Fortune's David Kirkpatrick Asks 'Can Apple Afford to License OS X?'

Last week, Fortune magazine columnist David Kirkpatrick reported that Michael Dell would like to sell PCs loaded with Mac OS X. This week, Mr. Kirkpatrick digs deeper into the possibility, musing that while he doubts Steve Jobs will license his operating system to anyone, "in the past he has been known to say he wonit do things right up until he does them." (Two notable instances that Mr. Kirkpatrick doesnit cite are Mr. Jobsi repeated refusals to enter the flash MP3 player and budget-priced computer markets, both of which he went back on when he introduced the iPod shuffle and Mac mini this past January.)

Mr. Kirkpatrick goes on to note that even if Mr. Jobs changes his mind, the "move would be challenging for Apple financially. Thatis because, for all of the companyis software smarts, its revenues are still heavily reliant upon computer hardware. Investors punish companies whose revenues decline, almost without exception, regardless of whether profitability rises in the process. And software has a much lower price point than hardware, although its margins are much higher." So Apple would have to figure out how to balance higher software sales with lower hardware revenue.

Whether or not Apple takes the plunge, however, Mr. Kirkpatrick also reported that his readers seem excited by the switch to Intel chips, especially because they will be able to run Windows on the new machines. He writes: "One thing that most struck me about the letters Iive gotten over the weeks since Jobs made his announcement about Intel is what hasnit been said. Iive heard from no constituency of passionate Microsoft lovers arguing that the Mac OS doesnit matter, that Windows is the really great software. Many now seem excited that even if Windows stays dominant it will have more full-fledged competition that will push it to be innovative."