The backstory: Sony’s 2001 offer from Steve Jobs to run Mac OS on Vaio laptops [Updated]


Update: the rumor was true, Sony confirmed that it is selling its PC business and the VAIO brand to Japan Industrial Partners, with the deal set to complete by the end of March.

Former Sony President Kunitake Ando says that Sony turned down an offer from Steve Jobs back in 2001 to allow it to run Mac OS on Vaio laptops, several years after the original Mac clone program ended in 1998.

Speaking to freelance writer Nobuyuki Hayashi, Ando described the moment Steve Jobs met senior Sony execs to make the offer.

Most of Sony’s executives spent their winter vacation in Hawaii and play golf after celebrating the new year. In one of those new year golf competitions back in 2001, ” Steve Jobs and another Apple executive were waiting for us at the end of golf course holding VAIO running Mac OS”

But there is an interesting Backstory told through Quora by the wife of an ex-Apple Engineer working on the Marklar project… 

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Apple had commissioned Sony to help design the PowerBook range launched ten years earlier, and Jobs was known to admire Sony’s work. Ando said the feeling was mutual, with Sony feeling the Mac and Vaio shared a similar philosophy, and expressing admiration for the first iMac.

But the timing was bad for Sony […] Sony’s VAIO gained popularity and it is just about the time that VAIO team had finished optimizing both VAIO’s hardware and software specifically for the Windows platform.
Because of this, most of the VAIO team opposed [the idea], asking ‘if it is worth it.’

The story has the ring of truth about it. A Quora post by the wife of one of the Apple team working on the Intel Mac describes Apple secretly working on running Mac OS on a Vaio in the same year.

In December 2001, Joe tells JK, “I need to justify your salary in my budget. Show me what you’re working on.”

At this point, JK has three PCs in his office at Apple, and another three in the office at home, all sold to him by a friend who sells custom built PCs (can’t order them through the usual Apple channels because no one in the company knows what he’s working on). All are running the Mac OS.

In JK’s office, Joe watches in amazement as JK boots up an Intel PC and up on the screen comes the familiar ‘Welcome to Macintosh’.

Joe pauses, silent for a moment, then says, “I’ll be right back.”

He comes back a few minutes later with Bertrand Serlet.

Max (our 1-year-old) and I were in the office when this happened because I was picking JK up from work. Bertrand walks in, watches the PC boot up, and […] tells JK to go to Fry’s(the famous West Coast computer chain) and buy the top of the line, most expensive Vaio they have. So off JK, Max and I go to Frys. We return to Apple less than an hour later. By 7:30 that evening, the Vaio is running the Mac OS. […]

The next morning, Steve Jobs is on a plane to Japan to meet with the President of Sony.

Details of where the meeting took place aside, the two stories gel.

While Sony’s Vaio range was indeed hugely successful at the time, 13 years later – at a time when Sony is rumored to be planning to sell most of its personal computer division – the decision may look a little less smart.

Sony’s story does also serve as a reminder that no company is too big or too successful to fail. In the early noughties, the Vaio range was the coolest laptop around. Not even Apple’s iBook and Powerbook range of the time were quite as desirable. Apple’s position today as king of cool may look unassailable today, but history suggests that only maintaining its design momentum can keep it there.

Via The Verge

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  1. alphabetize1 - 9 years ago

    How interesting! I wonder how that would’ve changed the PC landscape had they gone ahead with it.

    • rlowhit - 9 years ago

      It would have worked out the same anyway, eventually Apple would have just made their own hardware and slowly abandoned Sony and Sony would still sell off their PC business.

  2. Nobuyuki Hayashi - 9 years ago

    Hi, thank you for catching my story.
    I completely forgot about this JK posts until I found a comment on MacRumors.
    If you follow the Quora posts carefully, you would find me posting today’s story back in 2012.
    And the wife of JK said she was unsure if Steve was heading to Japan:

    I thought it would be interesting to see the stories on both end, so I have updated my blog (added the JK story):



  3. Sarath Jaladanki - 9 years ago

    Good news to hear but I am thinking if the deal would have worked out, then after some years, say a decade, the partnership would have ended and Apple would have decided to keep the Mac OS only to themselves. Either way, it would have remained in the history !

  4. Apple (and probably JK, for that matter) had been looking at x86 for a long time. They had classic Mac OS running on x86 in 1992. OPENSTEP ran on x86, as did developer releases of Rhapsody/Yellow Box in 1998, long before OS X 10.0 shipped. Apple kept OS X running internally on x86 for years (presumably as leverage and as “Plan B” if IBM/PowerPC didn’t deliver) until Jobs finally “flipped the switch” in 2005.

    These days I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple maintains ARM builds not only of iOS but of “Mac” OS X as well, but who knows? It’s good to have options. ;-)

  5. p.s. Apparently at some point someone at Quora must have said “you know, web hyperlinks that bring people to our site are a terrible thing – let’s make it so that they don’t do anything useful, and let’s make it as annoying as possible by pretending to show the rest of the page but blurring the heck out of it!”)

  6. Srinivas Pendyala - 9 years ago

    I am glad that this never happened. I met a lot of population who owned VAIO and later regretted for having one. Awful quality of PCs I ever owned. I had to replace 3 new VAIOs in the first one year itself ( And I got top of the line in those days -year 2000 OR 2001) and SONY themselves got frustrated with their quality builds. Decline of VAIO is a perfect example of just ” the looks does not matter”. It is the quality, look and robustness that makes the “Macs” the best. I respect SONY but NOT for VAIO.


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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