The resignation of Roz Ho as General Manager of the Macintosh Business Unit before WWDC 2007 should have been a premonition of Microsoft’s incredibly poor showing at the event (either that or she knew how painfully lame it was going to be). It had been speculated that Redmond would announce the distribution of the new 2008 version of its market dominating Office suite at the event. But Microsoft had nothing to announce. Is this a sign of things to come? When will it get released and will Office 2008 be the last upgrade to Office that the Mac sees? Are Bill and Steve not getting along as well as they appear to be with Walt Mossberg?
Microsoft has a long, well documented history with the Mac platform. Indeed, Microsoft’s ventures with Apple even pre-date the Macintosh as Bill Gates reminded the audience recently at all things D… It’s also well known that Microsoft Word, possibly the World’s most widely used paid application, made its debut on the Mac Platform. Additionally, when Apple was at its lowest point right after Steve Jobs returned to the helm to rescue the company, it was Microsoft that put a cash infusion into Apple and guaranteed to develop their Office software for a few more years (nevermind that Microsoft’s actions were most likely motivated by the effort to stay out of Monopoly court). So what has happened recently to chill the relationship (or water in hell)?
First, Apple is doing very well for itself now and Redmond doesn’t feel like they are so in control of the Operating Systems market anymore. Apple’s iPod is a huge success that dwarfs its Zune/Plays for Sure competitors. AppleTV is set to make some inroads into Microsoft’s Mediacenter strategy and XBox businesses. Apple’s laptops, seen as the future of "desktop" computing are their strongest product. By all accounts, the iPhone looks to surpass all of these and put a huge dent into Microsoft’s large lead in the up-and-coming smart phone business.
Next, Apple is playing very well with Google, Redmond’s arch-enemy. All of the new tools that are going into iPhone are built on Google APIs. Apple is also playing a lot with another Microsoft rival, Sun in the sandbox. ZFS, Open Office and Java (though Steve Jobs has been hard on Java and Sun in general lately) have all been mentioned alongside Apple products in recent months. In fact, besides MSN Messenger, what major MS product has had a major upgrade since 2003? Internet Explorer for Mac stopped in 2003 at version 5.1 right about the time Safari was getting started. Look at their current downloads page. They still have OS9 Apps. Office 2004 was released late in 2003 and has only recieved bugfixes, security patches and some minor performance improvements since then. Microsoft Office is far and away the biggest application that hasn’t been ported yet to Universal Binaries.
Maybe Microsoft doesn’t know how to deal with this hi-tech x86 processor from Intel? It is very cutting edge!
Microsoft beat everyone getting applications to OSX when it was first introduced in 2001. Had it not, it is doubtful that the new Mac platform would have been as successful as it has been. Microsoft can definitely get it done. So why has it dragged its heels this time around? No one outside of Redmond (or Cupertino) knows for sure but perhaps Microsoft is a bit uncertain about the future. If they continue to feed Apple with quality software for the enterprise they might see some serious inroads being made into their territory.
The "desktop" paradigm is changing so fast that by the time apple has a chance to catch up, the category probably won’t even exist. Which is why the new race is to find the next form factor. What does that look like? It might be wearable or practically invisible, and take the form of a watch, glasses, phone or whatever. However, I bet it looks a whole lot more like an iPhone than the current Windows PC ….Microsoft may have won the desktop battle, but the battle for the next thing is on, and the race is wide open.
Microsoft can’t afford to go easy on Apple this time.
Now you may be saying, "what about Silverlight" – which is Mac compatible but not on the development side. Also, there is renewed interest in developing Windows Media for Mac. Microsoft’s Bungie division still makes some Mac games as well. I think this is because Microsoft is afraid of losing developers, developers, developers to other technologies that include support for the very influential <10% Mac user base. So this is by no means comprehensive.
I think Microsoft will get its final version of Office out for Mac in fairly short order – perhaps trying to steal some thunder from the iPhone launch? Like all other versions it won’t work as good as the PC version (Office 2007) lacking in Enterprise specific areas and it will look like a kids game with crayon colors and bubbly fonts. But unlike all of the other times, that won’t matter.