The Mac Versus Windows Holy War: Real or Fake?

August 15th, 2006

Let me first put my cards on the table. I am a user of both Apple’s and Microsoft’s products. I’ve even had a few things from Dell in my office from time to time, including the fancy 24-inch display currently attached to my G5 Quad.

In short, I have no political agenda to offer. I am just interested in finding and using the best tools for my work, and I only came to the Mac because it was the best route to personal computing. However, I respect the fact that others have different opinions.

On the other hand, there’s the perception that Apple and Microsoft are engaged in a fight to the death, and that the public posturing you see is something you should take seriously. The WWDC keynote is a good example, where Steve Jobs and crew threw lots of barbs in the direction of Microsoft.

So what are we to conclude? Well, to take Jobs and his henchmen at face value, Microsoft is wasting billions of dollars of its money each year on development projects it can’t complete, and that it spends much of the rest of its time imitating others, particularly Apple. The phrase “start your copying machines” resonates again and again, and you can almost take seriously the claim that Apple kept some of its Leopard features “Top Secret” because Microsoft might jump the gun and try to roll them into Windows Vista.

Now I understand the intensity of the legendary “reality distortion field” that surrounds Steve Jobs, which really means that he’s a terrific salesman. And his crew did a decent job following his lead last week, but do you really believe that Microsoft had secret agents in the audience taping every precious moment and that contraband copies of the Leopard Preview DVD are now swirling around their Mac Business Unit?

You realize, of course, that Microsoft is a “preferred” Apple developer. There is no doubt that they and a few other major companies, such as Adobe, got to see Leopard before anyone else outside of Apple. To believe that Microsoft could somehow crib all Leopard’s key features and roll it into a new operating system release in six months, let alone two or three years, is madness. It’s not going to happen! Windows Vista may undergo lots of changes before it hits the store shelves, but they will be mostly under-the-hood bug fixes to make it stable enough to get out the door.

Consider that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have known each other for three decades or so. They may run competing companies, but they also work together from time to time. Do you really think that Gates rings up Jobs to complain about getting bad treatment in those Mac versus PC ads that have gotten so much attention?

At the same time, rousing the troops at a keynote speech is a great idea, and inspiring Mac developers to deliver insanely great products may actually accomplish that goal.

Here’s where things exist in the real world, and it has little to do with the what some want to believe: First and foremost, Microsoft won the operating system wars, such as they were, years ago. At the same time, Microsoft has had its share of troubles of late, and Windows Vista may be the result of poor management, poor planning, and biting off more than they can chew with their existing development structure.

On the other hand, it will be released in a reasonably usable form some time in 2007, even if misses its current ship date. Tens of millions will buy copies to upgrade their PCs in a very short time, and, after businesses have time to give it a thorough test, they made even adopt it too. But it probably won’t be the first release. There will be bug fixes aplenty, and maybe even a Service Pack or two before it is declared suitable for large companies. That may not come for several years.

On the long hall, if Microsoft doesn’t get its act together, more and more of its customers will look to other options, such as the Mac or Linux. So far, there’s a big question mark as to whether they can succeed in or actually dominate other markets. While the Xbox is doing fairly well, it is also being sold at a loss, with the hope that you’ll buy enough games to make it profitable. The Zune media player may or may not be anything worthwhile, but Microsoft’s presence in a market is no longer a guarantee of its success.

Yes, Apple can gain market share by building compelling products, smart advertising, and finding enough Windows users who are disgusted and are seeking alternatives. But Apple is also a hugely profitable company right now, and it doesn’t need double-digit market shares to stay in business. Of course, it’s reached that level, at least as far as recent U.S. note-book sales are concerned.

If the Mac OS someday dominates, it’ll happen because the trends you see now will continue. But it won’t be because of any holy war between two technology companies, where one must die for the other to survive. Meantime, the competition and the back and forth interplay among Mac and Windows users, can be entertaining, but don’t take it too seriously.

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23 Responses to “The Mac Versus Windows Holy War: Real or Fake?”

  1. Jim says:

    I really don’t understand why you keep asking me if I read your article. Your article disucss the vaidity of the whole Apple vs MS battle. Let’s get something straight right now. There is no battle, I know that, you know that and anyone who has bit of common sense knows that. MS does not percive Apple as a direct competitor. Primarily, becasue Apple is a hardware company first and a software company second. Second, because Apple can not compete in the enterprise software space. Period, they can’t. The software and hardware + their support is just not good enough. Thye could do it if they wanted to, but it would cost them alot of money.

    Jobs shots at MS during WWDC are cheap and do nothing to help Apple get more respect from anyone other than the already converted.

    MS needs to do more than just disgust users, they have already done that. They have the upper hand. Third party software. Which really means alot to businesses. I’m not talking just Office. I’m talking about the back office stuff. Windows XP works perfectly for most business. Vista is not even on a good IT shops radar right now. Vista is a “maybe in 2008 we’ll look at it” topic for us. Windows Server 2003 is leaps and bounds better than any prior MS server software package, no need to get rid of that right now. So what is Apple going to offer? If I was going to look at anything for the back office it would be Linux first. As for the desktops? Running Windows in emulators? That just doesn’t scale well for large groups of users and creates complicated support scenarios.

    As for the offer of discussing Apple’s Enterprise support problems, I’ll have to decline. I prefer to complain directly to Apple (which I do)

    Thanks for the article, and for the little “back and forth” we had. Feel free to drop me a line. Keep up the great work.

  2. Me! says:

    Both are you are going to and must really kill each other!

    Peace too!

  3. John aberham says:

    When governments are at war, it’s the people who suffer.

    Here, its the same.

    The Mac/Windows war rages on and it’s the users who suffer. In general competition is good and results in great innovations.

    However, once new cool things have been created, standardization is required.

    Thats where trouble begins.

    For example, Microsoft and nearly all MP3 players can play WMA files (but can’t play anything downloaded from iTunes).

    Similarly, iPods can’t play WMA or WMV files.

    Another example: Apple creates bootcamp resulting in Microsoft dropping VirtualPC for Mac.

    Yet another example: Apple buys KeyGrip from Macromedia and renames it to “Final Cut” and prompty drops the Windows version.

    Also: look at USB flash drives.
    pshhhh w/e
    They are DOS FAT formatted (versus NTFS or HFS) because that’s the only real file system thats fully interoperable (read and write) between the two operating systems.

    It’s obvious the war is on at the corporate level.

    On the user level, we’re just trying to have fun.

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