Followup Mac Conversation with Microsoft

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Tim O'Reilly
Aug. 07, 2002 03:39 PM
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A few weeks ago, I wrote Microsoft Mac FUD, Phooey, complaining about Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit head Kevin Browne's comments on the eve of Macworld. An exchange with one of the Mac BU developers ensued, with the developer arguing that Kevin's comments had been misrepresented, ending with me only partially convinced.

Well, I was up in Seattle for some other meetings on Monday, so I decided to contact the Mac BU for a face-to-face meeting. Kevin Browne has gone on an extended vacation, but I sat down for forty-five minutes with Tim McDonough, the Director of Marketing for the Mac Business Unit.

Tim's comments boiled down to the following: "Judge us by what we do, not by what people say about us. Here's our track record: We are the largest Mac software development group, and have the largest Mac test facility, outside Apple. We were the first large developer to release an OS X product, and are the only major developer not to hedge our bets--we released our latest versions only for OS X. And I'm not just talking Office X. We just released MSN Messenger for Mac, we just released a Palm conduit and Palm desktop client for Mac, as well as a new version of Internet Explorer. We just released Windows Media Player and RDC, which lets you log directly onto a windows server. And there's more good stuff in the pipeline. Watch us for another six months and see if you still have the same question." O'Reilly Mac OSX Conference.

Tim also pointed out that the timing of Kevin Browne's comments was driven not by the imminence of MacWorld, but by analyst questions about the expiration of Microsoft's five year agreement with Apple, which ends a few days from now. That makes sense to me.

That being said, it's also clear that the Mac BU is a very small unit in a very large corporation. (It doesn't even roll up into the group that normally handles Microsoft Office, but is part of the consumer division that makes mice, trackballs, WebTV, and the Xbox.) It's not at all impossible that there could be ill-considered decisions elsewhere in the corporation that could affect the unit's plans. But I'm pretty clear that the members of the Mac BU at least are solidly committed to the Mac and to OS X.

However, Tim made clear that Microsoft really does have concerns about the slowness with which the hard core OS 9 users are embracing OS X--but he agreed with me that the pace appears to be picking up. He was fascinated by my account of how many copies of Mac OS X: The Missing Manual we've sold. (The "attach rate" of books to software is normally pretty low--1% is great--while we appear to have sold to a fairly large majority of OS X users, by his count. "You've got all of them!" he said.) And he was intrigued by my report that my customers (Unix power users, Java developers, perl hackers, wireless community activists, and other "alpha geeks" of all stripes) are adopting OS X in droves. Microsoft appears to have forgotten that these users have to deal with Office applications as well as programming tools, and that some proactive marketing might lead them to Office X rather than Open Office, AppleWorks, or other alternatives. It's clear to me at least that this market is at least as large as Apple's entire current installed base, and could lead to a doubling of Apple's market share over the next year or so.

I invited Tim, Kevin, and other members of the Mac BU to come down to the O'Reilly OS X Conference in Santa Clara to check out the action. I think it's really important for Microsoft to reach out to the OS X community--and to realize that it's a new community being forged out of the fusion of the "old" Mac community, and many "switchers" (whether from Windows or other versions of Unix) who weren't previously part of the Mac community. As I remarked in my first posting on the subject, a failure to stick with OS X could be as big a failure for Microsoft as Lotus' decision not to develop for Windows. OS X may seem like small potatoes to Microsoft today, but I'm pretty darn sure it's going to be a much bigger potato in years to come.

P.S. Later in the day, I met with Microsoft Group VP Jim Allchin, and was amused to see an iMac driving the wall-screen display in the conference room where we met. So the appeal of Apple's new machines is being felt even in Redmond. And I bet I wasn't the only person on campus with an iBook or TiBook in my briefcase...

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc., thought by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world. In addition to Foo Camps ("Friends of O'Reilly" Camps, which gave rise to the "un-conference" movement), O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the Web 2.0 Summit, the Web 2.0 Expo, the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, the Gov 2.0 Summit, and the Gov 2.0 Expo. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar, "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim's long-term vision for his company is to change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators. In addition to O'Reilly Media, Tim is a founder of Safari Books Online, a pioneering subscription service for accessing books online, and O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, an early-stage venture firm.