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MsApple?

Why this is good news
for all publishers
(yes, even Mac users)

by Daniel Will-Harris

First, Hello. And welcome to the first issue of the Will-Harris Wire. If you want to know about who I am and what I intend to do with this column, click here.

Warning: This column contains explicit information about Apple and Microsoft. Please do not flame me if you donít agree with me. Instead, go to the OpenWire discussion forum and post your opinions there. That way, the world can read your thoughts (not just me).

9/1/97 OK, so youíve heard the news. MS has paid Apple 150 million (and change), to settle some disputes and forge new alliances. First, some background. Then Iíll cover what this really means to all of us who use computers for graphic design.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

...UPDATE: 9/5/97 Is Apple losing the loyalty of its developers and customers? and 9/12/97 Why Apple may be aligning itself with Intel.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

>What did Apple Get?

Whether you love or hate Microsoft, this is nothing but good news for Apple. It means a little cash (150 million sounds like a lot, and Iíd love to win it in the lottery, but for a company that has lost more than this in less than three months, the money itself is not a big deal). A little credibility.

The Mac market was simply spiraling down, and users were worried that they wouldnít have software to support their computers. Since Microsoft already sells more than half of all software for the Mac, this Apple-MS alliance means that Mac users are guaranteed some of the software they use most, for at least five years. It also gives Apple more credibility with other developers who think, ďWell, if Microsoft can do it, we can do it.Ē Thatís the best thing Apple got, and Mac users should now feel much more secure that they can use their beloved computers (yes, the Mac is just a computer, I know this may surprise some of you) for another five years.

>What does Microsoft get?

Well, Microsoft didnít get where it is by giving anything away (except maybe browsers). Microsoft got a great deal. Not only do they make it clear they still want to sell a half-a-billion dollars of Mac software a year, they settle disputes with Apple, and get Apple to agree to two important things.

The first is that Apple will ship the Microsoft Internet Explorer with the MacOS, instead of Netscape. Mac users may decry this, unless theyíve actually tried IE, in which case they wonít mind as much, because itís really a terrific browser, in many was superior to Navigator. Yes, I can understand it if you want to support Netscape, ďthe underdog.Ē If you do, fine, go out and buy a copy of Navigator, because Netscape still thinks they can sell a browser. No one is forcing you to use IE, Appleís just going to make it easier for you to do so. This is, of course, bad news for Netscape, who, sooner or later, are going to have to figure out that browserís arenít something you can sell anymore.

Next, Microsoft and Apple have agreed to build compatible Java compilers. Thatís great news for Microsoft, Apple, and you, because it means that Java will get more compatibility, power, and performance.

Finally, Microsoft needs Apple to be in business. Without it, they run the risk of being broken up as a monopoly in the operating system market. Apple doesnít have much market share, really, but theyíre basically the only desktop competition Microsoft has. It seems strange to pay your competition to keep competing, but it may just keep the Justice Department off Microsoftís back (even though investigations are pending).

The loser here is Sun. Since Microsoft and Apple together control almost 100% of the desktop computer market, if they agree on a standard, it will be a standard, and it will be their standard, rather than Sunís standard.

>Microsoftís other win
is two-fold

First, they get access to some Mac technology (and Apple gets access to some Microsoft technology). Some pundits thinks this will be QuickTime. Iím not so sure (but weíll see, wonít we?). Microsoft has just recently licensed technology from several streaming video companies (including buying 10% of Real Audio/Video). These technologies are really more suited to the web than QuickTime, which creates huge files that have to be downloaded before you can view them. This may settle an earlier dispute about Microsoftís own video format, but I donít think weíre going to see Microsoft start using QuickTime everywhere.

Next, they get a seat on the board, but no voting rights. This doesnít give them any direct control over Apple, but it does allow them to keep their eye on the really scary guy in the middle of all this, Larry Ellison. Ellison is the head of Oracle, the huge database company thatís trying to promote the NC (Network Computer), a.k.a. dumb-terminal, that people will buy so they then have to rent all their software from Larry (you can read more of my far-future predictions on my own site).

My guess is that Larry would like nothing more than to turn Apple into the consumer arm of Oracle, churning out dumb-terminal NC boxes and selling them to Mac users, then the world. Now that Microsoft is on board, they can keep a closer eye on Larry. Donít get me wrong, I like the idea of Apple, Sun, and Oracle trying to overtake Microsoft. That only makes Microsoft work harder, which is great for users.

>What does this mean for you?

It should mean that things are more compatible between the Mac and Windows. One key technology that Apple has not agreed to yet is OpenType, the new font format from both Adobe and Microsoft. This new format is designed to contain either Type 1 or TrueType outlines in the same font. You wonít have to worry about font formats or rasterizers, youíll just use the font. On the web, these fonts can be compressed and encrypted and should be compatible all around. While they wonít be out for a while, the fact that Adobe and Microsoft agreed on something this major is good news for anyone who uses fonts.

Apple has been conspicuously silent on all this acceptance of a new format, even though Adobe and Microsoft are both strongly behind it. Part of this may have been that they simply didnít want to expend resources on it, and part of it may be because the NeXT OS that Apple bought depends on Display PostScript, and it might not be so easy to rewrite it to handle a new font format.

What it should mean for Mac users is that they can continue to use their Macs. Frankly, itís time Mac users wise up and realize that Windows machines can do everything their machines can. Yes, everything. Iím not saying Mac users should switch to Windows, you donít have to, especially not after the Microsoft deal. Just that Mac users should stop criticizing something theyíve probably never used. If you donít like Windows, donít use it, but donít bash it, either. (Once again, if you disagree with me, make your disagreement public by posting it in the OpenWire forum. I simply wonít reply to flames.)

What it should mean to Windows users is precisely what Windows users have always liked: more choice. Why? Because they can still choose a Mac if they want, and if more Mac software gets written, itís likely it will also be ported to Windows because Windows has a much bigger market. While more choice can lead to more confusion, it also generally leads to innovation. Competition is whatís finally made Windows good. Windows users should want the Mac (and Java) market to be stronger, if for no other reason than it continues to push Microsoft and Windows developers to do more.

While some people are worried about Internet Explorer taking over the market, would that be such a bad thing? Right now Netscape and Microsoft canít agree on basic standards and keep taking things into their own hands. The Mac world has run smoothly for years based on the very notion of ďless choice and fewer options means less confusion.Ē So Mac users should understand completely the concept of only having one browser to choose from, but everything then working correctly for that browser. Netscapeís not going to go away (and I donít want it to, Microsoft always does better when its competing). But Netscape is going to have to get more ďstandardĒ (and so, I hope, will IE).

The bottom line is that politics makes for strange bedfellows, and the personalities that run the computer business are corporate politicians. As their constituents, itís good for us when they compete, and itís good for us when they work together. Iím sure there are people who want to see a lot of evil behind this. Me, I see things running smoother, getting cheaper, faster, and better.

But like any political environment, you canít just sit there and watch it happen. You have to get involved. In upcoming columns Iíll talk about what you can (and should) do to help shape the software and hardware of tomorrow.

DWH

9/5/97 - Is Apple losing the loyalty of its developers and users?: Appleís purchase of PowerComputing, to eliminate its biggest hardware competitor, has had unexpected ramifications in the Apple user and developer community--itís made a lot of them angry. CNET.com ran a piece with more negative words from Apple users than Iíve ever seen. Dave Winer, who writes about the Apple community on his Scripting News site, is angry enough to suggest that Motorola and IBM start to support the BeOS (the OS Apple overlooked in favor of NeXT) to work around Apple.

This is not unlike the British peopleís backlash against the royal family for not being more open and warm in response to the death of Princess Diana. Appleís main strength is the loyalty of its users--if it abuses this loyalty it will lose its most important asset.

>Why Apple may be
aligning themselves with Intel

9/12/97 First, Apple decided it wouldnít license OS-8 to clone makers. Then it licensed it to UMax, but not to Motorola. Then Steve Jobs comes out and says he wants to build systems that run using Intel chips (such as the Pentium). What gives?

It took me a while to figure out it, but today I got idea. Hereís a clue--the NeXT OS that Jobs developed after leaving Apple, the one that Apple bought (the one that brought Jobs back to Apple), already has a version for the Intel chips--but not the PowerPC chip that now runs the current Mac OS.

So letís think about this together, shall we? Jobs sees the NeXT OS as the future of Apple. He can either, 1) rewrite NeXT to run on the PowerPC chip, or 2) refocus Apple to run on Intel, so NeXT doesnít have to be rewritten. Is it easier to refocus a company than rewrite an OS? Perhaps. Could I be wrong? Absolutely. Could I be right? Weíll see.

DWH

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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the webís only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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