Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
"[O]ne of life's most perplexing decisions – whether to buy a Macintosh or an IBM PC – can now be made with the greatest of ease." This hyperbole appeared in a 1985 ad for a pricey contraption called MacCharlie, a PC clone enclosure into which the original Macintosh slid, offering -- as the ad noted -- "the best of both worlds." MacCharlie, named in the days when IBM's PC business was represented by a Chaplain impersonator, was offered by Dayna Communications, a company that would enjoy a good run as a cross-platform solutions company before being purchased by, of all companies, Intel.
What had wrought this monstrosity? When Apple developed the Macintosh, it made a decision that would have long-term implications. Choosing Motorola processors over those from Intel meant that the Mac couldn't run DOS or Windows-based software at anywhere close to the speed of contemporary PCs. Sure, there had been a long history of slow software-based emulators dating from at least the first version of SoftPC for the Mac in 1988 and even a hardware solution that Apple offered with its Power Macintosh 6100/66 DOS Compatible in 1995, but it was hard to escape the realities of binary compatibility. The little ends did not justify the means.
Even with technology working against it, though, Apple had long sought to reach out to PC users through means such as encouraging popular ports (much fanfare preceded the sour notes of Lotus 1-2-3 for Mac), supporting PC-formatted media and eventually file extensions, promoting Microsoft Office for the Mac, adopting (or popularizing) PC standards such as IDE, USB and DVI Even in the post-iMac era, Apple launched its Switcher campaign with mixed success. Today, Apple's Windows outreach efforts focus primarily on its retail stores, where it can showcase the Mac's approach and ecosystem in person to the iCurious.
With Apple switching to Intel processors over the course of the year, though, one of the biggest traditional roadblocks to switching will be removed. Once some technical details are worked out, Mac users should be able to run at least Windows Vista at native speeds in a dual-boot configuration, or perhaps even Windows XP or Vista at nearly native speeds using virtual machine technology. You'd think, after tilting at this Win mill for over 20 years, Apple would open its arms to Windows users like prodigal sons.