Apple Preparing for a Microsoft Free Future?

by Chris Seibold Jun 20, 2005

Back in the mid-nineties Apple was in some serious trouble, they needed a new operating system but their efforts (Copland) had come to naught. One supposes there was a bit of corporate gnashing of teeth and bewilderment at the fact that one of the most visible computers makers in the world could not fashion a new operating system no matter how many resources they threw at it (insert your own Longhorn joke here). In the end the Apple’s directors swallowed a bitter pill, abandoned efforts at creating a decent operating system and purchased NeXT. The purchase was hotly debated at the time, many Apple watchers had wanted Apple to snap up BeOS. As with any decision the Apple public is not privy to there was plenty of second-guessing as to why Apple opted for NeXT instead of BeOS. Conjecture abounded but one of the most compelling reasons offered was that Microsoft had refused to develop Office for Apple if they went with BeOS. The claim may be of questionable veracity but the fact that it was so readily accepted belies the dependence the Mac platform has on Microsoft Office.

The reliance on Microsoft seems unavoidable. Few businesses would take an operating seriously if it was not able to run a comparable version of Office. Beyond the obvious deleterious effect on sales to businesses there would also be a large psychological effect if Office for Mac were killed. One is often presented with the lament that Macs don’t run enough software (laughable as though the complaint may be) but that issue would pale in comparison to users saying that Macs aren’t a legitimate choice because they don’t run Office. It is a valid concern, in a world thoroughly dominated by the Office suite of programs any OS that doesn’t feature full Office compatibility will be regarded as something less than complete by most users even if they are stumbling along using the execrable AppleWorks. It is no wonder then that so many people feel that the end of Office for the Mac is tantamount to the end of the Mac platform.

Reliance on a competitor (and for the immediate future Apple and Microsoft compete like a beer league softball team versus the mighty Saint Louis Cardinals) for the supposed life of your company is not something that most corporations would find comforting. Which brings us to the rumor of Numbers. Supposedly Numbers is a spreadsheet, which, one supposes, would be an alternative to Excel. Of course it is just a rumor, Numbers could be a part of a new iGamble suite or just another product that is never released for public consumption. Supposing that Numbers is a spreadsheet then Apple suddenly has the tools required for users to completely eschew Office. Some will argue that the tools Apple offers (Pages, Keynote, Mail, Calendar) are in some ways inferior but, with the addition of a spreadsheet application the point could be made that, at least, that there are options.

Others will, no doubt, maintain that both the notion of Office for Mac or an Apple written equivalent will soon be completely superfluous. They will point to the impending change of chip vendors and the fact that Apple will not prevent users from installing Windows on their Intel powered Macs. From there it is a short step to installing Office and booting into Windows when you want to use the world’s most popular office suite. While some users will undoubtedly pursue this method it is not a workable solution in the eyes of Apple. If a goodly amount of your work hinges on using Microsoft Office and you find yourself constantly booting into Windows the next computer you buy will probably be Windows only. One can also envision a scenario in which the dual boot method could be unnecessary. It is certainly feasible that Apple or a third party could release an application that allows Window apps to run at full speed without the reboot but even with a solution such as that you are using a Windows version which removes a good bit of the motivation to use a Mac in the first place. Unfortunate as the news might be in the end you need either Office running natively on the Mac or a viable replacement regardless of the processor.

None of this is to say that Microsoft will kill of Office for OS X anytime soon, if ever. Though if Apple starts cutting into their dominance of the computing market such an action may become irresistible (note that there is no Office for Linux though it would certainly be profitable). The general retort to such arguments is as follows; Microsoft makes money on three things: Windows, Office for Windows and Office for Mac. Which is probably generally true but out of those three income sources the smallest revenue stream is easily divined. In short halting Office for Mac doesn’t really mean too much for Microsoft in the long run. Apple seems to be angling for the same position, a system free of dependence on Microsoft while hoping it doesn’t have to face that possibility.


  • It will be interesting to see when iWork supplants AppleWorks as Steve indicated it would.  AW has a suite of 6 apps if I’m not mistaken. (Word processor, Spreadsheet, Database, Presentation, Drawing, Painting). It will be interesting to see what they do regards the last two (which you’d expect to be combined)! Look out Elements?

    I don’t think Apple should go too hard after the Office market until they have a database in iWork. Tho knowing Apple, it wouldn’t surprise if they find a way to easily combine spreadsheeting and data management into the one app (Numbers).

    So maybe the final iWork will be:

    Pages: Document creation (word processing and DTP)
    Numbers: Information management (spreadsheet and database)
    Keynote: Presentations
    Images: Image manipulation (bitmap and vector)

    That would make for a nice streamlined suite.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • I’m surprised that there is no mention of NeoOffice/J (aka OpenOffice) or AbiWord. If Apple would help clean up OpenOffice and turn it back to the wild (as they did for the WebKit?) then you really don’t need MS Office. Am I missing something?

    KiltBear had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 3
  • I’m really hoping that somewhere in there they also decide to release a more advanced email solution as well, to compete with Entourage / Outlook.  Of the dozens of people I know with Office for Mac, the majority of them swear by Entourage rather than Mail, iCal, etc. just simply because it resembles Outlook so much and made their “switch” that much easier to swallow.  I love Entourage, I don’t use it only because I’m a .Mac user and would rather have sync capability across several macs, but it would seem that having a more capable mail solution with iWork would accomplish a few things.  A)  A lot of people don’t seem to like Mail as it is, they require higher-end ‘power-user’ features that it just simply doesn’t contain and adding these features to Mail will only confuse the casual home user.  B)  It’s the final nail in eventual Office:Mac coffin. 

    I’ve always been surprised that the Mac products by Microsoft have lasted this long.  With Apple’s newfound dominance of the media AND the recent sales surge to back it up - I think it’s safe to assume that MS will eventually consider stealing some of that thunder by eliminating the Mac software they produce altogether.  They’ve already stopped developing both Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player apparently, leaving only Virtual PC and Office.  As the former two are both free software, you can see that Microsoft isn’t interested in being endearing to Mac users (and why should they?  We talk down about them constantly) so perhaps iWork really IS a means of declaring further independence.

    As far as OpenOffice, well yes that’d certainly be great - but the majority of the Mac/PC using public still isn’t aware enough of its existance, and with the marketing behind Office, etc. they aren’t likely to for quite some time.  Meanwhile why not make iWork all it can be and make a few dollars to boot?  Making iWork a full-on competitor (hopefully a somewhat compatible competitor) to MS Office serves only to make Apple stronger in the eyes of its users and, more importantly, businesses.

    dickrichards2000 had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 112
  • For antitrust reasons, I don’t think Microsoft will stop making Office for Mac. The existence of OSX helps Microsoft fend off antitrust lawsuits and/or legislation, so it’s unlikely that Microsoft would kill Office for Mac unless OSX achieved significant market share (say 20%, a very unlikely scenario unfortunately). I also recall that the original antitrust lawsuit alleged that Microsoft maintained an illegal monopoly with Office. Those allegations were eventually dropped. The fact that Microsoft makes a second version of Office (for Mac) indirectly helps stave off a resurrection of that lawsuit.

    melshutson had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I don’t think Apple has many plans to attack MS Office or Exchange anytime soon.

    Word from WWDC 2005 was the the Enterprise Tracks where totally pathetic. More along the lines of “you can use Oracle or xxx solution”

    Doesn’t anyone wonder why Adobe and Microsoft where first to announce support for MacTel? I think this is because behind the scenes some deals have been cut where Apple is agreeing to stay out of some markets (Chiefly Adobe and Microsoft’s cash cow areas) in liue of them coming out with support for OS X Intel.

    Thus I don’t expect Apple to have any significant presence in the SMB markets with their own solutions. I don’t expect any Office suite beyond the iWorks suite. Certainly nothing on MS Office’s level.

    hmurchison had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 145
  • A couple of points…

    You say that the public was not privy to the resons behind the decision to adopt NeXT over BeOS, but that’s not entirely true. In Gil Amelio’s book, he gives quite a bit of detail behind the decision. What is really interesting is that unknown to most at the time, there was a third contender for a new Mac OS: WindowsNT. Evidently, Amelio was in talks with Gates up to the last minute to create a version of NT that was Mac-like in its interface, but was nothing but Windows under the hood.

    On paper, the plan almost made sense in that NT was already ported to the PowerPC in the early days, and it wouldn’t have been too much work to port programs from Windows to the Mac if the same architecture was running underneath.

    Gates was very enthusiastice about this, according to Amelio, as you might well imagine and was furious over the decision to go with Jobs and NeXT.

    However, had Amelio done this I don’t think there would be an Apple today. The MacOS would have become nothing more than a shell on top of Windows such as HP’s NewWave before it. And Mac users would have all the same problems that Windows users have.

    Who knows what it would have been like if BeOS has been purchased?

    On another note, if iWork is going to replace AppleWorks, the drawing and painting programs could just be embedded apps acccessible from within Pages and Keynote, similar to the way you have some minor editing tools in iPhoto today. As for a database, Apple already has one: FileMaker Pro.

    I could foresee an “iWork Standard” containing Pages, Numbers, and Keynote and an “iWork professional” that includes FileMaker along with the other apps. Therefore, the whole suite is really there once Numbers is introduced.

    R. Mansfield had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 11
  • AJ: Regarding OpenOffice… I think it would be far easier for Apple to start fresh than to try and get OO working better on the Mac.  I run OO on Linux frequently and quite frankly it sucks.  It’s not the least bit innovative.  The UI is cluttered.  On top of that it’s a big resource hog.  If all you care about is checking off features on a list, sure OO might be ok but as far as general usability it has got a long ways to go.

    Hardly a product Apple would want to be associated with.

    Yeroc had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 2
  • Yes, Yeroc, but Open Office is free.  I already have Office and prefer it, but if I didn’t, I’d pick OO because a) it’s compatible with Word docs and b) it’s cross platform.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 2220
  • How compatible is OO with Word et al?  I know even MS Office for Mac isn’t 100% compatible with Office for Windows. Also, doesn’t OO run in X11?

    Reports I have heard of OO is that once you start including text boxes and other objects, the compatibility slips a notch.  Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Adobe and MS are Apple’s GREATEST allies.  They have been responsible for many people sticking with the Mac and in some cases, switching.

    Apple would be insane to jeopardize those relationships.

    And why should Apple do the whole kit and caboodle?

    They should stick to competing in the low end as far as productivity and graphics applications go.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • Forget OO. It’s not about making a free MS Office clone. Hell it’s not even about cross platform apps. People are craving a new productivity suite that improves on their efficiency and can export to Open formats for access by everyone. Apple choses open source code when it makes sense like KHTML over Mozilla but they didn’t get into this area to help every open source effort out there.

    You and I don’t need the same application if the file format we chose is easily readible by both apps. We’ve all experienced the debilitating effects of MS Offices lock-in with the .doc format.

    No we won’t be Microsoft free for a while but I’d like to see iWork evolve into something special.

    hmurchison had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 145
  • Agreed about iWork but I can still dream…  the .doc debacle is just the tip of the iceberg too - I’d love to see a universal print-ready DTP format, I’m sick of “these guys want Indesign”, “those guys want Quark 6.0”, and “over here it’s PDF but only Adobe standards”.  This is where users get frustrated.  I’m using 4 different pieces of software just to make ads for print in magazines and they’re all the same ad!  Lately I’ve taken a liking to Pages and here again, what good does it do me if I have to import it into something else just to spit it back out again in a different file type?

    I would however, love to see an “iPaint” or “iDraw” application for lower-end use, as part of the iLife suite rather than iWork.  Giving the same flexibility to new artists that Garageband gives to semi-pro musicians can only be a good thing.

    And is Filemaker actually an Apple application?  I don’t use it but I thought someone else put that out.

    dickrichards2000 had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 112
  • Yes, Filemaker is owned by Apple. If you go to the company information page on their website,, you will find the statement, “Ownership: FileMaker, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple Computer, Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL).”

    So, again, Apple could add Numbers to iWork for a spreadsheet, include FileMaker for a for a “professional edition” and they have a full fledged suite that would finally take the place of Appleworks and compete on some level with MS Office.

    That might be a viable option because one thing to remember is that MS has never ported their database Access to the Mac. There used to be a Mac version of FoxPro, but MS killed it.

    R. Mansfield had this to say on Jun 21, 2005 Posts: 11
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