Is Microsoft Essential to the Viability of the Mac Platform?

by Hadley Stern Jul 25, 2003

imageMicrosoft and Apple have a long and sordid history. Like confused lovers they have gone from the courtroom to courting and back again and again. Beginning with the Apple II project and the question of whether Microsoft Basic would work on Apple’s machines to now there have been many downs and a few ups.

The problem is that it has been a love/hate relationship. Not even love, actually, more like like, or tolerate. Apple has known that the survival of the platform relies on it playing nicely. And, for better or worse, this means that Microsoft products need to run on the Apple platform. As Apple users we may realize that Word is not the best program out there, or that PowerPoint is responsible for more bad design than any product out there, but we know there are necessary. We need to open friend’s and client’s files, edit them and send them back. And because of the dominance of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint we need Office for the Mac.

And it appears, historically, that Microsoft has needed Apple. The Mac is living proof that Microsoft is not a monopoly; after all it does develop products for the Mac platform. Indeed, in recent years, it created a beautiful browser for the Mac. Internet Explorer blew Netscape 4 away and as much as Mac users instinctively wanted to support Netscape IE was just so much better we flocked to it. Office for OS X is well built, comprehensive and not just a ported application.

For now, however, we seem to be entering a down phase. For whatever strategic reasons, Apple decided to develop Safari and now IE looks like a slow elephant compared to the speedy and well-designed Safari. Microsoft recently announced they are discontinuing development of IE for the Mac. In and of itself this seems likes no big deal but when the browser that is used by the vast majority of users out there is no longer made for the Mac it is worrying. Microsoft has a history of trying to completely take over markets and with IE it is strikingly close. Some companies are ignoring the efforts of web standards and are just assuming that the client they are serving the page to is a Windows/IE combo. After all, when 90+ percent of the market is this way what is the economic motivation for expending the effort accommodating the 10 percent.

Microsoft is already late with the OS X version of the Exchange email client which is painful for the acceptance of OS X (sans Classic) in the corporate world. Add to that the possibility that Office could be discontinued and suddenly the situation becomes dire. With Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Virtual PC what is to stop it from saying (sarcastically), “Look Apple users, you’ve got the fastest processor out there, you want to run Office, just buy this Virtual PC/Office bundle and you are all set.”


But what is also interesting in terms of the historical relationship between Apple and Microsoft is that, perhaps for the first time, Apple is significantly poised to have its software running on Windows machines. With the advent of the iPod many PC users are getting to experience Apple outside the Macintosh paradigm. And while the software that iPod for PC users use is not currently Apple if Apple is, as has been reported elsewhere, indeed developing iTunes for windows this could change. Even more compelling, Apple could decide to develop Safari for windows.

I’m not quite sure how much it would matter if Macs could no longer run Office. AppleWorks has always been a 2nd rate product but Apple could change that very quickly. With the ability of Panther to open, edit, and save word files this could be direction Apple is going in.

Who knows what the future relationship between Apple and Microsoft holds? We’ve always used Microsoft products not because we necessarily want to, but because we have to. Will open source products fill the void (a la open office) or would the absence of Microsoft products on the Mac leave Apple as an even more niche player. Only time will tell.

What do you think? Is Microsoft essential to the Mac?

Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Pay Learn More


  • Microsoft is more essential to the Mac platform than vice versa. The anti-trust issue is still huge, and Linux just isn’t there to provide legitimate desktop environment competition.

    I am currently using the Panther DP on a daily production basis. TextEdit with its ability to open (but not save) .doc format is a hack at best. Tables, a fundamental part of Word documents, are impossible to view, as are embedded image files. Even columns and margins are nominal at best. I believe TextEdit and Preview are just simple viewing applications, and will never be anything more. Just like SimpleText was on OS 7-9.

    Mac Office will be around for another few years, as the head of the Mac BU at MS confirmed a new version of Office for Mac will ship. Likely that it will ship within Panther’s lifetime. In that time, office suites will move into standards based file formats. XML, ICNS, VCARD, and so on, making office suites the commodity item - competing on features, not proprietary formats.

    The future of Apple will always be a niche - the only determining factor on how large or small that is, is Apple itself. MS or even Adobe or Macromedia fleeing Apple will not mark its demise, how Apple chooses to work with or compete with those companies will be the primary factor.

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 25, 2003 Posts: 219
  • I’m not sure I hold any longer with the conventional wisdom that Microsoft is essential to the well being of the Macintosh platform. Just who—in Apple stronghold niche markets—will be given pause if MS-Office development is ceased? So long as a comparable alternative is present, why should we be up in arms over this?

    I used to not be of this way of thinking. I used to regard this as a serious image issue for Apple—if not also a bona fide question of functionality. I used to side with those who said that prospective Macintosh customers needed to see that stalwart apps like MS-Office were available also on the Mac platform. But who are these customers? Artists, home users, educators, musicians, scientists, graphics and prepress bureaus, filmmakers? I don’t think so.

    As I see it, this concern lies chiefly in the business/corporate sector—and Apple has virtually no presence there regardless (nor is it going after this market just yet—except perhaps in regard to the XServe).

    Also, for a few years now it has been clear that Microsoft has been distancing itself from the development of stand-alone applications in favor of focusing its resources on connectivity software and the co-opting of standards and protocols. Thus it devotes resources to such things as C# (to kill Java), Windows Media (to kill MPEG-4), Exchange (to kill sendmail and other open source mail and PIM tools), MSN, and so on. Microsoft is not developing anything which does not more greatly increase a dependency of the customer to the Windows platform. Microsoft is clearly out to destroy open standards on the internet and web—and also in respect to audio/video streaming.

    In light of the foregoing, Jobs is wise to bite the bullet and no longer to accept a dependency on Microsoft. It’s clear that Microsoft will enter no market where it cannot ultimately dominate—not just make a healthy profit, but dominate. At this point, then, I think that while there is a cost and trade-off to everything, Apple is better served by aggressively developing its own office productivity suite and internet apps and the like. It should take nothing for granted in respect to Microsoft.

    Finally, I don’t find MS-Office under OS X to be particularly well designed or coded. The Word file format is an abomination—extremly inefficient, and long file names are STILL not supported, (even after OS X is three years old), and Word is very prone to crashes if you tax the program in the least. Excel is also quite buggy.

    Frankly, I don’t think Apple needs Microsoft that much anymore. Things have changed. Let’s look forward to an exciting future.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on Jul 25, 2003 Posts: 74
  • Microsoft apps as a lynchpin of Mac survival is no more.  Those that think it is should search for statements from Microsoft stating that they were disappointed in Mac Office sales.  There’s a reason why.  Apple is selling more computers to consumers and Content Creators. Consumers don’t always need to exchange documents they just need a reliable Word Processor and supporting apps.  Jeff Mincey is correc. Only the Biz Sector REQUIRES Office and Apple being virtually frozen out of that Market does nothing to boost Office sales.

    A cross platform product does Apple no good in many cases. Office is a good Cross Platform app but Apple needs unique apps only available on the Mac Platform(ala FCP).  PDF is nice but we still need a robust UNIVERSAL document standard with support for embedding most of the newest technologies.  Once you break the strength of the .doc format you’ve delivered a blow to proprietary formats which usually serve to weaken the market by exerting too much control. 

    I do believe Apple should create their own office.  They must leverage work on iCal, and more technologies available to OSX to create a “Statement app”  one that make producing Media Rich document easy enough for your neophyte family members.  I welcome this.  New blood needs to enter this arena.

    hmurchison had this to say on Jul 26, 2003 Posts: 145
  • The only thing that MS makes that is needed by Apple, is obviously Office.  Hopefully that won’t be the only format around in a few years, but as for right now, in the corporate world, and in schools, you need to have at least Word.  PowerPoint is another app that many people use that you need to be compatible with.  Not just kinda compatible (Keynote), but fully.

    va1entino had this to say on Aug 12, 2003 Posts: 12
  • Page 1 of 1 pages
You need log in, or register, in order to comment