Mindows: A 200 Dollar Mac at Walmart

by Hadley Stern Feb 07, 2003

imageRight now you can visit Walmart.com, throw down 200 bucks and get a computer with 128 MB memory, 10 GB hard drive, CD-ROM drive, one USB port, 1 PCI slot, and 10/100 Ethernet. With this 200 bucks you can surf the web, send email, and create office documents that open anywhere. Itís even Unix-based so youíll feel good that you are not supporting Microsoftís monopoly and your machine will be as stable as OS X. And soon, youíll even be able to use your iPod. You can also run the Photoshop look-a-like, the Gimp.

200 bucks.

Since Apple has existed there has always been tension between the desire to innovate and the desire to provide an affordable product. Jeff Raskin, the man who came up with the idea of the Macintosh, envisioned a computer that would cost $500 when it first came out. Because of production efficiencies he imagined the original Mac would drop to $300 soon after. Of course we all know now that an additional zero needs to be added to make those numbers more accurate.

The Macintosh was always meant to be affordable but Apple engineers, driven by Steve Jobsí vision, sought to make the first Mac do more and more. Raising the bar raised costs so the Mac went from a machine for the rest of us to a machine for the rest of us with more money. This is still true today.

Mac users have always had to pay a premium and it has always been worth it. But while many of us are happy to pay bigger bucks for a G4 with a superdrive in a beautifully designed box, some people just want to surf the web and write in a word processor.

Apple has a unique opportunity to let people do this with a sub-$500 iMac. A G3 processor running at 500 MHZ, a 10 GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, one USB port, and, because itís Apple, one (400) FireWire port. Throw it in a beige box and Apple is all done. Apple could even continue the old CRT iMac design and sell those too. Donít sell them at the Apple store: distribute them to the Wal-Martís of the world. Call it Mindows, not Macintosh, to differentiate it from the Macintosh brand and user experience.

Another alternative is for Apple to finally separate its software from its hardware and allow a version of OS X that can be used on Intel-based processors. Make it very cheap so that resellers can have a viable option to Windows. Again, Apple could call it Mindows and have a different pricing and support structure so that there is still incentive for people to buy its own hardware.

Apple needs to fight the desktop battle on many fronts. Otherwise it may find itself outwitted by not only Windows, but Lindows too. What do you think? Would you buy a Mindows computer?

Comments

  • I appreciate the motive behind this article and its thesis—to increase the market share of the Mac platform, but I think Apple will never be able to compete on price with companies who are essentially assemblers. While Dell, Gateway, HP, et. al. do pay license fees to Microsoft (and while resellers presumably pay royalties on each sale), it cannot be compared with the HUGE costs in R&D for developing one’s own operating system outright. Apple can never reduce its own costs to the level of the Dells of the world.

    Now I can appreciate also the strategy even so of taking a hit in margins just for the sake of seeding more Macs into niches where they don’t currently prevail. But the only problem in this regard is the margins are already very tight; there is simply not much lattitude for Apple on price.

    Also, who would service these Macs? Walmart? I’m not sure Apple is ready for that.

    Its best bet here is to go with the Marklar option—to make OS X a separate product on the Intel/AMD platform, (as Hadley Stern also suggests). These customers would lose the Mac advantage of seamless hardware-software integration, but this is nonetheless a more realistic solution than to sell a $200 or $300 or even $400 iMac.

    Finally, let’s leave the *indows product names to other companies. It’s unimaginative, and it sends a “Me too” message which implies that Apple is following Microsoft. This is the LAST message Apple would want to send. Macintel is a better name—except that Intel would rightly sue and it also excludes AMD. Offhand an alternative name does not leap to mind, but I’m strongly opposed to Mindows.

    Still, if you can figure out a way for Apple to make the economics word—despite the huge R&D costs they have which the Dells of the world do not—I would be open to the idea. I certainly support the goal; it’s just a question of how to get there.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on Feb 07, 2003 Posts: 74
  • One additional quick point—I realize that it’s Lindows—and not Dell—which is sold at Walmart. However, with the exception of its software subscription application and perhaps an install package, the full OS—including its windowing system—is open source. By and large, the distributor of Lindows does not do its own development. The same cannot be said of Apple.

    Moreover, the Lindows machines makes use of questionable hardware components. I would hate to think of the error and failure rates of its memory and power supply and chip oscillators and so on. By using inferior hardware to keep the price down, Apple might trade one problem for another by risking the “It just works” image it has fought so hard to achieve.

    In light of the foregoing, Apple might fall victim then to an unfair double-standard in which its image is stained by these hardware failures even as the image of Windows and Linux might remain independent of them.

    Finally, what of third-party hardware peripheral support? There is a slippery slope here in respect to the device drivers Apple would make available—though I concede this issue applies to the Marklar release as well and is not one confined only to the low-end “Mindows” computer idea.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on Feb 07, 2003 Posts: 74
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