It's almost impossible, when looking at Microsoft's Vista beta not to think about Apple and MacOS X. One thing that keeps popping up when you do that is the possibility that Apple's Intel decision was a replay of their 1993 decision to out-source much of their hardware production to the PC industry because Windows 4.0 was going to take away their market.
That decision led to serious quality problems at the time and crippled Apple's ability to meet an upsurge in product orders when the appearance of Windows 95 two years later finally drove part of Microsoft's base to look at the original instead of the copy.
You'd hope they'd have learned, but if the same formula is working again for Microsoft and Apple's public decisions are broadly similar in scope and consequence, perhaps we should at least wonder if maybe history isn't repeating itself here. If so, however, there's a difference that could possibly work out to Apple's great advantage.
That difference is in the opportunities presented by Microsoft's new client architecture - the XAML/WPL (Windows presentation layer) stuff I talked about yesterday. If those APIs were somehow available to Apple then a fairly simple run-time tool could let Mactel machines run Vista compliant Windows applications interchangeably with MacOS X applications.
I could see people at Apple, say a year or so ago, getting all excited about the potential for that as a response to having their market eaten by the latest retro-edition of MacOS X from Microsoft.
They'd need a Plan B, of course just in case either Microsoft's product delays didn't last long enough to get their Intel gear into the market first or they cancelled the interface layer for this rendition. That plan B would likely have been an arrangement with Adobe to finally open source Postscript and release all related patents - thereby freeing Apple to release a Quartz based version of OpenOffice.org in direct competition with Microsoft Office.
In other words the plan might have been to either run Microsoft Office and related applications native, or if actions by Microsoft made that ambition unrealistic, go into direct competition with it.
All of that's pure speculation, of course but it more or less fits the facts we do know and suggests that Apple's top people saw Vista as narrowing the gap, drew the same (erroneous?) conclusion they did on seeing Windows 4.0 demos, and placed their strategic bets accordingly. If so, they could win at this -largely because Apple has been able to close the source for its new kernel and get most of its MacTel line into the market while the PC industry has been on hold waiting for Microsoft and Intel to get last year's products out the door.