Where Microsoft and its Cohorts Fear to Tread

September 29th, 2006

You’ve probably heard the news, that the Toshiba — or rather Microsoft — Zune player will cost $249.99, within pennies of the current 30GB iPod. Microsoft admits it’s losing money, but is prepared to take a loss in the hope that it will, some day, catch the iPod.

But the form and features and even pricing of the Zune player aren’t important. Although Microsoft wants us to think that it is willing to risk tons of cash to gain market share, there is one area that is, so far, in the hands-off department, and that’s the Mac.

Yes indeed, like other music players that use one of Microsoft’s failed DRM schemes, there is no Mac version of Zune. What’s more, it doesn’t seem to be on the radar. In fact, Microsoft seems to have been trimming its Mac offerings of late, with the departure of Virtual PC and, more importantly, Windows Media Player. I won’t dwell over the fact that a third party is distributing an add-on for QuickTime to support older Windows Media versions. The encrypted stuff won’t play on a Mac without a Windows virtual machine, such as Parallels Desktop. So much for that.

Of course, if you ask Microsoft why they killed these products, they’ll give you excuses. Virtual PC would have required a complete retooling to function on an Intel-based Mac. That would be like building a 1.0 product, but the key element of their response is that there are already other solutions to running Windows and Windows software, from Apple, Parallels and so on and so forth.

In other words, Microsoft just couldn’t compete with smaller companies. Or chose not to.
Windows Media Player? Well, that’s not developed by the Mac Business Unit, so there’s another division to make excuses, and I haven’t seen any that make sense other than the fact that Mac users just don’t seem to care.

Of course it’s not just Microsoft that chooses to ignore the Mac from time to time. I saw an announcement the other day about a new media streaming device from Netgear, perhaps designed to steal thunder from Apple’s iTV. Or at least some of the published reports I read about the product made that claim. Except that it won’t run on Macs either.

Now with Windows occupying over 90% of the personal computer market, I suppose I can agree with industry analyst Ross Rubin, who talked about the matter on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, that these companies would prefer to go after the low-hanging fruit. Besides, Mac users wouldn’t necessarily be tempted, since they’re used to the seamless integration with Apple’s software and hardware.

Of course, that raises the biggest question of all about these alleged iPod “killers,” and that is why most of these companies have, so far at least, pretty much stayed clear of the Mac market. If their products are so impressive, so compelling, why not go for the gold, or the brass ring?

When it comes to the hardware, nothing needs to be changed. But they would have to build drivers and software that runs on both the PowerPC and Intel-based Macs. Is that such a hard task, to build a Universal binary version?
Apparently not, since there are now over 3,500 Universal applications, and the list is growing rapidly, almost every single day. In fact, Microsoft has already made one small move in that direction, with its latest instant messaging software. Oh yes, it doesn’t do audio or video yet, although iChat and even Skype can perform those worthy tasks. To be fair to Microsoft, they say they’re working on it.

Understand that Apple wasn’t afraid to build Windows versions of its products where it felt it could make a killing. In fact, there are far more Windows users with iPods than Mac users right now. But many of its competitors are clearly afraid to move in the opposite direction.

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33 Responses to “Where Microsoft and its Cohorts Fear to Tread”

  1. Terri says:

    Let’s not forget that those who code VPC for Mac are Mac developers. Those Mac developers had a part in the decision to drop VPC. If it were easy don’t you think they would just do make a new VPC? I guess M$ is not greedy after all.

    The same is happening in the Game market. People are starting to drop native Mac games. Build it on a PC and you’ll more easily be able to port to XBOX 360. That’s two platforms for the same code. Where’s the Mac gaming console? The next closest thing would be playing pacman on an iPod. Call that gaming? Pretty lame for a big company like Apple.

  2. Let’s not forget that those who code VPC for Mac are Mac developers. Those Mac developers had a part in the decision to drop VPC. If it were easy don’t you think they would just do make a new VPC? I guess M$ is not greedy after all.

    Ask Parallels how easy it is 🙂


  3. Paul Richards says:

    Hey didn’t Apple have the lead with graphical user interaces at one time? Then somebody else came and trounced on them, overtook them, beat them up, took significant market share, made lots and lots of money. Yea, now thats what happened. Forget about doing the “math”, do the history. Apple ignited personal computing and the iPod is hot. But the Mac platform is a lump of coal. Now that’s what I call spectacular “failure” on a grand scale. And that’s failure in a sense that Apple lost a lot of potential that it can never get back. Obviously it’s successful in making a profit.

    Microsoft will never catch up to the iPod. But at the same time, Apple won’t ever catch up to the PC in terms on dominating the desktop. They got spanked.

  4. Chuck says:

    I guess the gist of your opinion is that MS only wants to cater to what they believe they can make money at. That makes sense, but you are right: they are so big they are allowing other smaller companies to get into markets (Mac) that they can’t/don’t want to bother with. They ARE losing their nimbleness. The iPod is a case in point. MS is four years and millions (billions) of dollars late. I would say they are slow as molaases if they can’t react faster. But I will take your arguement one further: do they really need to be in this market? They seem to lose money at things outside of their Windows/Server/Office products. Maybe we would all be better served if they would just stick to what they make money at. Perhaps even Windows wouldn’t suffer as much.

  5. Apple ignited personal computing and the iPod is hot. But the Mac platform is a lump of coal.

    Which is why Apple has been recording record sales and improved Mac market share in recent quarters? Give it a rest, please.


  6. Richard Taylor says:


    You kicked the wasp nest, I see. Hm. Here’s the fact as I see it — Microsoft would control every aspect of the software world, and more if they could, hardware, too. So if they choose not to compete, it is in recognition they can’t compete and turn a buck. I agree with you. There’s no other way to define that but as failure.

  7. TomB says:

    Seems like MSFT can’t get anything out the door. Maybe the two or three programmers doing all the work left.

  8. SteveP says:

    Sorry. One of your lamer columns, I think.
    As were most of your responses – except for the licensing of OSX.
    Did you miss some sleep?


    “…and your mother wears army boots! Spppttt.”



  9. Sorry. One of your lamer columns, I think.
    As were most of your responses – except for the licensing of OSX.
    Did you miss some sleep?

    Tell ya what: This is one of the lamer responses I’ve seen so far today. All labels, no specifics. Can’t you do any better?


  10. KT says:

    Honesty how big is the Mac VPC market considering all the players and BootCamp available for free? The ROI for a small company like Parallels might be worth it, but for Microsoft? It’s a niche app in a small market. If it’s a failure for MS, it’s a small one at worst and probably a wise business decision. And as a bellwether of Microsoft’s decline look at Vista not this.

  11. And as a bellwether of Microsoft’s decline look at Vista not this.

    Thanks to Parallels, I’ve been doing that regularly 🙂


  12. Reginald Wagner says:

    Microsoft bought VPC for their virtualization software that ran on Windows itself. The Mac version of the software just happened to come along for the ride. Continued sales of VPC on the Mac were just a bonus, but not the be-all end-all of the deal.

    Apple moving to Intel from PPC made continued development of VPC for the Mac unrealistic and totally uneconomical for MS. Simpler to kill the product and let others develop virtualization software for the Mac. They can always be bought later if need be by M$.

    As far as MS creating drivers for Macs, why? To do do creates a reason for someone to actuallly buy a Macintosh and that is not good business for MS. They want the whole business and having something run on other platforms is less important. That they have Office and other programs is from earlier development, agreements with Apple and the profits that that software generates for MS. It is business and it is also something that tried to show they were “not a monolpoly” to the anti-trust people.

    For MS to cater to the small and vocal and loyal Apple crowd, they would be spending money that would not bring the amount of sales to make it profitable. Apple developing software for the iPod to run on Windows obviously brings in a lot more revenue.

    That Apple and MS have a different business model is obvious. That each can be successful is obvious. When you listen to stock pedlars try to drive a stock price up or down based upon them owning or shorting those stocks is also obvious, but in the long run means squat to those who don’t own stocks.

    If you enjoy the product, use it and don’t worry about it. If a better product comes along, decide if it beats the first product before you change. Go with what works for you. Whether someone else has a different product that works for someone else is partially irrelevant as long as your needs are being met.

    Follow the money. It works for Apple, Microsoft and others and also journalists and commentators. Creating a headline or comment that seems outragious brings eyeballs to the ads and revenue to the journalist/commentator. “If it bleeds, it leads” is an old newspaper axiom because people are interested to see what is going on with the world. Call it being nosey or whatever you want.

    I’m too long in the tooth to wage wars about which is better, nor do I rant and rave about what is missing from software. I’ll send a note to the developer suggesting things, but I don’t hold my breath waiting for the idea to be implemented. If the software works for me, I get it. If not, I don’t. Simple and I don’t have to worry about the BS from developers or journalists.

    Take care.


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