In an article in the 15-Aug-96 Wall Street Journal, Lee Gomes outlines a "virtually unknown" Microsoft development group in San Jose focusing exclusively on the Macintosh, and Microsoft’s plans to promote third-party Internet development on the Mac. (I’d provide an URL to the article, but the Wall Street Journal doesn’t make their material freely available online.) I’ve received a number of telephone calls about this article – where did all these journalists get my phone number? – and all I can say is that if this group is virtually unknown, someone hasn’t been paying attention. It’s safe to say most of the Mac Internet community has heard of Internet Explorer for the Mac, one of that group’s projects. Microsoft started the Mac-only development group well over a year ago, and its employees include a number of solid, long-time Mac developers who have been visible at trade shows and online. This development group is not news.
What is news is that Microsoft is apparently providing assistance to developers working on Internet applications exclusively for the Macintosh, ignoring Windows altogether. It’s unclear what support Microsoft intends to provide, except for money. But why would Microsoft want to help Apple directly? Isn’t Microsoft the enemy?
As Apple centers its computing strategy around the Internet, Microsoft indirectly benefits from a strong Macintosh Internet development community. First, remember that Microsoft typically makes a lot of money off its Macintosh software (particularly Microsoft Office). More Macs sold means more money for Microsoft – much more money than it’s spending on this developer program.
Second, if Apple collapses and Microsoft comes to dominate the desktop computing market utterly, Microsoft is likely to face serious scrutiny from the Department of Justice under antitrust law. (Incidentally, Caldera recently filed suit against Microsoft over DR-DOS on antitrust grounds.) From Microsoft’s point of view, a healthy Apple with a secure – but small – percentage of the overall computer marketplace is infinitely preferable to no Apple at all, and these days compelling Macintosh Internet products are one way to help Apple survive.
Third, a strong, Microsoft-friendly, Mac Internet development community opens an independent front against Netscape, in a battle both companies seem to view as a life-and-death struggle. If Mac Internet developers prefer dealing with Microsoft rather than Netscape, Netscape loses part of its battle to dominate the Internet marketplace.
Fourth – and perhaps least apparent: Microsoft has another carrot to dangle in front of Macintosh Internet developers. Microsoft’s Office applications currently dominate both the Macintosh and Windows markets, and it’s no secret future versions for both platforms will be much more Internet-centric. Wouldn’t it be a coup for Microsoft if the next version of Office for the Mac worked seamlessly with all the hottest Macintosh Internet products? What if some of those products were bundled with Office? Microsoft sure isn’t going to ship Netscape’s products with future versions of Office, and most small, fast-moving Macintosh Internet start-ups would seriously consider such an offer – especially if Microsoft had helped fund their product development.
Reaction to Microsoft’s efforts in the developer community so far have been mixed. Some developers welcome Microsoft with skepticism, some with scorn, and some with open arms. Regardless of whether Microsoft truly wants to help Apple or the Macintosh, it’s important to remember Microsoft only puts its money where its business is. Like everything else Microsoft does, if there wasn’t money in these actions, Microsoft wouldn’t be doing it.