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  • Microsoft and the Mac: Excuses, Excuses!

    October 3rd, 2006

    When I posted a commentary suggesting that Microsoft and other companies were afraid to build Mac products, because they couldn’t compete with Apple, you could see the excuses from a mile off. Clearly I hit a sore spot, and that was just as true with the departure of Virtual PC.

    You see, if you believe what they had to say, Microsoft never loses a battle when it decides to cancel a product. It didn’t sell enough copies to make it profitable, or had some other strategic reason not to proceed with updates.

    They forget that Microsoft can be remarkably persistent if it sees any opportunity at all. Take the digital music business. The “PlaysForSure” DRM scheme hasn’t done so well against the iPod, so the partners who are building products to support that technology can go take a hike. Time for Plan B (or is it C, I forget). Let there be Zune, and if that doesn’t work, I’m sure there will be another ill-considered brand name for the next attempt to gain a foothold in this market.

    When Apple moved to Intel processors, you would have thought that Microsoft was in its element. There was already an Intel-based version of Virtual PC, and Microsoft had been developing products for such processors for years. But when asked about a Universal version, they waffled.

    Now I don’t know the exact sales figures for the Mac version of Virtual PC, but I expect they were fairly decent, because it was, despite its performance limitations, the best way to run Windows on a PowerPC Mac. But with the new Mac architecture in production, the best you could get was the excuse that Microsoft was working with Apple on the best way to run Windows on those computers.

    Nothing happened as the months passed, and folks managed to find a way to boot Windows on a MacIntel. Within weeks, Apple released the first boot camp beta. The early betas of Parallels Desktop appeared soon thereafter. Rather than build a better product, with superior Windows integration, and perhaps a better price for a bundle that included the operating system, Microsoft caved.

    Was it really so hard, as they claimed, to build a Universal version of Virtual PC? Clearly, Parallels, a new company with no previous experience on the Mac, figured out a way to do it in record time. And they have been rushing out updates to support to new Macs, Windows Vista capability, with a lot more to come.

    Another company, CodeWeavers, is hard at work with CrossOver, an application that lets you run a select number of Windows applications without any need for Windows.

    Now maybe Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit was overwhelmed with the task of bringing millions of lines of code for Office into Xcode, Apple’s developer’s environment. They only recently completed the task, and won’t actually have a Universal version of Office ready to release for at least another year. Was there even time to allocate a dozen or so developers to labor on Virtual PC now that there were competitors established in that sandbox? And Microsoft isn’t quite the paragon of programming efficiency. The words lean and mean are not included in their company lexicon.

    It’s not that Microsoft has only one product left for the Mac. Just the other day, Messenger 6.0 came out, and it runs fine on Intel-based Macs. True it lacks audio and video capability, but it appears that will eventually be added. And I do have lots of praise for their “Comfort” keyboards, most of which work well on Macs with native drivers, even if the color schemes are somewhat bland.

    In fact, I like the people I’ve met from the Mac BU, and if I seem to be unduly critical of the company, it’s not because I’m a Microsoft or even a Windows basher by nature. I criticize Apple too when appropriate. Call me an equal-opportunity offender.

    I do, however, believe that Microsoft’s best days lie in the past, even though it is certain to dominate the personal computer market for many years to come. I’ll just leave it at that.



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    10 Responses to “Microsoft and the Mac: Excuses, Excuses!”

    1. Chris Moore says:

      Microsoft’s statement at the time they bought Connectix was that they were acquiring the virtual machine technology from Connectix because they wanted to allow their legacy server customers to be able to run Windows NT apps in Server 2003.

    2. Microsoft’s statement at the time they bought Connectix was that they were acquiring the virtual machine technology from Connectix because they wanted to allow their legacy server customers to be able to run Windows NT apps in Server 2003.

      Technically, they bought the software, not the company. But, yes, that is a major reason. They also promised to continue to develop the Mac version.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. mcloki says:

      Why would Microsoft spend money developing this thing, Probably a few million. and then sell a solution for cheap. If they do nothing, they sell retail versions of their already produced OS. It does make more business sense for Microsoft to cede this VM market to others.

    4. Malcolm says:

      It has been suggested that why Microsoft cancelled VPC is puzzling, because they could have sold a retail Windows box for almost every Virtual PC used. While this may be true, the Microsoft execs still were loath to support a large PC-user exodus to intel Macs. Why? Because after a few months of use too many of those switchers would be inclined to use the Windows side as little as possible, until perhaps totally weening themselves from that virus-and-spyware ridden environment.

    5. Yacko says:

      No conspiracy or laziness or puzzle. I think it is fairly simple. There were two versions of VPC. One was an emulator for PowerPC G4 Macs. Microsoft got this by default. The other was VPC for Windows, a much smaller executable, which some liked as a “compatibility layer” of last resort if some older Windows product did not run on 2000 or XP. This is what Microsoft wanted. Whether it is to run NT on Server or maximum Vista back-compatibility I can’t say, but I can see why MS wanted this tool just in case. Was DOSBox a blip when they bought this?

      Okay, so they promised to continue Mac development, but maybe it was an overconfident promise. The big stumbling block? CodeWarrior. VPC Mac code is in Powerplant/Codewarrior and Apple warned XCode (and maybe an Intel compiler) is the only future path. Where does this leave MS? With a hellish port from CodeWarrior to XCode. What about the VPC Win code? After all the new Macs are now, of all things, Intel. Unfortunately there is no way to use this in a yellowboxish kind of situation. Apple has cut that off, so the ubiquitous Windows developers do not have an easy avenue to port their code to Intel Macs. Otherwise we would have a flood of apps and the current Mac ecology of developers would fall apart. The only easy port is Unix/Linux/gcc code. End of story. The Mac division of Microsoft naively overpromised.

      But have no fear. There is still plenty of opportunity on the Mac. I predict that Intel Macs will be the ultimate emulator machines and developers are aiming at it as emulator central. Mac 6, Mac 9, game machines, 8-bit retro, Apple IIgs, DOS, Amiga/Atari, Windows, Sparc, OS/2 and many, many more. This is going to be fun, fun, fun! When 3GHz/8GB is standard on an iMac (now available on a desktop) and some more software development, I will be in geek heaven.

    6. TomB says:

      Malcolm is dead-on; this is the scenario MSFT dreads. Once you get used to Mac, there’s no looking back.

      I also think MSFT just doesn’t have much talent. Clearly, their Windows developers are a bunch of incompetant hacks. They DO have some good people in their Mac BU, and they probably have a few from companies they bought, like Bungie, but you just have to look at the general quality of MSFT’s offerings to see they there’s “no beef”.

    7. KT says:

      Gene I can only suggest that you start a petition for MS to bring back VPC. While you’re doing that, I’m going to petition Apple to bring back HyperCard.

      Let’s work together to bring these companies back from the brink.

    8. Gene I can only suggest that you start a petition for MS to bring back VPC. While you’re doing that, I’m going to petition Apple to bring back HyperCard.

      Let’s work together to bring these companies back from the brink.

      Actually, I think Parallels Desktop is a terrific product, so I don’t care what they bring back, and I was never a HyperCard aficionado.

      Peace,
      Gene

    9. KT says:

      >>Actually, I think Parallels Desktop is a terrific product, so I don’t care what they bring back, and I was never a >>HyperCard aficionado.

      I agree HC was wasn’t so good, but SuperCard is great and now universal. I guess Apple felt they just couldn’t compete 🙂

    10. david says:

      I think a factor you are missing is that making vpc universal is a big job and really its so clean cut what it would be doing since its software to emulate the x86 on a ppc. you wouldn’t want that. you want what we are getting now, apps that host windows on the mac and use the intel chip natively. so the question really is, why bother and why care.

      msft does invest in areas where they see strategic merit. I guess the question is, what is the strategic merit for msft to invest in vpc given products like parallels? not really much point to it as far as I can see.

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