SXSW Trends Point Toward Strong Apple Netbook Market

This weekend I have seen more PC netbooks running Mac OS X than there were running Windows at Austin's annual South by Southwest Interactive conference (SXSW). It's an interesting phenomenon, made even more so by the nature of the event.

SXSW has become known for setting -- or at least highlighting -- trends in the technology world. Twitter got it's jumpstart here, for sure, and in general the high geek concentration makes for a good petrie dish of new ideas. 

The first thing I noticed is that many netbook users had put Apple logo stickers on their Acer or Dell branded hardware, and as soon as I started poking around, I realized that most of the netbooks I saw here were running Mac OS X Leopard, not Windows.

Granted, I saw less than 50 such machines running around. Out of a crowd of probably 9,000 (based on last year's confirmed attendance and feel that this year is about on par, since SXSW 2009 numbers haven't been released yet), that might not seem a high percentage, but I also have only been around a small sample within that crowd of 9,000.

Whether or not the percentage is high, however, the fervor definitely is. At South by Southwest, that's been proven to count.

In order to get Mac OS X on a netbook, users must go through a series of steps to patch Mac OS X Leopard to allow installation on non-Apple hardware.  This, of course, is something Apple specifically disallows in the Leopard license agreement, but that hasn't stopped folks from trying -- and succeeding. There are sites with step-by-step instructions, guides to which machines will best support the endeavor, and plenty of other related discussion on the topic.

This is clearly something that geeks want, and they are willing to go out of their way to get it, knowing full well that they'll have a less-than-perfect experience.

An Apple netbook (or tablet-style machine) has long been rumored, but thus far has not seen the light of day.  My guess is Apple has researched this quite thoroughly, and is waiting until they feel the market is ready.  Well, if this particular SXSW trend means anything -- and I think it does -- that time is now.  With fans willing to go through the trouble of running Mac OS X on unsupported hardware, I think they would all pay a little bit more to do it in an Apple-supported way.