Steve Jobs began his current tenure at Apple with a neat (and
characteristic) bit of theater, taking Boston's Macworld Expo keynote
stage in August 1997 to introduce Microsoft Corp. CEO Bill Gates via
satellite and declare a cease-fire in the longstanding OS war between the
The move certainly garnered headlines both within and without the Mac
community. The newly rehabilitated Apple iCEO was alternately applauded
by some observers for a visionary move and derided by some Mac stalwarts
who feared that the Mac maker had knuckled under to a company they
continued to view as the Great Satan of high-tech.
In truth, Jobs' statement, "We have to let go of the notion that for
Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose" was neither a unilateral surrender
nor a Pauline reversal of Apple's philosophy. Instead, it was a pragmatic
recognition of Windows' dominant market share and of a relationship
that's always been far more complex than simple black and white.
Look at the terms of the deal that the companies announced that day:
Microsoft would purchase $150 million in nonvoting Apple stock, Apple
would give Internet Explorer preference when it came to Mac OS bundling,
and the companies would cross-license an assortment of patents through
2002. That's not chicken feed, but it's hardly the stuff that could make
or break a company the size of Microsoft -- or even then-beleaguered
Instead, the agreement was a public recognition of mutual need: Apple
needed Microsoft to continue Mac development, and Microsoft needed Apple
to provide at least some proof that the Windows maker wasn't committed to
total ownership of the desk- and laptop OS market. (Ninety-five percent
or so would suffice, it seemed.)
By the same token, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's finding last week that
Microsoft had indeed used its tremendous wealth and power to apply unfair
pressure in the markets it competes in doesn't mean instant benefits for
the Mac OS. There's a lot riding on what remedies the court prescribes,
and there's no predicting that a big loss for Microsoft will mean a major
win for Apple or the Mac.
Even if the appeals process is expedited, observers say the Supreme Court
an opinion on the case until the end of 2000 at the earliest. That
leaves a pretty substantial window for Apple and Microsoft to revamp and
market their next-generation OSes -- Mac OS X and Windows 2000,
respectively -- under the current rules of engagement.
If after that date the rules were to change radically -- up to and
including the prospect that Microsoft could be chopped up into multiple
companies, a la John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust at the beginning
of this century -- there's no guarantee that the playing field would
slant appreciably in Apple's favor.
Remember, Microsoft is among other things the world's first and foremost
third-party developer of Mac software. Its prominence in the PC market
was fueled largely by its early and enthusiastic support for the Mac GUI,
support that has continued with some lapses (remember Word 6?) throughout
Of course, altruism has had nothing to do with that long Mac track
record. And while the Mac market has remained a profitable niche for
Microsoft, the money to be made there would hardly be worth aiding and
abetting an OS competitor, especially for a company as predatory as
Like many other Mac partisans, I suspect that the major reason for
Microsoft's continued Mac support has actually been the desire to prevent
just the sort of conclusion that Judge Jackson reached last week. And if
that's the case, splitting off Microsoft's applications operation from
its OS works (the most likely breakup scenario) could eliminate that
motivation while reducing the "bandwidth" (to appropriate a Gatesian
term) available to work on platforms beyond its Windows core.
While this upheaval might benefit Linux or other OSes where Microsoft has
yet to make a serious incursion, Mac users have a clear, vested interest
in ensuring a more-peaceful transfer of power. And Microsoft wouldn't
have it any other way.
Matthew Rothenberg is director of online content for Mac Publishing LLC,
which publishes MacWEEK, MacCentral, Macworld and MacBuy.