I've never been the biggest Apple booster. In the past, I found its overpriced machines and limited third party software off-putting and the attitude of the Mac faithful odious.

But despite my latest tongue-in-cheek lambasting of Boot Camp, I've recently begun changing my mind.

I'm no stranger to the Macintosh line. We had one of the first Mac Classics at home when I was growing up — my father's company, Peat Marwick Mitchell, standardized on them for auditors. And I recently picked up a sleek 17-inch iMac to add a simple compute station into our home office.

But some of Apple's recent moves leave me even more impressed.

Start with the Mac Pro. The dual Core 2 Extreme processors inside aren't anything special, but the industrial design is breathtaking.

Each system component has its own compartment, and can be easily upgraded with a minimum of fuss. I love the screwless SATA drives that can be plugged in with just a bit of force, and the memory modules also make it easy to add more RAM.

Our PC expert Joel Santo Domingo was similarly smitten — don't miss the pictures and detailed analysis in his upcoming Mac Pro review.

The new version of OS X is also impressive. After a recent tour, I found myself constantly asking, "When will Vista do that?"

Time Machine, which delivers constant backup and versioning of your software, seems to be a fail-safe way to preserve music, photos, and other important files at work and at home. The multi-desktop capability is nothing new, but seems particularly well integrated into the OS.

I'm still not sold on OS X as an alternative to Vista, but others are less hesitant.

In fact, Apple has a significant opportunity to trump Vista as the desktop OS — if only it would stop insisting on being the sole hardware supplier for the operating system.

It's not wishful thinking. I've talked with top execs from two of the top 10 PC makers recently, and both said they'd be more than happy to sell PCs running OS X.

One was Michael Dell, who promised to start selling OS X-based machines as soon as Apple opened the doors.

The other will remain nameless, but went even further, claiming he'd chuck Windows out of the building in a New York minute, and deliver a 100 percent OS X lineup — if only Apple would let him.

I wonder whether Apple realizes how much Windows angst is out in the market.

Forget the failed Power Computing experiment from the mid-nineties. Now is the time for Apple to do OS licensing right.

And they should go further than just licensing the OS to PC vendors. Why not let the alpha geeks build their own OS X machines too?

Will the next PC I buy (or build) actually run OS X 10.5?

I'm tempted to pick up a Mac Pro today, as the pricing is pretty good for such a powerful machine. I'd still run Vista on it — at least at first. And I'm still a bit hesitant to purchase an Apple Computer for the sole purpose of running Vista.

Others aren't as hesitant, though. Robyn Peterson, top gun at PCMag.com, has been chronicling his experiences on making the Windows-to-Apple switch.

But Apple has a much broader opportunity than simply making and selling its own machines.

First, they should certify the Mac Pro as "Ready for Vista." And then they should really open up the OS market to anyone with the money and commitment to Apple's standards — because Microsoft is vulnerable, the Windows empire has cracks, and the products coming from Infinity Loop have broad appeal.

I'm not sure the company's own ego will allow itself to embrace the opportunity. But — Apple, are you listening? — now is the time to seize the day.

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