Tech pundit Robert Cringely's latest column takes Google to task for the sin of not being as cool as everyone thinks they are. He correctly notes that many of Google's innovations are, well, not really that amazing:

Google likes to play the Black Box game. What are they DOING in all those buildings with all those PhDs? I'm sure they are doing a lot that will change the world, but just as much that will never even be seen by the world. For the moment, though, it doesn't matter because Google can play the spoiler. They offered a gigabyte of e-mail storage, for example, at a time when they had perhaps one percent the number of e-mail users as a Hotmail or Yahoo. And by limiting the Gmail beta, they avoided the suffering of both those other companies when they, too, had to increase their storage allocations, but for tens of millions of real users.

While I am sure that online email providers like Hotmail and Yahoo thought Google was "spoiling" things by raising users' expectation, the advent of GMail has improved the state of webmail. GMail did not become popular because it was invitation-only, but because it had better features and a cleaner interface than other webmail systems. If you contrast the performance of GMail with another Google project, Orkut, this becomes clear. While GMail has spawned many imitators, Orkut is only popular in Brazil.

But it soon becomes clear while Cringely felt he could not ignore the Googlemania that has been sweeping the tech world lately, he really wanted to talk about that other cool tech company, Apple. But while some of Cringely's other ideas have been out there, this one seems especially ridiculous:
Every one of those iPods is a bootable drive. What if Apple introduces OS 10.5, its next super-duper operating system release, and at the same time starts loading FOR FREE the current operating system version -- OS 10.4 -- on every new iPod in a version that runs on generic Intel boxes? What if they also make 10.4 a free download through the iTunes Music Store?

Steve Jobs and a pony
And what if Steve Jobs decided to hand-deliver all of those copies of OS 10.4? Even better, what if he threw in a pony with every copy?

I think it is possible that Apple will let OS X run on "generic" Intel-based machines[1], based on the fact that they have not, to my knowledge, attempted to prosecute those who have managed to get OS X on x86 computers not running by Apple. At the same time, the fact that they may condone running OS X in this manner does not mean that they will make it easier for people to do so. At the end of the day, Apple is still a hardware business. This means that they make less money if people run OS X on computers they buy for Dell than it they buy them directly from Apple. This also means that they make no money if everyone can run OS X 10.4 for free on the computers they already own.

"But, Martey?," you cry, "what about the increase in market share?" Bollocks! Read that last paragraph again: Apple is a hardware company. While letting a few technologically-inclined people run OS X on their x86 machines might increase Apple's bottom line in the long run, they gain no advantage from giving out their software and going bankrupt. While Apple's design ethic[2] is a crucial part of their appeal, their combination of software (OS X) and hardware (the Macintosh) is just as important. It "just works."

As I have previously noted, a large reason for this is not that Apple programmers have better code-fu than their counterparts working on Windows and Linux,[3] but because of the careful control that Apple exerts over the user experience. You may have paid for that oh-so-innocent iBook, but it is not yours. It is Apple's.[4] Just keep using OS X, pay for AppleCare, and do not try to open that iBook by yourself, because you will never get it back together again.

I think it is entirely possible that while running OS X on a third-party x86 machine will be possible, it will not be the optimal "Apple Experience." A significant amount of problems with Microsoft Windows arise as a result of bad device drivers, causing the computer to behave erratically. While Apple previously dodged this bullet by building its hardware itself, it is entirely possible that OS X will only be as stable as Windows when running on third-party systems. While this does not concern hobbyists and experimenters, it is doubtful that Apple would allow the "Apple Experience" to be degraded in this fashion.

[1]This would be a reversal of their earlier position.

[2]Virginal white iBooks, clean titanium Powerbooks, etc.

[3]Drunkenblog, the excellent Apple blog with the unfortunate name, makes it clear that this is not the case.

[4]For an example of this philosophy that "Apple Knows Best," check out this essay on OK/Cancel about designing user interfaces in regards to choice-making.