The late Jim Croce once advised that you don't tug on Superman's cape, and you don't spit in the wind. The very-much-alive Steve Jobs now has a new addition to the litany: you don't show an image of Bill Gates to an armada of Macintosh faithful.

Crowd reaction at the Macworld Expo aside, though, there are good and sensible reasons why Microsoft might want to invest $150 million or so in Apple, and while Mac enthusiasts consider any Microsoft logo the spiritual equivalent of the Mark of the Beast — an antagonism that goes back to the very beginning of the Wintel juggernaut, roughly about the time Windows 666 missed its shipping date and didn't appear on the shelves until the spring of 671 — there are good and sensible reasons why this could actually work.

For one thing, Microsoft still makes money on the sale of Mac applications, and presumably would like to continue to do so. To this end, Microsoft agreed to continue to produce — and upgrade where necessary — its Mac software for a minimum of five years. Will other software vendors, heartened by Microsoft's commitment, continue to see a viable market for Macintosh products? Apple clearly hopes so.

A lesser issue is the installation of Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the default Web browser on new Macs. Some may howl, but it's hard to imagine how IE will gain any substantial market share by this move, since new Macs don't make up that big a fraction of the computer market and existing Mac OS users are solidly in the Netscape camp. Since Apple doesn't make a Web client of its own, this is a minor concession at best.

Of course, from the standpoint of avoiding Federal antitrust action, Microsoft clearly has an interest in keeping Apple, or at least the Macintosh operating system, viable in the marketplace; "Monopoly? What monopoly?" is far more convincing when you can point to an actual competitor. If Macintosh is your religion, you might think Steve Jobs is some sort of apostate and Bill Gates the Antichrist — in which case, you might want to think again. What is the alternative? Sony is selling VHS recorders these days.

The Vent

10 August 1997

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 Copyright © 1997 by Charles G. Hill