apple faced fifteen years ago — 3rd party manufacturers would just eat into Apple’s slice of the pie rather than taking from Microsofts’.  Also, Apple would lose some of the control that makes Leopard so wonderful.  In its current form, it works wondefully but part of that wonder comes from the fact that it only runs on a few Apple controlled machines.  Apple can optimize the OS for its computers.  Licensing would loosen that control potentially destroying some of Leopard’s benefits.  Vista, by its very nature as the default OS on every non-Apple computer on the planet, must run on thousands of different hardware platforms and therefore can never be as good as Apple.  Vista has to do too many things.  If Apple licenses Leopard, it could run into the same problems.

What will Apple do?  I doubt Apple will license Leopard or any future OS.  It is doing too well and is too busy to care about licensing.  If its business ever reaches the point when they think they need to license to grow and create revenue, then it is likely a point when they shouldn’t even think about making such a move (see 1996).  They are strong and they do not need it and there is no reason to help out their competitors (i.e. Dell, HP, and others) even if they receive tangible secondary benefits by doing so.

Remember, Apple is different than Microsoft in that Microsoft does not offer their own hardware platform and therefore have nothing to lose and everything to gain by licensing.  Apple has a lot to lose and little to gain, which makes any licensing of Leopard unlikely at best — oh, Steve Jobs loves control!

Happy post-4th of July!

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