You often don't get opportunity without risk. Leopard truly gives Apple the chance to go mainstream, but it also makes it a bigger threat to the big 4 than it ever has been.
Strangely enough, I'm not convinced Apple represents as much of a threat to Microsoft, and am beginning to think there's a chance that if Apple is successful, Microsoft could, at least over the short term, be successful as well.
Windows on Apple
The game-changing part of Leopard isn't Time Machine or the improved search capability. It is the production-level Boot Camp that finally legitimizes Windows on an Apple PC. This creates a unique solution that IT might find compelling, one in which an employee's personal and professional activities could co-exist on the same hardware but could clearly be maintained separately. Given there are an increasing number of companies, according to Leslie Fiering over at Gartner, that are actively looking at moving to a subsidize-PC model (where the employee is given money but allowed to buy whatever laptop they want), this might put the Apple in a superior position to the Windows-only PC.
The employee gets a software bundle that includes iLife, iMovie and iTunes, and the IT shop gets access to the Windows side, which can be locked down to tools needed for work. The result could be seen as the perfect marriage of employee freedom, IT control and support cost containment, because Apple would support the base platform and IT would only have to supports its own controlled application set.
If you were watching closely, you'd have noticed that SP1 of the 64-bit edition of Windows Vista supports EFI (Extended Firmware Interface), which is used in Apple PCs and, although it was developed by Intel, not yet used in existing Windows PCs. The 64-bit edition is closer to what Vista was designed to be, and one of the reasons the 32-bit edition is likely not performing as well as hoped was because it was an afterthought.
So the 64-bit edition not only should work on a Mac, it may work better on a Mac than it does on a PC with more traditional BIOS, giving Apple another potential advantage under this blended offering.
The question is: Are companies deploying Macs and PCs side by side now? The answer is yes.
Where Macs and PCs Co-Reside
In media-creation departments, and particularly in higher education where graphics, media creation, and media editing are taught, Windows and Apple co-reside on different hardware. This is because some tools work better on one than the other, and folks want to use the right tool for the job. But if you could put both operating systems on one workstation, you could eliminate the now-redundant vendor and, currently, Apple is the only vendor where this can be done. And this is where the risk kicks in.
The Risk for Apple
Even before the large PC OEMs see the risk in the PC market, the risk of two workstations being consolidated in one Apple box will be seen as a huge competitive disadvantage and drive a competitive response. There is nothing preventing Dell and HP from building a workstation that will run both. Their limitation is Apple's restrictive license, but they likely can use the European Union to either open it up or invalidate it, much like Microsoft's competitors recently did to Microsoft. Under that scenario, Apple bleeds hardware revenue, but actually gets a little more profit margin (software generally has a higher profit margin than hardware).
Enterprise security has been getting a big push, thanks largely to a lot of regulation and the increasing likelihood that companies who lose data will be pounded both legally and financially. This means that TPMs (Trusted Platform Modules) are starting to be turned on (Wave Systems, which specializes in this, was recently showcased at an event I attended), but Apple doesn't support TPMs. The recent encrypted drives from Seagate, which tie into the TPMs and both ensure the security of the data and nearly eliminate any performance impact, are becoming a requirement. And you don't get the true value of one without the other.
This could give HP, Dell, Acer (Gateway) or Lenovo a significant hardware advantage (all support the TPM and can support this drive) if they can better address -- and they can -- this security requirement while providing a platform where an Apple OS image can run.
I'm not sure we fully realize how Leopard with fully supported Boot Camp will change the competitive marketplace. It could really boost Apple or it could crater its revenue, depending on how the combination of operating systems is handled by all involved. The odds are in favor of Apple if it moves aggressively on the opportunity, but if it doesn't, it is now more greatly exposed. In addition, this provides an opportunity for Apple to preload Windows, not instead of the Mac OS, but in addition to it. Such a solution would better ensure a consistent Boot Camp consumer experience and, at least initially, allow Apple to displace redundant vendors.
These vendors aren't going to be standing still though, so if Apple stings them, and it very well might, Apple will need to embrace the security requirements of the enterprise or watch its new opportunity get passed back to the vendors who have these accounts.
In the end, this represents the opportunity for more change than we've seen in years. And it is only the beginning because, when desktop virtualization becomes common, we'll likely add Linux to this mix and then watch the feathers fly. This last scenario is likely only a couple of years out.
The future is coming like an out-of-control freight train. The only question long term is whether Apple will be on it or under it when the train passes.