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Investor: Apple once toyed with licensing Mac OS to Compaq

updated 04:25 pm EDT, Sun October 23, 2011

Jobs had explored non-exclusive Mac OS in 1999

Tech investor and temporary Compaq CEO Ben Rosen has mentioned in a look back at Steve Jobs' life that the Apple executive at one point had considered returning the Mac to a non-exclusive. Jobs in mid-1999 had raised the prospects of putting the Mac OS on Compaq PCs as an additional choice next to Windows. The aim would have been to give the Mac OS extra credibility by putting it on computers from the world's largest Windows PC builder, possibly overturning the industry.

Both sides quickly dropped the idea, Rosen said. Jobs, often an advocate for tightly integrated hardware and software, saw Apple losing a key advantage. Compaq, meanwhile, was still beholden to Microsoft.

The option would have come in the middle of the Department of Justice's antitrust investigation, but at a time when Microsoft was still willing to 'punish' companies for daring to use competing operating systems. For a time, Microsoft demanded Windows royalty on every PC a partner sold, whether or not it had Windows installed.

While it's commonplace for executives from different companies to explore ideas that don't go further than initial concepts, the talk itself is surprising as it contradicts the business model that many credited with saving Apple. Shortly after coming back as interim CEO in 1997, Jobs axed Mac clones as they weren't gaining market share and were killing sales of Apple's costlier but still vital hardware. A narrow selection of hardware and software was key to the iMac. Letting Compaq have access might have boosted Apple's recognition but would also have created uncertainty in the hardware and possibly repeated Apple's troubles from the mid-1990s.

Apple only started regrowing its market share in earnest several years later, while Compaq as part of HP kept the lead. Thanks to Jobs and his fellow management having a quick grasp of mobile technology, however, Apple is now a larger company than HP and has led to HP possibly quitting PCs after worries that Apple's iPad had made traditional PCs an unprofitable industry.

Rosen has been using a Mac since 2007. [via 9to5]

By Electronista Staff
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