The Internet is all abuzz because of a CNet article that claims that Apple computers will stop using IBM's PowerPC processors in favor of standard Intel processors (the standard x86 architecture). The announcement is expected on Monday, at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference. Why is this important? By switching to x86-compatible processors, Apple opens up the possibility of allowing Mac OS X to run on computers not made by Apple.
While most pundits seem to suggest this might hurt Apple (by lowering their computer hardware sales), I think such a decision could allow them to better compete with Microsoft. Since Apple continues to position Macs as more secure and easier to use than computers running Windows, opening Mac OS X to Intel-compatible computers would allow them to increase the number of computers running Mac OS X. Currently, most companies that sell computers to the public (OEMs) are locked in special deals with Microsoft; this is why virtually all computers sold come with Microsoft Windows preinstalled. OEMs, while generally hesitant to give users the option to install other operating systems, might be swayed by Apple (HP, which already sells branded iPods and has plans for selling a laptop computer preinstalled with Ubuntu Linux, would be an excellent first choice).
The one major stumbling block would be hardware compatibility. If Mac OS X is able to properly detect the large variety of PC hardware that exists in today's heterogeneous market, its gamble will pay off. Otherwise, OS X will continue to remain a niche operating system, at least for the near future.