Internet Outlook with Richard Wiggins | 56 | WebReference

Internet Outlook with Richard Wiggins | 56

Vol. 1 No. 5 August 18, 1997 home / experts / internet

Is There an Operating Theory Here?

Microsoft and Apple: Why All the Fuss?

Apple's $400M acquisition of Next was an especially bizarre move. True, getting Steve Jobs back in the fold seems to have boosted morale at the company, but it's hard to imagine how a future operating system will actually integrate the innovations that Next introduced in the early 90s. Although Microsoft and Apple announced general cross-licensing of technologies, the new Apple O/S, code named Rhapsody, was not even mentioned in the press conference.

Apple has announced previous operating system deals with great fanfare, most notably the then-revolutionary agreement with IBM to develop a common operating system for the PowerPC platform. Nothing ever came of it. In the absence of specifics, there's no reason why this deal should be considered more likely to accomplish anything.

Apple is struggling to maintain a presence in the desktop, or user, market, but in light of the announcement it's interesting to ponder where Apple sees itself in the server market. Steve Jobs, who seems to be running the company even though he hasn't been named CEO, speaks of concentrating on core markets, such as desktop publishing and graphics. For the past year Next has tried to sell itself as a vendor of Web server solutions that offer easy integration with corporate databases. Did Apple buy into that when they bought Next? Apple has been in an odd position in the server market for some time, offering Unix servers at the high end while touting MacOS servers at the low end. Will the Rhapsody system be based on Unix, as is Nextstep? Will it be targeted towards servers and users, or end users alone? Just where does Apple stand in the server market after this new arrangement?

If there is any significance to the operating system side of the announcement, it's probably that Microsoft will never face a lawsuit from Apple for stealing operating system ideas for Windows 98 and beyond. Apple lovers have rightly claimed that the original MacOS set the standard for Windows, and that versions of Windows prior to Win95 were pale imitations at best. But Apple's always been estopped from beating this drum too loudly, as the core concepts for the Mac were lifted lock, stock, and barrel from Xerox PARC. Now the drum will be silenced altogether.

In fact, there's a chance that influence on operating system evolution might flow from Microsoft to Apple, not vice versa. Microsoft is already alpha testing Windows 98, which promises to change the face of personal computing entirely, with the Web page metaphor extended to desktop navigation. Might we see a similar Web orientation in a future MacOS?

Applications Sell Computers, Don't They?

One developer of software for the Mac said at the time of the Next deal that the money would've been far better spent as 100 separate investments of $4M each on small companies that develop innovative software for the Mac. Keeping a flow of creative new applications streaming into the marketplace would do far more benefit, he argued, because it would generate new apps that were unique to the Mac, thus generating sales.

Before Windows 95, many of the cutting-edge applications used in the desktop publishing and Web design came out first for the Mac platform. The initial Windows release of a product was often months later. For instance, one of the early graphical HTML editors from a major player, PageMill, was initially released for the Mac.

But the tendency for cutting edge graphics tools to come out for Mac first, then Windows, may have reversed itself. I remember well the day, about 12 months ago, when the webmaster for a $500 million institution told me, with some regret, that he'd discovered that new Web and graphics tools seemed to be coming out for the Windows platform first. He also felt that the performance and functionality advantage he'd observed running such apps on a Powermac had begun to disappear, as Pentium processors grew ever more powerful, and as apps began to be deployed with Windows 95 in mind.

Just a couple of years ago, Apple had a real advantage in the growing market of desktop digital editing of audio and video. A/V Macs were ready to rock-and-roll, whereas Wintel PCs needed external cards that were expensive and hard to install. But sound and video processing cards have plummeted in price in the last two years, and installation of new cards into a Wintel PC was vastly simplified thanks to Plug and Play and Windows 95. Whether you're editing for the Web or for CD-ROM or video tape, a Wintel machine with a good Matrox or Targa card can compete handily with an A/V Mac.

The Microsoft deal does bring one piece of good news for Apple in the applications arena: Microsoft says it will deliver Office products (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc.) for the Mac platform for at least five years, and it will deliver them at the same time that Windows releases come out. Thus one reason not to buy a Mac -- that you won't see the new features of Office products as soon as your co-worker with the Pentium in the next cubicle -- is somewhat obviated.

In applications, the advantage accrues to Microsoft, which sees their Internet Explorer browser loaded on new Macs as the default browser. You can be sure Microsoft is working hard on such deals with every major PC vendor. People are lazy, and will often stick with the browser that comes on their hard disk when they buy a new computer. And last year's deal with America Online wrested the default browser status from Netscape; if you plug in one of those infernal AOL starter disks, which seem more common than ants at a picnic, you'll still run IE as your browser. Microsoft's goal is nothing short of "desktop ubiquity," and no one should bet against them in that quest.

Comments are welcome

Produced by Richard Wiggins and

Created: August 18, 1997
Revised: August 22, 1997