If Apple ever decides to let its Mac OS X operating system outside of the confines of its own hardware, Dell founder Michael Dell may well be a customer.

With the news that Apple plans to start buying Dell’s x86 processors, the chip giant has expressed interest in selling OS X-based PCs.

"If Apple decides to open the Mac OS to others, we would be happy to offer it to our customers," a spokesperson said.

Apple, however, is not keen on striking a deal with the world's largest PC vendor.

"Mac OS X will only run on Macs. Apple has no plans to sell Mac OS X software to run on PCs," said an Apple spokesperson.

Dell's interest in OS X raises numerous questions about how such a partnership would work. The company’s current PC product strategy is famously one-sided: Microsoft's Windows operating system and Intel's processors for all. Dell executives believe this arrangement allows them to keep costs down.

However, Mac OS X, with its Unix underpinnings and secure reputation, might pique the interests of many IT managers looking for a low-cost PC that’s easy to maintain. And Dell's position as the industry market-share leader could expose Mac OS to a much wider range of users. But Apple can't afford to let Mac OS X loose, according to Roger Kay, vice president of research firm IDC. If OS X could be separated from Apple's hardware, hackers would have pirated copies out on the streets with little delay, he said.

This would cause great harm to Apple's business model, which emphasises its tight control over the combination of hardware and software as a premium product, he added.

At least one analyst believes Apple is due for a day of reckoning with this strategy, especially now that it plans to move to x86 chips. Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64 in Saratoga, California, thinks it is only a matter of time before someone in the PC industry sues Apple for tying its operating system to a specific type of hardware – available only from Apple.

"If you sell software that can run on hardware that you do make and hardware that you don't make, you cannot require people to buy your hardware to run your software," Brookwood said. If Dell really wanted to sell Mac OS X hardware, it could force the issue through the legal system, he added.