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  • Is Microsoft Afraid of the Turf Wars?

    September 21st, 2009

    The conventional wisdom has it that Microsoft is fearless, that they are capable of doing whatever it takes to be successful in the industry. The main example of this is the huge market share for Windows, but it’s also true that Apple has been busily building its market share too, and there’s been a steady erosion, however, slight, of Windows users.

    You also know that Mac market share could be seriously hurt if Microsoft did just one thing — and that would be to kill Office for the Macintosh. That one decision would force a number of companies to reconsider their decision to allow Apple products into their corporate networks.

    However, despite fears from time to time that Microsoft was considering that sort of maneuver, they’ve looked at the ongoing profit and loss picture of the Mac Business Unit and decided to keep it going. At the same time, the end product is always crippled compared to the Windows version, which forces some businesses to consider either a Windows option on the Mac or avoiding Macs altogether.

    No, I’m not getting into the potential antitrust issues at this point in time, but the threat is ever-present.

    In addition, since Microsoft surely wants to make as much profit as they can, you also wonder why they don’t just offer a higher-end version of Office for the Mac with Access and other capabilities that are presently exclusive to the Windows version. Sure, you can rightly suggest that they’d rather you buy a Windows PC, but from a practical point of view, the company actually earns a far greater revenue from selling Mac software than a standard Windows OEM license.

    Besides, consider the reduced support requests. Few will argue that the Windows platform entails additional support issues.

    But cowardice is also part and parcel of Microsoft’s business approach. Even though Bill Gates and company rose to the top of the PC operating system universe, paranoia struck deep. Rather than just compete fairly, and winning with a better product, they delivered something that was, well, almost good enough, and used bait and switch and outright deception to gain the upper hand.

    When they are forced to compete on an equal playing field, my friends, Microsoft is one huge failure!

    Consider the Zune music player. When its PlaysForSure partners failed to gain traction against the iPod, Microsoft decided to roll their own. The end result wasn’t  a bad gadget as such things go, and as I’ve said before, the Zune HD might actually be comparable in many respects to the current iPod touch lineup. But is that sufficient to guarantee success?

    More to the point, Apple has had no compunctions about building products that run on a PC without crippling them in any noticeable fashion. The Mac and PC versions of iTunes are, absent operating system-specific elements, pretty much identical in functionality. Your iPod and iPhone should work the same regardless, and the same holds true for the Safari browser.

    All right, it’s true that the first iteration of Safari for Windows sported a Mac-like interface, perhaps in the tradition of PC developers delivering a Windows-like user experience when porting their products to the Mac. Microsoft even tried that with severe repercussions with the release of the infamous Word 6. They sure learned their lesson, more or less, and Apple did too, since the Safari 4 definitely adheres to most Windows user interface conventions.

    However, you have to wonder that, if Microsoft is so confident that the Zune is such a great piece of hardware, why is there no Mac support? Sure, you can run it with Boot Camp or a Windows virtual machine, but why exactly did Microsoft kill off the Mac version of Windows Media Player. Sure, Telestream is marketing Flip4Mac, which lets you run some Windows media content with QuickTime, but not all the features are actually support, and that includes allowing your Zune to sync on a Mac.

    The real question is why? What’s Microsoft afraid of?

    If Microsoft truly believes that the Zune media player can hold its own against the iPod, why are they afraid to give it a chance to succeed on both platforms? Certainly if it is equal or superior to the iPod, and Microsoft gives it a proper marketing push, Mac users would lust after one as well.

    Indeed, this might be a great time for an iPod alternative to flourish. Apple’s market is saturated. Most of the people who have iPods have already made their purchases. Many of the sales are simply replacements or additional units, and the iPhone is siphoning off the rest.

    The Zune HD demonstrates that, at the very least, Microsoft is experimenting with newer technologies to deliver a superior user experience. Although OLED display technology may have its teething pains, the consumer electronics industry has spent billions to develop what they believe may be the eventual successor to LCD. HD radio may not have truly caught on, but the right environment might allow it to soar. It’s not as if everyone’s going into satellite radio, which has grown largely because of receivers built into new cars. There hasn’t been much of a market for standalone players.

    Certainly Microsoft could sell a load of Zunes to Windows users, if people truly desire the product. But why not go after Mac users as well? It would surely be a win-win situation for Microsoft even if only a few hundred thousand units were sold to the Mac community. It would also prove they could compete on a platform that they didn’t dominate.



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