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Would the Mac platform collapse without Microsoft?
August 7, 2002 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Would the Mac platform collapse without Microsoft? BusinessWeek questions the conventional wisdom.
posted by kirkaracha (42 comments total)

 
I have the OS X version of Office, but I only got it because I wanted to be all OS X, all the time. Microsoft hasn't added any new features that I've used in several versions, and I don't really need to upgrade from this version, because even if they add more bloat I'm unlikely to need any more features.

However, even though there are alternatives to the Office suite that provide most of Office's functionality (and provide an even higher portion of the features that most people actually use), losing Microsoft would be bad for Apple. It's more of a perceptual problem than a technical one, but it's a problem.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:16 AM on August 7, 2002


If Microsoft pulled out of the Mac market, we would still have Adobe, Macromedia, and Quark. Those are the main providers for me. I would just not upgrade and use Office 2001 and X for as long as I could.

Openoffice's OSX preview is cool and as long as it can open Word and Excel, it could be used instead. I use it under XDarwin along with AbiWord, and the only thing I miss is Cut & Paste between the Aqua aps and the XDarwin aps.

Plus people could just go to Hotline or Gnutella and download the previous versions if Microsoft pulled out.
posted by mkelley at 9:20 AM on August 7, 2002


Sadly, I think this article is right. I proudly use Apple computers at home and work, but without Microsoft Word, for example, sharing files with PC users would be a nightmare. There are document translation programs that could intervene, certainly, but from my experience those are finicky beasts.
posted by josephtate at 9:26 AM on August 7, 2002


I can't think of any Mac user who's allegiance is contigent upon Microsoft. Indeed, aside from the inconvenience of having to deal with .doc files, there isn't much the Mac community would lose.
posted by aladfar at 9:30 AM on August 7, 2002


The jockeying on either side is interesting. The Remote Desktop client that MS released last month for OSX could be perceived as way for MS to say "wanna run Office and Outlook and Project and Visio on your Mac? Well here ya go."

I doubt that MS would be stupid enough to pull office for OSX and risk further anti-trust investigation unless Apple got a lot more market share and/or released OSX for Intel.
posted by machaus at 9:30 AM on August 7, 2002


The problem with Microsoft not meeting its Office v.X goals has everything to do with the fact that Office costs over US$450 and nothing to do with Apple failing to promote OS X.

OS X adoption is pretty much on schedule, as far as Apple is concerned. The changeover is a managed plan over a number of years. New systems (defaulting to OS X) are selling well, and the key developers for the platform are releasing product (Photoshop anyone?).

Microsoft was simply sending a warning shot, and it's backfiring. In the 90's, Microsoft used the Office club to beat Apple into submission over a number of claims Apple had against the company. Since then, the Apple platform has intentionally diversified its software offerings so that can never, ever happen again. The current rumblings about how Apple can divorce itself from Office couldn't have happened before.
posted by Cerebus at 9:43 AM on August 7, 2002


Microsoft should use PDF as their standard format across Office, but that would require the company, gasp, embracing standards. It'd also eliminate compatability problems... and we can't have that.
posted by cinematique at 9:44 AM on August 7, 2002


Sadly, I think this article is right.

Um, josephtate, it's often best to read the article prior to comenting. Its thesis is that a pullout by MS would not be a big deal.

And while I think that view has some merit, I'm not much impressed with the arguments made by the author.
*) MS is unimportant because there is equivalent software.
*) PC users will clamor for compatibility.
Microsoft's stanglehold on offices is legendary - and anyone who works in one knows that there's no way in hell their employer would support PCs that couldn't run Excel, Word or PowerPoint. We know PC users won't clamor for compatibility because they haven't. Mac-formatted diskettes and CD-R are still unreadable on wintel machines (though wintel disks are absolutely coherent to MacOS-native boxes).

Perhaps Apple's core market is still artists and DV people, not run-of-the-mill writers, civil servants and office jockeys. Perhaps. But I'm not really convinced. As much as I loathe to say it, Apple needs Microsoft for its marketshare to grow, and possibly even for it to remain the same.
posted by Marquis at 9:49 AM on August 7, 2002


I think that the greater threat of a MS pullout would be psychological. One thing that many potential 'switchers' always ask about is compatibility with MS Office. Then another reason they tend to balk is when told, "you'll have to spend $499 for the OS X version of Office."

Point #2 tends to be the real buzzkill. We can all see the headlines now, "MICROSOFT ENDS MACINTOSH SUPPORT, USERS ASK: IS THIS THE END FOR APPLE?"

Not that we haven't read similiar headlines for the last 18 years...
posted by tgrundke at 10:07 AM on August 7, 2002


I work in offices in the ad community, most of which have to move files between Mac and PC all day, every day. Having Office on the Mac computers is handy, but really not needed. I send text to the Mac stations stripped of all formatting so that Quark doesn't freak out, they send back PDF files. If it's an Excel chart we're working with, it has to be rebuilt.

The challenge is getting people (Mac and PC users) to understand what they can and can't do across platforms, over and over again.... Font issues, etc... and don't tell me it's just ignorant PC users. I've had to go back and tell plenty of Mac users for the umpteenth time that stuffit expander is not standard on the PC.

So no Office for the Mac wouldn't be a big deal from a technical viewpoint, my experience (I'm OS ambidextrous and can work on either) is that people need to learn to chill out on the whole Mac vs PC thing and actually learn more than one OS. Then none of this would be a big issue.
posted by Salmonberry at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2002


The typos in this article kill its credibility:

Third heading:
CREDIT WHERE ITS DUE

Final paragraph:
I'm not saying the Mac community should turn on Microsoft. Redmond has been, and can continue to be, a valuable ally. But we shouldn't take any lip from the company, either. It's software is good -- but no better than plenty of other smaller developers out there.

Credit where its due. It's software is good? Come on, BusinessWeek, it's called proofreading!
posted by dayvin at 10:14 AM on August 7, 2002


"I'm OS ambidextrous"

I use a Mac, but don't have a problem using any other OS via VirtualPC. So I guess I'm OS Agnostic. :)
posted by mkelley at 10:16 AM on August 7, 2002


I manage tech for an org with about 20 people, mixed mac/pc. It would be really difficult for us to stay bisexual if there was not a bullet-proof way to share .doc and .xls files across both platform. The fact that Microsoft has not ported its full Outlook client to OS X is already proving to be a pain in the ass. It effectively blocks many corporate Mac users from migrating up to the new OS. I don't think Microsoft has as much leverage as they had a few years ago; I'd love to see a production version of OpenOffice on the Mac; I'd love to see someone create an Outlook clone on X; but even so, having Mac versions of the top MS applications is very important for many users.
posted by alms at 10:28 AM on August 7, 2002


I have to admit that I'm a user of Office X; Entourage is by far the best email client out there today (but here's to hoping that Mail.app lives up to the hype in 10.2). Also, I'm using IE/Mac right now to view Mefi. I've tried OmniWeb, and didn't like its incompatabilities. Netzilla still isn't there for my tastes.

Losing Microsoft support would simply mean losing mindshare, however harsh the effects of that would be. Perhaps, with the whole Palladium thing (if that pans out), it won't matter. I can just imagine Bill or Steve B being up on stage, explaining that they can't write Mac software any more because the "can't make it secure." The irony.
posted by lowlife at 10:30 AM on August 7, 2002


5 years ago, I spent my entire working life in Office, but today I write in e-mail and HTML. If it weren't for the terrifying learning curve, I would evict Windows tomorrow and put an end to the resentment I feel every day for the way Microsoft takes over my PC like the houseguest from hell. I don't feel any particular attraction for the Mac, but I'm definitely thinking more and more about switching.

But what about IE? Any Mac users care to comment on whether they can see what's on the Web today without capitulating to MS's browser lock-in? (on preview: looks like lowlife is confirming my suspicions that MS really holds you by the browser these days)
posted by fuzz at 10:37 AM on August 7, 2002


I am a PC user (due to parental choices when purchasing a computer for college, and, since then, corporate choices) but have always been respected Macs, and am actively thinking about purchasing one.

A question for the users/enthusiasts here: What do you see as the ultimate goal/long range strategy for Mac? Should it attempt to win more market share? Should it consider itself a luxury brand of computer, like a BMW say? I'm sure BMW would love a 5% market penetration in the US. This is what Mac has.....

Anyway, maybe this is an discussion that has been had before, I'm just curious.
posted by pjgulliver at 10:42 AM on August 7, 2002


I am spending more and more time in Chimera, which is based on Mozilla but with a cocoa UI. It's not finished, but it mostly works, it's much faster than IE, and it has a great interface.
posted by alms at 10:45 AM on August 7, 2002


But what about IE?

mozilla for OSX is faster and cleaner and crashes much less than IE does.. .

i have not used IE since moz 1.0 was released..
posted by PugAchev at 10:49 AM on August 7, 2002


Recently, while packing up some stuff, I found a photocopy of an article called "Who Will Save Packard Bell?" Basically it took the standard "Apple is doomed, isn't that obvious" rhetoric of the day and substituted the name of then-important consumer hardware maker Packard Bell. Funny, I haven't seen a new Packard Bell computer at CompUSA in years. The point is that people have been talking about Apple's demise on and off for more years than most script kiddies have been alive.

Wouldn't "OS agnostic" mean you don't believe anyone can prove or disprove the existence of operating systems?
posted by ilsa at 10:58 AM on August 7, 2002


But what about IE

yea, mozilla is fantastic, 1.1 will use osx's antialiasing also, which is really the only good part i saw about chimera. the ui is not all cocoa true, but you can use themes etc.

compared to ie though it's way better, much less buggy, doesn't crash as much (even 1.1b doesn't crash as much) and it displays web pages more correctly. and , tabs!
posted by rhyax at 11:22 AM on August 7, 2002


At the end of the article, he mentions Microsoft caved and supported Java in subsequent releases of Windows XP due to customer demand. It's sort of a Pyrrhic victory for Sun, since the JRE and browser plugin are only Java 1.1 compatible, making more advanced applets and applications using the Swing UI unusable unless the user installs a 1.2 or above JRE.
posted by phong3d at 11:24 AM on August 7, 2002


A question for the users/enthusiasts here: What do you see as the ultimate goal/long range strategy for Mac? Should it attempt to win more market share? Should it consider itself a luxury brand of computer, like a BMW say? I'm sure BMW would love a 5% market penetration in the US. This is what Mac has.....

there's no shame in being a luxury computer, and i think apple can do that. i don't mind paying for quality, if quality i am getting, and apple has shown that it can provide it.

apple needs to decide if they want to stick with the powerpc architecture. it's strived to make the core of OSX, which is a technology called Darwin, interoperable with intel-style processors (and it, in fact, is interoperable and you can run the command-line version of modern day macintoshes on your PC right now). within a number of years, apple may jump to that processor -- despite its (right) defense of the powerpc architecture with regards to difference in clockspeed (mhz). it may go in another direction altogether, with regards to processor type.

the powerpc is pretty good at doing graphics, because of altivec (and perhaps because of the much more parallel pipelining used in powerpc chips versus the piddly parallel pipelines in an x86 chip). apple needs to be sure that, if they do go with that architecture, render time does not change; that is, its graphic processing ability must not suffer at all. if it can do either, i think apple could claim 10% of the market share. maybe a little more? i'm being conservative, but i think 10% is realistic. for a hardware vendor, which apple is, 10% sounds good.
posted by moz at 11:24 AM on August 7, 2002


anyone who works in [an office] knows that there's no way in hell their employer would support PCs that couldn't run Excel, Word or PowerPoint

The problem is that many people think you have to have the Microsoft products to work with Office documents when you don't. AppleWorks, for example, could provide, say 75% of Word's features (and closer to 100% of the features that most people actually use).

Any Mac users care to comment on whether they can see what's on the Web today without capitulating to MS's browser lock-in?

The web is getting more accessible to other browsers with the increasing emphasis on web standards, both in web site development and in browser software development.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:56 AM on August 7, 2002


Microsoft is significantly, if not primarily responsible for the lack of viable alternatives to Office (remember WordPerfect, anyone?). Isn't this just another iteration of the question of whether MS has an illegal monopoly?
posted by ParisParamus at 11:59 AM on August 7, 2002


Moz, thanks for the interesting and informative post. If you could port OSX to a *86 machine, does that mean all mac software would run on that machine? Or would you have to rewrite all the individual programs as well?
posted by pjgulliver at 12:00 PM on August 7, 2002


HUH? Microsoft is responsible for the fact that the developers of WordPerfect failed to continue producing superior software? Don't dare say it's an issue of running on the very latest MS operating system, because we are talking about Mac OS.

My brain hurts.
posted by ilsa at 12:04 PM on August 7, 2002


Any (postulated) OS X port to Intel would be binary-incompatible. There's no way around that.

Of course, it will never happen. Apple is a *hardware* company, and doesn't want to compete with commodity PC hardware.
posted by Cerebus at 12:05 PM on August 7, 2002


ilsa: the bundling of Windows and Office is clearly a factor in the demise of office suite alternatives. Wordperfect, for example, had other issues (the whole Novel fiasco), but to deny MS's market status is extremely naive. Of course, the same thing with browsers, only more so.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:10 PM on August 7, 2002


(the handicap in selling to Wintel also effects the ability to sell to Mac.)
posted by ParisParamus at 12:12 PM on August 7, 2002


Why is MS allowed to bundle Office with Windows? I mean, you can by a $700 PC that comes with great specs and generally Word and Excel. To purchase those two programs alone for a Mac would cost almost $700. Has this issue been involved in the MS antitrust case?
posted by pjgulliver at 12:26 PM on August 7, 2002


pj:

Moz, thanks for the interesting and informative post. If you could port OSX to a *86 machine, does that mean all mac software would run on that machine? Or would you have to rewrite all the individual programs as well?

(no problem.)

yes, all currently existing macintosh software would not be compatible. however, the software could be recompiled to target the new processor architecture (x86) without much difficulty. most OSX software depends only on the carbon library or cocoa frameworks; those being ported, things should be ok. software using assembly instructions -- thereby communicating directly with the processor -- would be shit outta luck, since powerpc speaks spanish and x86 speaks french.

Cereberus:

Of course, it will never happen. Apple is a *hardware* company, and doesn't want to compete with commodity PC hardware.

i've seen this argued elsewhere, and what's been mentioned is that all apple needs to do is dictate in their OS that you must use only their hardware. that's what they do now. migrating to an x86 architecture doesn't imply that all of the hardware headaches that PCs saddle themselves with today apply.
posted by moz at 12:31 PM on August 7, 2002


Microsoft is responsible for the fact that the developers of WordPerfect failed to continue producing superior software?

Microsoft has used features of the Windows OS unknown to outside companies when programming Office. This gave them an unfair advantage over WordPerfect's developers. I believe MS announced the other day that they will finally disclose these "secret APIs."
posted by hilker at 12:54 PM on August 7, 2002


Get this.

Try it.

I think you'll find it worth the price (free), impossible to ruin file format compatibility (open source), fixable by yourself if you can program, or by someone else if you don't, and multi-platform enough that you can use your document anywhere.

Oh, and it has features that aren't even in MS Office, like a simple drawing program.

I'm really surprised this wasn't mentioned earlier.
posted by shepd at 12:59 PM on August 7, 2002


um, Marquis, you're right. I didn't finish the article. I've read so much Apple-Microsoft relations via MacNN that I thought I knew where it was headed. I retract my comment, then: I do not agree with the article (that I've now fully read). Apple would be in deep doo-doo if Microsoft yanked its products from the platform. Apple's Switch ad campaign is largely based on the fact that Apple works well with Microsoft. Without that interoperability, I doubt few would even consider making the switch.
posted by josephtate at 3:44 PM on August 7, 2002


The newest version of Appleworks can open and save to the various office formats.

Macromedia Flash is so many levels better than Powerpoint.

I've been supporting both platforms for quite awhile now, and yes, it's a headache, but my headaches mainly come from trying to explain to my internal customers just why we're using 90/20 Macs in favor of PCs.
posted by schlaager at 5:56 PM on August 7, 2002


um, make that 80/20. oops.
posted by schlaager at 5:57 PM on August 7, 2002


I, for one, wouldn't miss MS. The only piece of MS programming that I use is Outlook, and that is only by accident. (It came with my internet service.) I've stopped using IE for Mozilla, and have abandoned MSN IM. Apple Works is a good enough office program for my needs. Hell, I mostly use Simple Text for everything. Yes, it does suck at times to recieve a .doc or .wmp file as an e-mail attachment, but life goes on. Frequently I can get people to send me alternetive files, like PDFs.
posted by kayjay at 6:10 PM on August 7, 2002


Microsoft has used features of the Windows OS unknown to outside companies when programming Office. This gave them an unfair advantage over WordPerfect's developers.

Personally I would have told the Wordperfect developers to go build their own OS. They keep trying to prosecute Microsoft for being a vigorous competitor, but isn't that the whole idea? I suppose I would put more credence in the government's anti-trust case if 90% of it wasn't sour grapes from competitors who just couldn't compete (paging Netscape/AOL! paging Sun!).
posted by owillis at 6:47 PM on August 7, 2002


Remember a few years ago when Steve Jobs had to swallow his pride and take a big check from Microsoft. In return IE would be bundled with Macs?

Macs have survived in the enterprise because the compatibility with PCs through MS Office and the ability to read PC media. Microsoft will continue to support Apple as long as there is money to be made in the market.

People also forget that Microsoft developed Excel for the Mac first. Lotus 1-2-3 owned the PC/DOS landscape. When Windows 3.1 came around Excel could run in the graphical environment and Lotus faded away.

PowerPoint was a piece of shit compared to Harvard or Freelance Graphics presentation software. The reason it is the de facto standard presentation software today is because Word and Excel are such strong programs.

Poo poo Microsoft all you want but Word and Excel (and IE) are great applications. I love the annotation features of Word XP and Excel is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Microsoft is a 900 pound gorilla and does throw its weight around. The alternative is that other 900 pound gorilla AOL Time Warner.
posted by birdherder at 8:11 PM on August 7, 2002


One big problem if MS pulls Mac support is the fact that so many entities, including the U.S. Government, require reports to be submitted in MS Office formats. No doubt some companies that use Macs now to prepare such reports would be forced to switch eventually if MS stops Mac Office development.
posted by gyc at 9:12 PM on August 7, 2002


Fuzz: For browsing in Mac OS X, I tend to switch back and forth between OmniWeb (the prettiest browser ever made) and iCab (uglier, but faster and more reliable). About 98% of the sites out there will run happily on at least one (and usually both) of these two; for those that don't, I also have Chimera and Mozilla available, and will try out Opera when it goes out of beta. Oh yeah, I think I have a kludgy piece of trash called Netscape lying around somewhere, too. Between all of these, I haven't needed to use IE in a long time now. (I can switch between them easily because my bookmarks are in URL Manager Pro.)

I use an ancient copy of WordPerfect for word processing; updated versions of it are the thing I miss most about Windows. (I went Mac about two years ago, and one of the things that motivated me was a desire not to use Microsoft software. It annoys me no end that the best alternative to M$ Word -- the best word processor existing, even -- is no longer being updated on the Mac.) I'll probably switch to Nisus Writer when they release the OS X version. For email I use Apple's built-in client. There are only three Microsoft programs I still use: Word (to open other people's files), Excel, and their keyboard driver. I'll probably stop using the first two when OpenOffice becomes usable (an alpha developer release does not count). My intent is to use no M$ software at all other than the keyboard driver. (Microsoft makes great keyboards. They'd be a wonderful company if they just stopped all the software nonsense and stuck to the keyboard business.)

However, I'm far from a typical user. Most people need to exchange files in Office formats, and get jittery at the thought of doing so with any other software. Can Apple survive without Office? Possibly, but I think it would depend on the alternatives. OpenOffice (or perhaps a souped-up AppleWorks) would have to be able to open and save .doc, .xls and .ppt files seamlessly to stop people from retreating to the womb of Windows.
posted by ramakrishna at 10:04 PM on August 7, 2002


Let's see... I use Eudora for email, Mozilla or Chimera for browsing (Opera as soon as it goes to v6), Proteus for instant messaging, BBEdit for text editing, Acrobat for desktop publishing, iTunes/QT/RealOne for music and streaming, Apache, MySQL (thanks to the power of BSD!) for web publishing.

Now tell me again: Why is Microsoft relevant? :-)
posted by fooljay at 12:39 AM on August 8, 2002


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