Why John C. Dvorak is Wrong About Apple

25 Feb ’06

John C. Dvorak’s recent column in PC Magazine speculating that Apple may soon abandon OSX for Windows created a small firestorm of controversy. (You can also hear him explain the theory on TWiT 42 (“Dvorak’s Lost It”) – the sound in the background is Leo Laporte beating Dvorak with a sneaker.)

So is Dvorak crazy? Or as Mathew Ingram suggests, is he on drugs? Both, perhaps – he’s always been crazy, as far as I’m concerned – crazy, provocative and controversial, now more than ever, and that’s why I’ve been faithfully reading him for — is it really about 20 years?? Only Dvorak would have the nerve to float this one, and he must have swallowed hard when he did. So, while I think he’s wrong and very possibly pharmaceutically over-medicated, I think it’s also worth spending a few minutes laying out exactly why.

So, herewith Dvorak’s reasons for thinking the theory may have legs (the reasons come from his column, and from TWiT 42), and why I think it’s farcockteh:

1. This is Dvorak’s #1 reason: Adobe hasn’t ported its apps to Universal Binaries. As a result, they have to run under Rosetta for now, with the result, as Steve Jobs explained at MacWorld, “While the performance is not going to be strong enough for professionals who spend hours a day in Photoshop, it’s going to be enough for the rest of us, even under Rosetta.” Dvorak’s theory is that Adobe is holding back because they have inside knowledge that Apple is going to abandon OSX, and a native version would be a wasted effort.

This just doesn’t hold water. The creative class has, of course, long favoured the Mac, and Adobe’s software is the preferred platform. It’s also fair to say that if Adobe apps aren’t quickly produced in native Intel versions for the Mac, the creative class is going to take its time making the switch. Which, naturally, gives Adobe a lot of leverage in any negotiations with Apple. So, knowing that Apple was desperate to make the switch and not get left behind in the Intel-AMD chip wars, why would Adobe merely play along? Wouldn’t it be smarter to play hard to get and extract some concessions from a desperate Apple? To my mind, this is nothing more than Adobe wisely playing a strong hand. It’s not personal – just business.

2. The switch to Intel. Dvorak also suggests that the switch to Intel is just a necessary step to the switch to Windows.

The early reports are of a 4x speed improvement from the Powerbook G4 to the Core Duo version. 4x, with the same heat and the same battery life. This one’s not complicated: Apple made the switch because the PowerPC was falling behind Intel falling behind AMD.

3. The Apple Switch campaign isn’t working – no one’s switching. Dvorak suggests that Apple needs to do more than OSX to maintain its customer base; customers aren’t coming over, he says.

The way Macs work – all Apple OS’s for that matter – is woven as deeply into the company’s DNA as any other virtue. … Apple needs its OS to dream.

I read posts by gleeful switchers every week. And I follow them carefully, because I’m considering the switch myself. Surprisingly often the switchers are long-term, hard-core Windows users. And everywhere I look I see Mac laptops – more and more of them, it seems, every day (though sometimes you have to squint to see past the forests of other Apple schwag in the way). As Mathew points out, it just ain’t so. But perhaps more importantly, now that the Mac OS has been opened up it will become much more appealing and powerful as time passes. Switching should accelerate. (Admittedly, based purely on anecdotal evidence) I think it already is.

4. The iPod was designed to get people to move to the Mac, but this hasn’t happened. Dvorak suggests that the iPod has failed as switch-bait.

See #3. People are switching. And the iPod has helped to make Apple even more wildly creative, inspired and cool than it was before. And what’s good for Apple is good for OSX.

5. The iPod lost its firewire connector. Dvorak suggests that Apple dropped the firewire connector from the iPod because the Windows crowd – a USB bunch – is the new target market.

Well, if you want to sell a lot of iPods, you sell them to the Windows crowd, too. There are more customers there. But more to the point, the standards battle is over and firewire has lost – at least for the iPod’s purposes. With no firewire 800 on the MacBook Pro, but two USB ports, it’s clear what Apple is thinking about whether it makes sense to have two standards. Apple is simply deciding not to fight the VHS-Beta battle all over again – we all know how that ended.

Apple would be dead as a hardware company. Apple sells dreams, not computers – the dream to be different, to be unique, to be cool.

6. Apple’s assault on the gossip sites. Dvorak theorizes that Apple went after ThinkSecret because it was worried the gossip sites would find out about the Windows switch.

Wasn’t the ThinkSecret suit launched before Apple announced the Intel switch? Perhaps the lawsuit was aimed at preventing that disclosure. But in any event, Apple’s mystique is built on marketing, and its marketing is built on controlling perception. It’s much more likely that Apple went after Think Secret because it was interfering with Apple’s ability to control spin.

7. Microsoft’s announcement that it would support Office for the Mac for 5 years. Dvorak refers to Microsoft’s announcement at MacWorld and wonders, why 5? What happens after that? He theorizes that Microsoft won’t agree to more than 5 because it knows Apple is planning to dump OSX.

No, Microsoft won’t announce more than 5 years of support because while it knows how much its support is worth to Apple now, it’s worth waiting for a few years to see how much more its support will be worth to Apple then. Avoiding a long-term commitment when you’re in the driver’s seat – and when you don’t know what the future will bring – is just good business. Apple’s vulnerability to Adobe and Microsoft for critical applications is probably the company’s single biggest strategic vulnerability (other than the risk of Steve Jobs getting hit by a bus) – and Adobe and Microsoft know it.

8. Finally, Apple is a hardware company, not a software company. Dvorak thinks that with the iPod being a cash cow, Apple now has the nerve to be a hardware company.

Apple would be dead as a hardware company. Apple sells dreams, not computers – the dream to be different, to be unique, to be cool. The way Macs work – all Apple OS’s for that matter – is woven as deeply into the company’s DNA as any other virtue. As Mathew says, it’s “the last thing that makes the company unique”. Without that differentness, Apple would soon be just another slick box designer. Apple needs its OS to dream.


So, as I often say when I’m hedging my bets, Dvorak may be right, but if he is it’s not for any of these reasons. They just don’t add up.

Note: the ‘toon is from Nitrozac and Snaggy’s work here.

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