Steve Jobs Wanted Dell to Install Mac OS on PCs

Steve Jobs Unveiling Apple MacBook Air During Apple Keynote

In a nostalgic conversation with CNET, Dell CEO Michael Dell revealed that at one time, Steve Jobs wanted the company to license Mac OS and run it on Intel-based PCs. Had that materialized, it could have changed the PC industry as we know it.

According to Dell’s narration, the late Apple co-founder first approached him for a partnership after establishing NeXT following his exit from Apple. Jobs claimed that the NeXT OS was superior to Windows and wanted Dell to use it on his company’s PCs. Dell refused, citing valid reasons that there were no applications for it and there was “zero customer interest.”

After rejoining Apple, Jobs reportedly tried pitching Mac OS to Dell in another licensing deal. Jobs persuaded Dell saying that PC buyers could choose between Mac OS and Microsoft Windows.

“He said, look at this – we’ve got this Dell desktop and it’s running Mac OS,” Dell tells me. “Why don’t you license the Mac OS?”

Dell was convinced and offered to pay Jobs a licensing fee for every Dell computer sold with Mac OS. However, Jobs was worried that this would chew into the Mac’s market share because Dell PCs were cheaper. Jobs actually wanted Dell to load Mac OS alongside Windows on every computer sold. However, this would have cost Dell hundreds of millions in royalties.

Dell smiles when he tells the story. “The royalty he was talking about would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, and the math just didn’t work, because most of our customers, especially larger business customers, didn’t really want the Mac operating system,” he writes. “Steve’s proposal would have been interesting if it was just us saying, “OK, we’ll pay you every time we use the Mac OS” – but to pay him for every time we didn’t use it … well, nice try, Steve!”

The royalty costs caused the deal to fall apart since Dell lost interest. Additionally, at the time, Dell wasn’t guaranteed access to Mac OS in the future. This would put Dell customers in a spot as Mac OS evolved since the company would not be able to provide customer support for it.

Dell said, had the deal gone through, “It could have changed the trajectory for Windows and Mac OS on PCs” and we couldn’t agree more. Imagine if Apple never had to launch the iMac in 1998!

Despite the deal falling apart and several other differences of opinion over the years, Dell remained friends with Jobs. At one time, Dell was asked what he would do to fix Apple if he was the CEO. He said, “I’d shut the company down and give money back to shareholders,” which angered Jobs. Ultimately, Jobs used Dell’s quote to motivate his team. Dell respected that and told CNET, “I probably would’ve done much the same thing if I was in his position. When the company you started is fighting for its life, you do whatever it takes.”

Dell’s interactions with Jobs, how their friendship developed, and his fascination with the Apple II, have been included in his newly-published memoir “Play Nice But Win”.

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