Readers: Let the Pigs Fly

Recently, I asked readers to comment on my thesis that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is best compared to Inside Value and Stock Advisor selection Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) . As expected, the responses were passionate and varied. Here are some of the best.

Apple got soul
Overwhelmingly, readers favored the idea of Macs being able to boot Windows. Most consider it a brilliant strategy for exposing unwashed masses of Windows users to the glory that is Mac OS X, prompting them to switch to Apple. Or, as one reader says, "Apple got soul. No one else does."

But a legion of switchers is only the beginning, says this reader. His take is that Apple is at the dawn of a comprehensive consumer electronics strategy that will make it the Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) of the 21st century. I've long considered that argument, and Apple CEO Steve Jobs has certainly shown a degree of admiration for Sony. For example, he invited Sony's president up on stage with him at Macworld 2005, then said that Apple would be willing to someday work with Sony on computers and music.

What happens when the wind blows cold?
Others think that Apple's emphasis on design is as much a weakness as a strength. Says one reader, "When was the last time you saw something that everybody had and everybody used that was stylish and stayed that way? It (the Mac) might be well designed. It might be very easy to use or otherwise deal with. But, to mangle a line from The Incredibles, when every computer is special, none will be."

Maybe so, Fool. But history says otherwise. Time and again, Apple under Jobs has proven its ability to deliver products that consumers crave. With the exception of Jobs' brainchild from a few years back, the praised but unpurchased G4 Cube, famous flops such as the Newton personal digital assistant were the purview of other CEOs. (Newton was the brainchild of John Sculley, for example.) And for now, at least, Boot Camp makes the new Macs even more special: Only a Mac will let you boot to both Windows and Mac OS X.

Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers!
A vocal minority of readers worried that Boot Camp will give software makers such as Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) and Adobe (Nasdaq: ADBE  ) the excuse they need to kill development of Mac-specific software, cutting into one of the Mac's key differentiators. Says one, "This 'brilliant' move by Jobs may reduce (the number of Mac software) developers to zero and send Mac users flocking to Windows software in droves."

Others vehemently disagree on this point. It's the switching argument again. The thinking goes that, as more Windows users embrace OS X, developers will be more inclined to beef up their OS X offerings, not the other way around. Maybe, but the critics point out that Avie Tevanian, a principal architect of Mac OS X, recently left the company. Did he see the writing on the wall for OS X? Has Apple conceded that it's a Windows world after all?

Frankly, it's easy to see both sides of this argument. But I'm inclined to believe that neither is correct. I'm a fairly typical Mac user, and all I want is a home for my software. I'll use Boot Camp when I upgrade my Mac because the best online stock screener -- found at MSN Money -- is accessible only through Windows and Internet Explorer. For most everything else, my Mac works just dandy, thanks. I suspect most Windows users feel similarly when it comes to their PCs.

You're just confused
For many others, Boot Camp is much ado about nothing. And that includes Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak: "You know, people say a bunch of PC people will now buy Macs. No. What I really want is just a window (so) that I can go back and forth instantly. I don't have to reboot. I go to Macintosh, I go to the PC, I go to Macintosh, so right now I use 'Virtual PC.' It's a program on the Mac that emulates a PC but it's slow."

Or, as one reader put it, "If you want both OS X and Windows, I think you are confused. Or you just want it to feel good that you can run Windows as well." This strikes me as a fair point, especially when you consider how much software is already available for the Mac, and the growing number of tools that are completely Web-based.

Michael Dell has all the answers?
I'll give the last word on this subject to Dell CEO Michael Dell, who recently toldForbes that he'd be happy to offer Dell machines with Mac OS X installed. Apple's response? Not a chance.

I believe that affirms my original thesis: Apple's enemy is still Dell. There's simply no other reason to turn down another chance to widely propagate the Mac OS. Yes, I know Apple makes great software. Yes, I know Microsoft has been a thorn in Jobs' side over the years. And, yes, I am keenly aware that Apple would love to be Sony. But it isn't ... yet. Instead, Apple is a box maker that produces prodigious cash flow. Its shares should be valued accordingly. Investors who ignore this truth do so at their portfolio's peril.

Both Dell and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Get anall-access passto Inside Value to find out which other stocks are helping chief advisor Philip Durell beat the market by more than 4%. You'll also receive instructive lessons on valuation and company analysis. Give Inside Value a try; it's free for 30 days.

Fool contributorTim Beyerswould like to thank the dozens of Fools who took the time to comment on Apple's future. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in Tim's portfolio by checking his Foolprofile. The Fool'sdisclosure policyworks on any platform.


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