The Mac/Windows war turned out to Microsoft's advantage

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 03/91 item 01 - scanned

I don't know how many years the MacUser show has been running, but what I do know is that it sold around 3500 square metres of stand space last year. And, since this is an established and popular show among the Mac community, it came as something of a shock to go to the first-ever Windows show and find that it was already the same size as the MacUser event.

If you were ever in any doubt about the significance of Windows, then this show has made it clear that it could easily become the most widespread and influential computer product since the IBM PC itself. If you have a machine which can run Windows, you are going to use the program sooner or later.

To take another perspective, the Windows show equalled the MacUser show barely eight months after the Windows 3.0 launch. And this was despite 80% of PC software companies not being there.

Big names like WordPerfect and Symantec have yet to announce Windows products. Lotus and WordStar only scraped into the show (with Ami and Legacy) as a result of recent acquisitions.

So where does this leave Apple? According to the Microsoft in-house magazine: 'In the eyes of senior managers at Apple, Microsoft has done Apple a favour by legitimising the graphics issue'. Yeah like IBM legitimised the personal computer in the early 1980s. All the makers of CP/M computers at the time went out of business or introduced new machines which mimicked the IBM PC. That's not legitimising an approach, that's hijacking it.

Microsoft has not only stolen Apple's user interface thunder, it also successfully persuaded all the leading software companies to move their development efforts to OS/2. It's no secret that they were all caught wrong-footed when it became clear that Windows was the mass-market development platform. This pursuit of the wrong goal is the principle reason why the major players didn't make it to the first Windows show.

And, talking of where Windows leaves Apple, there's Claris. Just at the time Claris started talking publicly about developing Windows applications, Apple hauled in the reins and made it part of Apple again. As far as the outside world could tell, that was the end of Claris' multi-platform ambitions. It would be hard to imagine Apple allowing one of its subsidiaries to give succour to the enemy. Yet, really, does Claris have any option?

If it doesn't compete with Microsoft on equal terms - and that means creating Windows applications - then it will remain a marginal, Mac-only supplier. This would bring in a reasonable amount of business but, as the world moves more and more towards mixed computing environments, Claris could easily get left behind. It is comforting to know that the company is now looking for experienced Windows programmers and that, according to Apple CEO John Sculley, Apple doesn't object to Claris developing for Windows.

At least Windows is out in the open. Apple can see the target and decide what needs to be done. It could copy what it sees, which would be a bitter pill to swallow. Can you imagine Apple ever promoting 'Windows compatibility' as a vital feature of the Mac? No, neither can I. But perhaps a Windows mode should be created for all those cretins who can't tell the difference between Windows and a decent user interface. Like Insignia's SoftPC, a SoftWindows product might be a good way of continuing to sneak Macs into corporations which insist on IBM PC compatible machines.

While the court case against Microsoft bought Apple some breathing space, perhaps it would have been better to have let Microsoft emulate the Mac interface right from the start. Then it would have been truly legitimised. My guess is that Microsoft welcomed the legal tussle. It actually diverted everyone's attention away from the real issues.

Had Apple allowed Microsoft to copy the Mac interface, then all software developers would have started writing cross-platform programs at the same time. By having a legal wrangle, and keeping the interface issue unresolved, Microsoft was able to develop Excel and Word for both Windows and the Mac. And this is the real issue - it doesn't matter to users, once they're inside a program, what operating system or interface is on the outside. What's important is that they can do the same job on different machines without retraining.

By insisting that the Mac and Windows interfaces are different, Apple has stretched the loyalty of software developers. Most will now give priority to the bigger Windows market. At the same time, by trying to keep Claris pure, Apple has denied its products the chance of becoming standard issue among the corporate accounts it craves.