(Severe nerdery ahead; turn off now.)
John Gruber (no, not the arch-kook of late-1990s Usenet: that was John Grubor) has a great article up on his site talking about one of the great shibboleths of this industry.
In a nutshell, if you ask any geek, industry pundit, or even a random person on the street, “What did Apple do wrong in the 1980s?” they’ll pretty much all say the same thing, because it’s been repeated so many times that it’s become Received Wisdom:
“Apple should have licensed the Macintosh OS, or ported it to Intel hardware.”Everyone “knows” this: if Apple had just ported the MacOS over to the PC AT and/or licensed it to all comers, they would be Microsoft now.
Now, Gruber goes into a great number of the reasons why this is nowhere near so “obvious” as it seems, and he’s entirely right about them. (I won’t rehash his points here: go read it yourself.) But to my mind, he’s forgotten the most obvious case against this argument: other people did this, and it didn’t work.
GEM. GEOS. DesqView. DesqView/X. Remember any of these names? Unless you’re a pretty hardcore geek, the odds are that you don’t, and that’s fine, because there’s no reason you should: in greater or lesser degree, they all did the same thing (put a vaguely Mac-like interface onto a standard desktop PC circa 1986), and they were all, in the long run, total failures. Digital Research, Berkely Softwarks and Quarterdeck Software, their respective makers, are all historical footnotes now: long-dead or absorbed into larger firms.
Heck, for at least a few years there, even Microsoft couldn’t sell a graphical interface on a PC to save their lives. Remember Windows 1.0? Windows 2.0? Windows 386? If you’re lucky, you don’t. If you had to use any of them, I’m sorry.
Seriously: if “an integrated GUI desktop on a commodity PC hardware platform” were really all that you had to create in order to make yourself into the Richest Company Ever, then by all rights Digital Research Inc should be a world-straddling colossus right now, and Microsoft a piddling vendor of second-tier office productivity software. But that’s now how it worked out, and people looking for glib explanations for Apple’s shifting fortunes would do well to look elsewhere.