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  • The Enemy of My Enemy Revisited

    March 15th, 2010

    In recent years, it was widely assumed that Apple and Google were working together to combat Microsoft. That may have been true at one point in time, but a lot of things have since occurred hat have put Apple at Google at loggerheads.

    The most recent salvo in this growing conflict was that intellectual property lawsuit against HTC, a Taiwan-based mobile phone manufacturer. The action, involving 20 Apple patents that they claim have been violated, is regarded as an action really targeted at Google. So HTC is supposedly the proxy.

    Now that may, in part, be true, but one fact frequently overlooked is the fact that some of the devices mentioned in Apple’s complaint use the Windows Mobile OS. So what does Google have to do with that?

    More to the point, one key reason for Apple to go after HTC is because that company appears to be the largest maker of Android devices. I suspect Apple’s attorneys have reasoned that, without being installed on any devices, Android would be nothing more than an idea, not a source of infringement. It’s only when it’s actually used on a shipping product that the issue arises.

    Be that as it may, even though Windows Mobile products are involved, Microsoft seems remarkably sympathetic to Apple’s concerns. According to a report in AppleInsider, which quotes a newspaper story on the subject, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel and senior vice president, suggests that this litigation “is not necessarily a bad thing.”

    Assuming the quote is accurate, it may simply be true that Microsoft feels that they stand to benefit if Apple prevails, since Google would be hurt the most.

    It’s also true that Microsoft appears to be surprisingly upbeat in their comments about Apple these days. The AppleInsider piece reminds us of a statement that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made about the App Store recently during a presentation of the University of Washington, that “Apple’s done a very nice job that allows people to monetize and commercialize their intellectual property.”

    For Windows Mobile to succeed, Microsoft would clearly need to attempt to emulate the success of the App Store, and there’s no reason to think they’re capable of getting such a venture off the ground successfully.

    At the same time, there are rumors that Apple and Microsoft are negotiating a deal to replace Google’s search and mapping feature with the corresponding Bing versions on Apple’s mobile devices. Now it’s quite possible that Apple is just hedging its bets, in case the dispute with Google makes it difficult to continue to carry their apps. However, it’s also possible that Apple wants to provide alternatives and leave it to iPad, iPhone and Mac users to make the final decision of what to use.

    Bear in mind that there’s already a Yahoo! search option on the iPhone, one that will probably carry over to the iPad version of Safari. Since Yahoo! will be powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine in the very near future anyway, this may all be about modifying the agreements accordingly.

    However, Microsoft is clearly being far more sanguine about Apple these days, and not missing an opportunity or two to issue some praise. The company’s Mac Business Unit is busy working on a new version of Office for the Mac, version 2011, which will, at long last, offer a modern Mac version of the Outlook email client/contact manager application. A more concerted effort is supposedly being made to make the Mac and Windows versions of the office suite as compatible as possible.

    That may not seem terribly important to many of you, but don’t forget that Microsoft’s Mac software has frequently lagged behind the Windows versions when it comes to key features. The loss of Visual Basic for Applications in Office 2008, regardless of the excuses for its absence, was a critical factor preventing many Mac users from upgrading. Word and Excel macros have long been critical to certain workflow situations, and having Apple’s Automator as an alternative made no sense whatever.

    Sure, Microsoft claimed that they dumped VBA because it would have added a year to the project, and made Office 2008 into Office 2009. On the other hand, I’d think they could have just as well hired extra people to get the job done faster. It’s not as if Microsoft lacks resources. VBA has been around for years, so it’s not as if trained coders can’t be deployed. At the time, I felt it was a strategic decision, an effort to entice Mac users to move to Windows to get the genuine, full-featured version of Office.

    However, that situation has changed, partly because of the Google situation, and partly because growing Mac sales have the potential to deliver much higher Office for the Mac sales. The Mac platform’s greater stability also means less support costs for Microsoft, so why run away from a great income source?

    All in all, it’s a good reason for Apple and its old enemy, Microsoft, to work together closely once again.



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