Microsoft, Apple Reassess Their Relationship
After nearly five years of living in technological harmony, two of the biggest names in personal computing are due to renew their vows.
In August, a contract
Microsoft has scheduled a presentation for April 10 at its Mountain View, California, campus where Kevin Browne, general manager of Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit, is expected to discuss the future of the group and its products as the contract nears its end.
Maintaining a relationship of some sort will be vital for both companies, analysts said. For one, Microsoft's Office software has become a key application for Mac users, according to Roger Kay, director of client computing with IDC. "Office for Mac is a really integral part of what Apple is offering. It's very critical for Apple to have the Office suite," he said.
Analysts said maintaining ties will also be important for Microsoft as it pursues .Net,
Some of Wednesday's presentation will touch on .Net's role in the Mac community, Microsoft representatives say. Apple's potential role in those plans remains an open question.
"It's very critical to Apple that they get this .Net blessing, otherwise they're going to get forced out of the corporate network," said Rob Enderle, research fellow with Giga Information Group. Enderle noted that many Giga customers have raised concerns recently about the cost and difficulty of supporting Mac computers within corporate networks.
While Microsoft confirmed Tuesday that it plans to bring Apple into .Net to some degree, Apple has been vague about how it will support the technology.
"Basically, we're not really sure what .Net is because it's not very well defined," said an Apple spokesperson. "But we always look at new technologies and how they can benefit Mac users."
One piece of technology that would bridge Apple's Macintosh operating system with .Net is already in the works, though not at Apple. Microsoft and Corel have developed an alternative version of the .Net runtime environment, known as the .Net Framework, for the FreeBSD operating system. FreeBSD is a variant of Unix and is also at the core of Mac OS X, offering what should be an easy path to replicate the technology for the Mac.
A separate effort to develop a Linux implementation of the .Net Framework, known as Mono, has also committed to porting its work to Mac OS X, according to Miguel de Icaza, chief technology officer of Ximian, who is leading the Mono effort.
Besides providing more users who could use .Net software and services, bringing Apple into Microsoft's plans could improve networking compatibilities between Mac and Windows systems, Enderle noted.
Apple has promoted its operating system, beginning with Mac OS 9, as Windows-friendly. Support for Office applications, the Windows media player, and some networking have been addressed. For instance, sharing files between Windows and Mac machines is seamless, said Al Gillen, an IDC research director.
Still, Macintosh clients are sore thumbs in corporate networks that use Microsoft server and database software, Enderle said.
"Right now we are getting the highest number of requests from people who are trying to migrate off of Apple," he said. "People are incredibly concerned that these Apple machines are going to be isolated" in Windows networks.
One issue is the Unix roots in Mac OS X, which is based on the BSD operating system. "This Unix component is working against them," Enderle said. "It's basically Unix with an Apple front end, but from the administrators' point of view, all they see is Unix."
While Unix is used widely by businesses, it typically runs on servers. "The question is whether [companies] are prepared to manage large blocks of Unix clients," Gillen said.
Like computers that run Linux, the Unix features in Mac OS X add a new element to network management that was not previously an issue.
"Most of the system management tools are very much geared for Windows clients. As soon as you start turning that around to Unix clients, that presents a different paradigm," Gillen continued. "Not to say the tools can't handle Unix clients but it's something they haven't done previously."
If Microsoft and Apple keep working, they could iron out any issues that keep Windows and Mac users apart, Enderle said. And .Net could be one way to do that.