Needham & Co analyst Charles Wolf believes Apple is in position to achieve a massive growth in its market share - with consumers very ready to make the switch.

Apple should make every effort to eliminate every last obstacle that may prevent a PC user moving to Mac, he says, particularly as the Intel processor switch means Apple can now "match the performance of Windows PCs".

Huge migration possible

Wolf's research suggests that consumers and others may be on the edge of a mass Mac migration: "The magnitude of possible Windows defectors suggests that Apple should go all out to remove the few remaining hurdles to running Windows apps on a Mac," Wolf writes.

"Our online survey of college students reveals the possibility of a dramatic increase in switching," he adds.

The analyst also pointed out that the move means Intel Macs "should" be able to run Windows applications as fast as they run on PCs, "after a few technical problems are solved".

Wolf's survey showed that if Apple was to make it easy for Macs to run Windows applications the number of students who would buy an Apple computer would double.

Windows + Mac = Apple 10% market share

"To measure the possible impact of the Mac's impending versatility, we conducted an online survey of 255 college students. Two important statistics emerged when the Mac could run Windows apps. First, the mean likelihood of purchasing a Mac rose dramatically - from 24.7 per cent to 44 per cent. Second, the percentage of Windows users who would definitely buy a Mac rose from 1.8 per cent to 13.5 per cent.

Wolf sees the ability to run Windows applications on a Mac as potentially even more beneficial to Apple's market share than the iPod halo effect.

"Our results are almost too good to be true in highlighting the possible increase in the Mac's market share once it can run Windows apps. The increase from 1.8 per cent to 13.5 per cent in the percentage of respondents who would definitely switch underscores this potential. And if
applied to the US home market, the 80 per cent increase in the mean switching rate (from 24.7 per cent to 44 per cent) would raise Apple's share in this market to 9.2 per cent. Such an increase would translate into almost one million additional sales, equivalent to a 22 per cent increase in Apple's 2005 Mac shipments."

Will they, won't they, are they?

However, Apple is its own Achilles Heel, Wolf warns. When the company announced its shift to Intel processors in June 2005, Apple took the line that it would not sell or support Windows itself, "but would do nothing in its hardware design to prevent users running that OS if they liked," Wolf writes.

"In our opinion, Apple comments are important for what they don't say. They leave open the possibility that it will support the efforts of others to bring Windows to the Mac platform. Indeed, there have been unconfirmed reports that Apple itself may be secretly working on virtualisation software
that would provide native support for Windows," he writes.

Apple has the most to gain from allowing such support to emerge, Wolf said.