MacIntel: The Thin Client Theory

by Chris Howard Jun 13, 2005

If you happened to be on Mars for the last month, you might have thought you’d arrived back on the wrong planet.

Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo all switching to chips made by Apple’s ship supplier, IBM. But then Apple (or is that now Appel?) switching to Intel.

I wasn’t quite on Mars, I was in my nation’s capital (Canberra, Australia) for a week and had no contact with the internet or media. I get back and discover that IntHell has frozen over! Or is that AppHell?

Who turned off the heating? Has Hell been using PowerPC CPUs all this time - which as we know from Steve - run quite hot? Has Hell switched to the cooler Intel CPUs?


There are a couple of reasons I can see for this switch - Apple’s that is, not Hell’s. One is obvious. Apple can get a cut of the PC market. Sure the profits are slim but it can boost Apple’s market share significantly. Apple is a Tier 1 vendor, along with HP, Dell and IBM (although they are leaving the market). So if you only shop Tier 1, then you have a third option to replace the departing IBM.

Is this legitimate? Phil Schiller has already said you can run Windows on the x86 Macs, so why not? As an IT Manager currently buying Dell, I’d consider it, especially given the tight control over the hardware by Apple. Apple will not have a raft of configurations such as Dell has. They will still maintain a streamlined inventory. So in fact, the x86 Macs could quite feasibly become the most stable Windows PCs available! How’s that for irony?

Furthermore, if Apple can increase its market share up to 10 or 12% and even if a lot of that is Windows’ buyers, it gives them significantly more clout with Intel - something they’d lost with IBM because of their dwindling market share.

The end of the world?

Apple will still control the hardware. This is important. It’s not like Linux where if you have an x86 PC, you can run Linux on it. Yeah sure, clever folks will come out with hacks to allow you to run OS X Leopard on any x86 box, but it will be struggle to take off as there will need to be drivers for the plethora of hardware but to get drivers requires demand and importantly, a legitimate, supported OS. Apple isn’t ever going to support anything but their own x86 Macs because they’d end up with the same compatibility headaches as Windows. So unless Apple license OS X to other vendors (yeah right - when DHell freezes over), accessing drivers for non-supported x86 machines will be a major struggle and remain the domain of hackers and geeks.

So no end of the world. Apple will continue on just as they are today, making a proprietary OS and computer. Well for a few more years anyway…

If you do want the end of the world, you’re going to have to wait for thin-client computing.

Thin Client Computing

Thin client computing means the OS and applications are hosted remotely. In this scenario you will subscribe to the applications you require.

Thin client computing is Apple’s biggest long-term threat. Anyone who makes computers or OSes is under threat. This is quite possibly also a major reason behind the switch to Intel.

I’m not going to go into the what’s, why’s and wherefores of thin-client computing otherwise this article would double in size. But it is coming to a computer near you. It might be five years, or even ten, but when it comes where will that leave smaller OS vendors? Microsoft will dominate this space. It is where their future lies. They need to continue to control the OS and this is the future of the OS. And they already dominate the thin-client server space. Even Citrix, one of the biggest names in thin-client computing, requires a Windows server to run on.

Here comes Appel

So with Microsoft dominating the OS for thin-client servers and the disappearance of the desktop PC where would that leave Apple?

Enter Appel or Macintel or whatever clever moniker you’ve thought of for it. As we know, by 2010 all Mac apps will be native Intel. And that puts them one step closer to Windows versions of their applications.

But will Microsoft trump the Apple/Intel cartel and switch Windows to the PPC platform? Unlikely for the same reasons Apple are switching. What about an alliance with AMD to develop a proprietary CPU for Windows? Unlikely again as that would alienate too many dedicated users. And Microsoft doesn’t need to. They have the desktop market and the thin-client server market cornered.

So, Apple’s switch to Intel covers the bases for the next few years and the longer-term future move to thin-client computing.


  • I’ve never been a fan or proponent of thin-client computing, but talk of its inevitability has been around for at least 10 years.  Larry Elison talked about it as if it were just around the corner in the 1995 documentary Triumph Of The Nerds.  Still hasn’t happened, but even if it did I don’t think I’m following you on why Apple’s move to Intel helps it unless you’re only looking at the hardware aspect of it.  Are you suggesting a thin-client computer made by Apple but running whatever is compatible with the Windows-dominated server OS?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 2220
  • Skynet will become real. Let’s hope it is run by Mac OS and not Windows.

    Nathan had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 219
  • Thin clients may be nifty for schools or corporations where you don’t want the users tampering with stuff, but it’s a niche product.
    It will never take off in the mainstream. Can anyone name a person keen on the idea that doesn’t work for a software company? Software as a service is a dream for Microsoft because it would solve all their problems persuading people to upgrade older versions of Office and Windows, but it won’t work because it doesn’t make any sense for the customers.

    henrrrik had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 5
  • Think client computing isn’t going to take ahold anytime soon. IT managers want more control over their network and images to abdicate to some app running over a network.

    Apple’s motivation for the Intel switch is clear.

    1. Powerbook/iBook will far outsell Powermacs going forward.

    2. Intel has an unbeatable product for this laptop market in the Pentium M and future 65nm parts.

    3. Intel has DRM that is Trustworthy Computing compliant. Apple has to ensure they are at on this train.

    4. Stock issues and chipsets. Intel does most of the heavy lifting for you with CPU and chipset design. Why extend the effort when they do a capable job? Apple can focus on integration and software.

    None of us are truly wedded to’s the OS and applications that generate our productivity. I look forward to the Macintel future.

    hmurchison had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 145
  • “IT managers want more control over their network and images”

    That’s the exact reason IT Managers are very interested in thin-client!  Nothing gives IT Mangers control like thin-client! I loved it in my last job.  It’s God’s gift to the IT department.

    Thin-client computing over the internet to home users will happen. The big selling point will be that the user will no longer have to be a PC whiz. I know - some smartie will say just get a Mac.  With a Mac you still have to install updates for apps and the OS though and do backups. The vendor would do all that for you - as web hosts do now for your website.

    My expectation is around 10 years it will be common place. And that isn’t long. 10 years ago there was no Windows 95 (it was still a couple of months away). 10 years ago the internet was barely an infant and we were using 9.6Kbps modems. 10 years previous the Mac was only a year old. A lot changes in ten years.

    Today’s thin-client issues will be non-existent in 10 years. And as I’ve said, MS will be the dominant player in the thin-client server market - and if they aren’t they might not exist.  MS’s core is Windows Server. Thin-client will take out Windows client. If Windows server isn’t dominant, then neither will be MS Office or MSSQL.  So that would leave MS with nothing.

    So, MS’s future depends on them dominating the thin-client server market.

    Reality is you could setup such a service right now.

    In my previous job where we were moving to thin client, connecting via VPN through the internet at 512/128kbps produced quite acceptable performance in all except graphic apps.

    So if you setup a public TC service with a monthly subscription, and if I’m just doing word processing, spreadsheets, email and surfing the ‘net, why wouldn’t I be interested? And imagine - I could log in to my session ANYWHERE in the world - without having to carry any hardware with me.

    As far as why Apple’s move to Intel helps in the inevitability of the move to thin-client, “that puts them one step closer to Windows versions of their applications.”

    If Apple have been maintaining a “just in case” version of OS X for x86 for the last 5 years, what chance they’d be developing “just in case” versions for Windows of their applications over the next ten? Very high I’d say.

    And knowing Apple, they’d have some clever way of doing it - like they have with the universal binaries for the CPUs, maybe universal binaries for the OS?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jun 13, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • For a good explanation of what thin client computing really is, take a look at this link:


    steveg219 had this to say on Jun 14, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Thin client is DEAD. Dead as dead. I cannot believe people are still hanging on to this idea as the future of computing. It has many benefits for sure, but for it to become mainstream is another matter. I would bet on mass adoption of flying cars before I would bet on thin client.
    I don’t want to have all my stuff (personal and sensitive files and documents) to be stored remotely. I want them here with me (on my hard drive). For many applications, at least for your average computer users, there is no better place to run their apps. than a regular PC. Sure, there might be some applications that just require too much processing power, but this is where distributed computing comes in, not thin client.
    Also, servers (“mainframes” if you would) would become quite attractive targets for the digital criminals out there. Just imagine the amount of valuable information stored on these servers, and if I had no regard for law and order, I’d try like hell trying to steal information from these servers.
    Personal computers are getting more complicated these days, and yes, there are many compatibility issues, but I think they can be overcome.
    I think at most, thin client computing can somewhat thrive in a corporate environment in the future. When it comes to cosumer domain, forget about it.

    BeanPile had this to say on Jun 14, 2005 Posts: 1
  • BeanPile, time will tell which of us is right. Having recently been an IT manager seeing the renewed interest in and uptake of thin-client in the corporate world, I am confident of it’s future both in the corporate and home environments.

    As far as the issue of people’s information being stored remotely, people will get used to that.  Bear in mind that services allowing you to backup your data to the internet have been around for years.  Apple offer it with their .Mac accounts. Also when you’re connected to the internet, your data is probably at best only equally secure to it being stored on a remote server.

    On the thought that “Also, servers (“mainframes” if you would) would become quite attractive targets for the digital criminals out there”

    - I can’t see the value in all those Joe Blogs’ documents, letters to grandma etc. Hackers maybe just for fun but cybercriminals?  How much dross would they have to dredge through to find something interesting.

    - I assume you don’t use online shopping or banking yet as you don’t trust the security of those centralized data servers?

    - I also expect that the terminals will allow you to copy your data to and from removable media (as they do now)

    I’ll meet you back here in 10 years and we’ll see how right and wrong we both were.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jun 14, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • This article is just what I was looking for a long time! Where did you get it? How could you write it so clear and so knowingly? That’s awesome! Thanks a lot!
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    Samuel had this to say on Sep 16, 2011 Posts: 26
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