Microsoft vs. Apple: Beware of your 'killer instinct'

Is Apple is putting such a big hurt on Microsoft that Redmond should retarget Apple and pull the plug on its Macintosh Business Unit? That's what some blogsters are saying. What are they smoking?

Is Apple is putting such a big hurt on Microsoft that Redmond should retarget Apple and pull the plug on its Macintosh Business Unit? That's what some blogsters are saying. What are they smoking?

According to my ZDNet colleague Jason Perlow, Microsoft must get its groove, or "killer instinct" back. So far, so good. But then he goes afield:

In fact, given the current economy, and the stress that Microsoft is now under to retain market share and preserve its bread and butter business — Windows and Office — that maybe it is time for the company to reconsider whether or not operating a Macintosh Business Unit is really such a good idea.

We’ve all heard about the supposed obsession that Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer has had for “Killing Google.“ I think that energy is misdirected — they should be focusing their efforts on Killing Apple instead and hurting them in their worst time of crisis. I know, it’s a reptilian, bloodthirsty, and horrible thing to propose — to pick on Apple when Steve Jobs is sick and everyone is worried about whether or not the company can weather the economic downturn with its luxury products. Exactly. I propose that you return to doing what you do best, Microsoft — being bloodthirsty.

Wow, there's so much wrong here, it's hard to know where to begin. Let me offer just a few counterpoints to this thesis:

First, the big problem with Microsoft is Microsoft, it's not Linux, or Google, or Apple. It's all about creating realistic strategic and product plans and then executing on them. This is something that Apple and IBM appear to know how to do and Microsoft doesn't. Vista, anyone?

At the same time, Perlow presents an interesting view into Microsoft's corporate culture. In the corridors of Redmond, it's all about "us versus them," with "them" being the target of the month, year or decade: Apple, Oracle, IBM, Google, Netscape, the EU, whomever.

When acquaintances have gone to work at Apple, I've noticed that after a few months, they would incorporate the infamous "reality distortion field," which is name for the corporate culture in Cupertino. It's the idea that Apple is the center of the universe, and if that's over-reaching, then at least Apple is the center of the technology market.

The same would happen to buddies who went to work at Microsoft. After a few months they would talk as if Microsoft and their department were under attack, that the company was Number 2 in the market and not the de facto monopoly that it is.

Going "reptilian, bloodthirsty" would take advantage of the paranoid corporate culture already in place at Microsoft.

Next, who knew that the Mac had so much pull? No doubt, the return of the Macintosh is an amazing story. However, let's put that success into context.

According to the latest Net Applications statistics, the Mac has a 9.93 percent market share and Windows has 88.26 percent. Now, for those of us who remember when Apple was under 4 percent, that's a tremendous climb. Still, Microsoft holds a veto-proof market share.

Perlow then brings up the "distraction" argument.

How much revenue and resources does operating a Mac Business Unit cost Microsoft? I would imagine that given the current climate, it’s a huge distraction. Those 200-odd employees could be put to work doing other creative projects for the company, in the advancement of Windows and improving other Microsoft products, instead of helping to improve Apple’s market share and making life easier for the users who chose to seek out a different platform than their own. How many Windows systems does Microsoft lose to Apple every year because Mac has their own version of Office as a viable alternative? I’m going to say a lot.

There are many parts to this claim of "distraction," both internal and external to Microsoft.

Certainly, the small Mac Business Unit can't be a distraction to Microsoft. The group is located down in the Silicon Valley, and mostly does its own thing, making a real Mac product.

Mac users would point out that the Mac version of Office is always behind the Windows' flavor in the compatibility department (beyond the .DOC/.DOCX problem). For example, a few years ago, Apple's Keynote could interpret PowerPoint files better than the then-current version of Office for the Mac.

Check out Microsoft improves Exchange sync in new Entourage Beta.

According to Perlow, the coders working on Windows Office are distracted by the demands of the Mac group. Impossible.

Are there so few programmers around and about that Microsoft can't get its work done? That isn't the problem.

Actually, Microsoft spent the 1990s poaching programming talent from Apple. Most of these coders were not folded into the Macintosh Business Unit, rather, they were sent around the company.

Now, I've always considered that Microsoft's support for the Mac has been a legal shield, to somehow prove to the world that the company isn't out to crush its competitors. The Mac BU would be worth the cost if it could let Microsoft avoid even one extra round of antitrust investigations. But the reality is that the Mac Business Unit makes a solid profit.

Mac users seeking compatibility with Microsoft applications can run the Mac version of Microsoft Office and even Windows. They pay extra for this level of confidence in compatibility.

If Microsoft pulls the plug on its Mac Business Unit, Mac users will still be able to run Windows and Office apps, albeit in a virtual machine. But it's all very easy. Or they can continue to try out the growing alternatives to Microsoft's productivity platform.

I'm not saying "bring it on." But it seems to me that the end result for Microsoft — and perhaps the worst possible outcome — would be the discovery by users that they really don't need to be running Windows or any Microsoft platform product.

Redmond: Make sure that your "killer instinct" isn't pointed at your own foot.


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