• Should Apple Port Safari to Windows?

    March 5th, 2005

    That’s a serious question, and I can understand the logic behind it. But first, let’s look at the current situation. According to recent estimates, the market share of Microsoft Internet Explorer has dipped below 90% for the first time in several years. After supplanting Netscape, it seemed as if Internet Explorer would be unstoppable and it is widely believed that the only reason a forthcoming version 7 is being rushed to market ahead of the next major Windows upgrade is because of the growing competition.

    Mind you, Microsoft doesn’t earn a dime from Internet Explorer. It’s given away with the operating system. In theory that ought to mean it shouldn’t make a difference, but in Microsoft’s narrow worldview it does, since it allows them to leverage technologies that aren’t available to the competition among other things. But by tying it to the operating system so closely, it also makes the harmful effects of virus and spyware infections a whole lot more serious.

    The upstart that is challenging Internet Explorer, as you know, is Firefox, spawned from the open source Mozilla Foundation, itself a descendant of the original Netscape. So far 27 million folks have downloaded Firefox since version 1.0 came out in November, and that includes the versions available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

    So where does that put Safari? Well, after the Mac version of Internet Explorer languished without any significant new features, Apple’s decision to deliver a better product resulted in Microsoft canning its Mac browser, except for needed security updates. Sure, some Web sites are still built with Internet Explorer in mind, ignoring the rest of the universe, but Safari has managed to deliver more accurate results with each successive release. And Internet Explorer is still there if you need to compensate for the poor decisions on the part of the folks who build some of those sites.

    The latest surveys show that Safari’s share of the Web browser market is a little over one percent, not much in the scheme of things, but remember that Mac users aren’t wedded to one browser. Many adopted Firefox; others use OmniWeb, which includes Safari’s rendering engine, other Mozilla variants, iCab and Opera.

    In recent weeks, more and more people are suggesting that the time is ripe for Apple to port Safari to Windows. I suppose it makes sense on on some levels, considering how well iTunes did on the other side of the computing platform tracks. Bear in mind, though, that iTunes exists on Windows to sell iPods. If there was no iPod and no iTunes Music Store, there would be no compelling reason to deliver a Windows version.

    Don’t forget that, in addition to superior stability, reliability, and relative freedom from malware, the Mac offers an exclusive lineup of applications that you can’t get anywhere else. In addition to the other parts of the iLife suite, there’s, of course, Safari and Apple Mail, Address Book and others. You want to use them, you have to buy a Mac, or upgrade your older Mac to Mac OS X, assuming it can be upgraded.

    That exclusivity helps set Apple apart from its Dark Side competition. Let’s forget for the moment that Safari is written in Apple’s own Cocoa development environment, which would make porting to Windows a lot more difficult. In a practical sense, it makes no sense whatever to give Windows users all or part of its crown jewels. There’s no upside whatever. The iPod and iTunes are more than enough to show off Apple’s technology and, one hopes, drive sales or more new Macs. That, in fact, is probably already happening, considering that over 40% of the sales at Apple’s own retail outlets are to new Mac owners.

    In fact, I think it would be a grave mistake on Apple’s part to move any more of its software to Windows. Better to let them switch platforms if they want to use that software. I also do not agree with the occasional call for Apple to port Mac OS X to Intel processors. That would simply gut Apple’s hardware sales, and that’s still where the company makes most of its profits.

    Rather, I want Apple to continue to deliver more and more Mac exclusives, to make switching even more attractive. Consider Tiger, and such advantages as the Spotlight desktop search tool, a feature Microsoft is apparently unable to implement for its next Windows upgrade.

    Today, Apple is poised to achieve perhaps its greatest success. It makes no sense to squander that potential by giving Windows users too much of its technology.

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