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Apple plans Linux-Mac launch for MacWorld

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Apple's new Macs, due for announcement next month at MacWorld, will include one that runs Linux, according to US paper Computer Retail Week. The report quotes unnamed retail sources as saying the new machine will not be a retail product, however. Apple launching a machine that runs Linux is not, however, news, and whatever it is the company intends to do with Linux at MacWorld has to somewhat more advanced than that. Apple has been running a relatively low-key Linux project, MKLinux, for some time, and released DR3 (Developer Release 3) of the OS in July. MKLinux is intended to run on PowerPC Macs, which means that Apple already does ship quite a few machines that run Linux. Not all of them do (there's a compatibility list on the MKLinux site), one of those that doesn't being the iMac. Apple will be announcing the new G3 range at MacWorld, and as most G3s already support MKLinux, you'd expect at least some of the new ones to do so. So what's the news? It would seem likely that Apple intends to announce some form of increased enthusiasm for Linux, but the company has to go carefully. Historically the company has been extremely protective of the uniqueness of its own OS, and since Steve Jobs' second coming, it's been even more protective. Jobs, remember, brought the Mac clone industry to an unceremonious full stop in order to protect the uniqueness of Apple's products. This kind of attitude obviously doesn't sit terribly well with the Open Source philosophy. But on the other hand, there are clear attractions associated with combining Macs and Linux. Macs are strong in education, and Linux has great potential there. Linux has a lot of applications that aren't dependent on the goodwill (we use the word advisedly) of Microsoft, whereas Apple is currently in thrall to Microsoft for Office for the Mac. And there does seem to be a logic to offering Macs as Linux platforms par excellence. People who don't like Microsoft software quite often don't like PCs either, so McLinux could be a killer combination. Initially, the logical route for Apple might be to start selling McLinux machines as an alternative, on a 'suck it and see' basis. If this is successful, some kind of convergent strategy, or maybe a skunkworks (although we think MKLinux is a skunkworks already) might make sense. There are a couple of other factors worth bearing in mind here. Apple already has, via its OpenStep/Rhapsody development, something in the way of a cross-platform strategy, albeit a stalled one. Linux as a base, with Apple GUI technology plus Linux developer support could make an interesting and possibly successful combination. The other factor that people (wrongly) have stopped worrying about in the past year or so is Apple's base hardware platform. PowerPC is not necessarily going to be around forever, the Motorola and IBM roadmaps are diverging, and either or both companies could still at some point pull the plugs. Apple has switched platforms before, and could do so again, but taking an Open Source route when it does so would be cheaper and quite possibly more successful. But there's still the problem of combining Open Source code and proprietary instincts and policies. If Apple starts tilting more towards Linux, it'll be fascinating to see how this one plays out. ® See also Apple ponders cross-platform future for MacOS

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