After reading the transcripts of this morning’s WWDC keynote, I’m now feeling pretty good about Apple’s path. They’re going to have sales problems in mid 2006, but for now, there’s no reason for Mac users to avoid buying new systems. I’m still planning on going PowerBook shopping in a few months, and I suspect that most existing Mac users won’t see a problem with buying PPC-based Macs, at least until the x86 ones start appearing on the horizon. I can see waiting 2-3 months for new systems, but waiting for 18 months because something better is coming is just dumb.

The big question on a lot of minds (mine and my co-workers, at least) is whether Apple will sell OS X for non-Apple x86 systems. After today’s announcements, it’s clear that they’ll be technically able to do it in mid 2006. The only real difference between OS X for x86 Macs and OS X for x86 PCs is driver support (er, and bootloader, BIOS, installer, ACPI, and disk partitioning), and I’d bet any amount of money that Apple has people in-house expanding their driver support to allow them to run on generic PCs.

But, just because they can sell OS X for PCs doesn’t mean that they will. Sometime in early 2006, Apple will have to make a decision–are they going to try to take on Microsoft on their home turf, or are they going to stick to their usual niche and try to sell more Mac hardware. With most companies, it’d be a purely financial decision, but with Apple it’ll probably be more of a “where does Steve want to go today” sort of thing. And there’s only one person who can answer that.

Even if Apple decides against selling OS X for generic PCs, though, it isn’t going to stop people from doing it themselves. Unless Apple goes to great lengths, we’re going to see people taking bits of Darwin and grafting them onto the OS X for x86 install DVD and building their own OS X for PC systems. It’ll be just like XPostFacto all over again. It’ll be uglier then OS X on x86 Macs, and the bootloader will be downright strange, but it’ll happen. Or, alternately, someone could graft most of the bootloader and some of the hardware emulation into something like Xen; when running on a PC with either of the new virtualization technologies, that’d be a great way to get both OS X and Linux running on the same physical hardware.

It’s going to happen. Personally, I think it’ll take about two months after production x86 Macs start shipping before you see packaged instructions and tools for building a OS X PC. One of my co-workers thinks that the clock is going to start running as soon as Apple’s P4 development systems start shipping, but I doubt that we’ll see leaks this early–Apple sued people who leaked early Tiger images, and it’d be foolhardy to assume that Apple will ship complete x86 development systems without embedding serial numbers and identifying information all over the place.

Either way, though, there will be small numbers of non-Apple OS X PCs by late 2006. I wonder how Apple will respond.

Update: The rumors start.