news analysis Apple traditionally caps off its worldwide developer conference with a bang -- releasing a piece of news that coders, enthusiasts and journalists can stew over for days and weeks afterwards.
But closing its 2007 conference, CEO Steve Jobs dropped a fizzer -- that the latest version of Apple's Web browser, Safari is being made available for Windows.
"Oh," is about the most appropriate response. That, and: "Why?"
The Windows desktop isn't short a Web browser. For those users who can't stand Internet Explorer, there is already the more stable and secure Mozilla Firefox. So, why waste your developer's hours making Safari work with Windows?
The answer, said IBRS analyst Kevin McIsaac, has nothing to do with Safari competing as a browser, and everything to do with Apple's new iPhone device, due for release in the US on 29 June -- and in Australia early in 2008.
Managing your iPhone, McIsaac suggests, will require a desktop application -- just as the management of the iPod requires iTunes. And Safari -- as previously announced by Apple, will be included on the iPhone as its Web browser.
Safari, then, is more than likely going to be one of the key pieces of software that ships on a disk with the iPhone, just as iTunes and QuickTime shipped with iPods.
"The only thing that makes sense about this announcement relates to something that happens when you connect an iPhone to a Windows box," McIsaac said. "And we really don't know what that is yet."
"What I suspect," he suggested, "is that just as having iTunes running on Windows is valuable for people with iPods, having Safari on Windows will be valuable for people with iPhones."
The Apple iPod enjoys broad penetration among both Mac and PC users. By Apple's own stats, over 500 million Windows users have downloaded the iTunes application -- nearly always for the management of their iPod.
"Imagine," said McIsaac, "if [Apple] hadn't put iTunes on a Windows box?"
Apple, though given plenty of opportunities, doesn't want to talk about Safari or the iPhone any further than what Jobs said in his keynote -- at least until the iPhone is released.
But both McIsaac and Gartner analyst Mike McGuire feel the iPhone is the only driver that would warrant Apple's effort in porting Safari to the PC.
While Jobs boasts of Safari's massive performance gains over its rivals (up to twice as fast as Internet Explorer 7 and 1.6 times faster than Mozilla Firefox, according to his keynote), McGuire said it is not clear whether Safari will get a spot in the Windows Start menu of most PC users.
"You've got to wonder how much people are willing to be promiscuous with the number of browsers they run," McGuire said.
"If you're an administrator, you want to reduce diversity as much as possible -- and not the other way around," said McIsaac. "Most users feel that Internet Explorer is good enough. Is Safari better? I don't know. Who cares? Who really cares if it's a better browser?"
If users wanted to get away from Internet Explorer, for reasons of better performance or security, they would "probably have gone down the Firefox path already," he said.
Firefox enjoys 15 percent market penetration -- but McIsaac says that adoption was hard fought, attributable to its competitor's weaknesses and adopted by only a "specific class" of user that cares about Web browser quality.
"Sure Firefox has been a success, but not a rapid one," he said. "And it gained that 15 percent at a time that the alternative, IE6, was pretty poor."
"Now that Microsoft has sorted most of those issues out [with IE7], I don't think Safari will be seeing that kind of penetration. Unless, of course, the iPhone becomes the dominant phone on the planet."
So far, there have been mixed reviews by enthusiasts that have downloaded Safari on a Windows machine.
Complaints about the beta version range from it crashing regularly, that it uses too much memory, and that the Apple shortcuts that made it a productive browser don't apply on Windows.
It's history repeating for Apple -- early versions of iTunes worked horribly on Windows machines, and Quicktime continues to suffer from compatibility issues.
But if history is any guide, and Apple's sexy gadgets do require its software to work on a Windows box -- Safari might find a place on the consumer desktop regardless.
CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this story.