Internet Outlook with Richard Wiggins | 57 | WebReference

Internet Outlook with Richard Wiggins | 57

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

Infusion of Java

Microsoft and Apple: Why All the Fuss?

The deal calls for Apple and Microsoft to cooperate on development of a common Java virtual machine. It's hard to say whether this means anything at all or not. For its part, Microsoft is hedging its bets by supporting Java while pushing its own component architecture, Active X. At best, Microsoft tolerates Java while hoping to kill it.

Apple has tried to affect the development of component architectures before, for instance with its OpenDoc standard. But the fact of the matter seems to be that Apple doesn't have the market power to affect applications development environments one way or the other. In the Internet world, either ActiveX or Java is going to win. In this regard, then, Apple's made the right bet: either their joint Java effort with Microsoft will bear fruit, or they'll embrace ActiveX for the Mac.

This aspect of the announcement is something of a slap in the face to Sun, which invented Java, and to Netscape, which quickly embraced it. But there is no love lost between Sun and Microsoft, which are fighting a much more important battle in the server market, as much of corporate America races to replace Unix servers with Windows NT servers. And of course the "browser battle" between Microsoft and Netscape is legendary. So the Apple-Java part of the deal seems to say relatively little about Apple, while the sparring involving Sun and Netscape continues.

Trust Me on This

My first reaction to the deal was "This is antitrust insurance for Microsoft." If as I predict Windows NT makes significant inroads on the server market in the next few years, Unix will soon become a fond memory among academics. With mainframe operating systems relegated to "legacy" status, Windows (95/98 and NT flavors) stands a chance of becoming the only operating system deployed on desktops or servers worldwide.

By propping up MacOS, or at least appearing to do so, Bill Gates may have bought himself a lot of breathing room with the trust busters at the U.S. Justice Department. Having at least one rival operating system deployed, even to a relatively small number of desktops, keeps the monopoly from being complete.

Is Apple Big Enough to Matter?

Apple's share of the market is now 3.8%. The media is full of anecdotal reports that even fiercely loyal individual Mac lovers – whose feelings approach cult-like devotion – are defecting. And fleet sales are probably in jeopardy: many companies admit they are now very reluctant to buy Macs in any quantity, and a source tells me that one of the largest fleet purchasers of Macintoshes, the University of Michigan, finds itself buying Wintel boxes in quantity.

Of course, there is an installed base of several million Macs already, many of which might have the capacity to run the ever-more-bloated new Office releases. If over the next year 5,000,000 Mac owners spent $100 each on Microsoft software, that'd be $500,000,000 of revenue -- perhaps enough to offset the entire Microsoft investment. Once again, the deal pays off in a tactical sense if not an a strategic one.

A spokesperson for Netscape said at the time of the deal that the cooperation between Apple and Microsoft on Java development was not a concern, because after all with market share heading south of 3%, it's not worth worrying about. Perhaps that's the best summary of all.

Comments are welcome

Produced by Richard Wiggins and

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