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One Small Step for Intel; Giant Leap for Apple?

Thursday, 26 Jun 2008 | 12:26 PM ET

This might be more a leap of faith, but it's a leap worth considering for both Intel and Apple, especially after the blogs have been awash this week about speculation over Intel's resistance to upgrade 80,000 employee computers to Microsoft's Vista.

This all began with a post on the Inquirer website on Monday (which is a fun site to visit from time to time, by the way), suggesting that Intel has decided not to upgrade to perennial Microsoft whipping boy Windows Vista operating system. The New York Times picked up on this story last night, and posted the news on its blog.

Which led to me to call a source at Intel who confirms to me this morning that indeed, while Intel continues Vista trials, the company has not decided to adopt the OS. That the current XP is working out just fine. That "the transition to a new operating system for a company this large is a daunting task" and Intel wants to make sure that whatever they decide to use next works best for the company and its 80,000 employees.

But like millions of consumers faced with upgrade questions of their own, I asked about the Mac. I mean, if you have to upgrade to something new anyway, daunting or not, what about the Mac operating system?

"What about it," this source said. "We have Team Apple already here and we already support the Mac." Would Intel consider a more ambitious transition, say, from XP to OSX? This source fell just short of saying "anything's possible," but it's clear there's an attraction there. A flirtation. A possibility. An interest. And by not dismissing it outright, it seems indeed that anything's possible. I laughed because it was kind of like an after-thought, that the magnitude of such a decision was being downplayed. Why would it be such a big deal, he asked sheepishly? "Because Intel is the 'tel' in 'Win-Tel," the Windows/Intel partnership that defined the tech industry for decades. "Oh that," he said. "I can tell you that the Win-Tel thing is over played not just to an extent, but to a great extent."

Sure, it's still possible that Intel stays with Microsoft; or even makes the jump to Linux. But with the growing closeness between Santa Clara and Cupertino, and the wild success the two have enjoyed since Apple made its own leap from IBM to Intel microprocessors a few years back, the Mac has an "in" at this iconic enterprise customer that it never had before. And yes, 80,000 new Macs would certainly be a boon to Apple from a financial point of view. But from a public relations, and message-sending point of view, nothing would be more monumental. Well, Microsoft upgrading itself to the Mac platform I suppose would be more monumental. But I digress.

Says Gene Munster at Piper Jaffrey, "That's kind of the equivalent of China going capitalistic."

Steve Ballmer recently said in Carlsbad, Calif. that Vista is installed on more than 140 million PCs globally. He and Bill Gates both acknowledged that the OS wasn't perfect, that if they had to do it over again, there'd certainly be changes, and that interoperability would be addressed more effectively. And while this coming Monday marks the end of Microsoft's Windows XP shipments, Microsoft will let Dell, HP and Lenovo continue selling "cheap desktops" with XP running on them through 2010. That's little solace for enterprise customers looking for faster, more powerful machines running an OS that can properly support their ever increasingly complex needs.

If there's "news" here, it's that what was once unthinkable, that no less a corporate customer than Intel Corp. could consider not just any OS alternative, but one from Apple, is now a possibility, no matter how remote. That's got to make the folks in Cupertino smile. And broadly.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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