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The Mac Versus Windows Holy War: Real or Fake?

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.