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  • Is Your Mac.com Address An Endangered Species?

    July 8th, 2008

    As Apple is poised to launch MobileMe this week for an unsuspecting public who may not have even asked for it, you have to wonder whether this is a key move to help Macs penetrate the Windows market big time.

    You see, Apple seems to have done its level best to make .Mac’s successor look platform agnostic. You get basically the same features whether you’re using a Mac or a PC, which is in keeping with Apple’s larger strategy throughout their product line. In fact, some of you feel the new interface for MobileMe (and even the name, in fact) is reminiscent of Windows, so it’s clear what Apple is doing here.

    You see, before our very eyes, Apple has made all of its hardware Windows-compatible. I can’t imagine anyone would have expected such a thing, but it’s true.

    Certainly, the iPod was the first entrant in Apple’s cross-platform strategy. The large Mac + PC labels on such products as Apple TV are also indicative of this approach. When Macs were moved to Intel processors, it didn’t take a lot of effort on Apple’s part to deliver Boot Camp, to allow dual booting into the Mac or Windows environments, and it spurred the development of such virtualization solutions as Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion.

    It doesn’t take much of a stretch to also put the Mac + PC label on a Mac nowadays. Yes, it’s true that Apple did offer DOS cards for some Macs back in the 1990s, using Intel-designed chipsets, which allowed you to use either the Mac or Windows environment. But they were poor performers, and serious bugs were legion.

    But today’s Intel-based Macs make your choice of computing platform a secondary issue, because, under Boot Camp, the Mac runs Windows as fast as any comparably-equipped Windows box, and the virtual machine solutions come close enough that you won’t notice the difference unless you play heavy-duty games or require full processor performance for 3D rendering without any overhead.

    Indeed, a recent deal made by a European publisher to acquire 12,000 Macs over the next two years will give employees the right to choose booting under the Mac OS or Windows environments, depending on their preferences or the needs for their particular role in the company.

    All this seems to be happening under the radar as far as Microsoft is concerned, or in a way that actually helps the world’s largest software publisher. Obviously, when you acquire Windows to install on a Mac, Microsoft makes a big profit, far more than they earn from any OEM manufacturer. The new support for Exchange means that Microsoft can sell lots of Exchange server licenses for the Windows platform, from which they earn large profits.

    Just to voice an off-center possibility, what if one of the reasons Microsoft is hiring people for the Mac Business Unit is to port Exchange to the Mac? Sound odd? Well, certainly, with Apple providing full support for Microsoft’s groupware software in both their mobile and desktop platforms, Microsoft is in a good position to make even more money from this state of affairs.

    However, Apple is also considering the needs of consumers and small businesses for whom Exchange is not just a costly option, but one entirely inappropriate for their needs. That’s where MobileMe comes in and that’s why Apple calls it “Exchange for the rest of us.” They know where their bread is buttered, and offering push email, calendaring and other important features wrapped in a friendly package for a wider audience may actually take the former .Mac into areas where it never was seriously considered previously.

    What makes all this even more fascinating is how well Apple has crafted online versions of key Mac OS X applications to function seamlessly on popular Mac and Windows browsers, even the latest various of the notorious Microsoft Internet Explorer.

    When the Windows users connects to MobileMe, they will be entering an entirely Mac-oriented universe, where such applications as Address Book and Mail will deliver a fully-formed Mac-like veneer.

    Of course, there’s poetic justice in that, since Mac users have long complained about bad Windows ports, where applications looked too much like their Windows counterparts. The first efforts of the failed WordPerfect for Mac initiative were typical of such poor planning, and who can forget the infamous Word 6? What was Microsoft thinking then.

    Today, Microsoft continues to tout Mac-exclusive features and user interface elements that are more consistent with Apple’s user interface guidelines. Even Mozilla has tried to design the look and feel of Firefox 3 to be more consistent with the operating system on which it’s installed, although that move is only partly successful. Take a look at the lack of support for the Leopard-style Print dialog box and its built-in preview feature, for example.

    Whether or not MobileMe will live log and prosper in its new guise is anyone’s guess. More important to me, though, is just how long Apple will allow existing members to continue to use their mac.com email addresses. I don’t know about you, but me.com just isn’t my cup of tea.

    For now both addresses will coexist, but with Apple things can change, often without a lot of notice. So I am willing to predict that you better start sending out those change of email address notices.

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