Can Microsoft rescue Apple's Impossible Mission?

Your mission, Gil, is to increase unit sales, pare down your product line, and excite developers with the changes you are making in your organization. As always, should you or any of your product managers fall behind schedule, the public will disavow any knowledge of your products. This vision will self-destruct in 30 days. Good luck, Gil.

There is some poetic irony in having the Apple tie-in to the Mission:Impossible movie (see Without giving away too much of the movie's plot, they have a lot in common. Both are beset with conflicting agendas and plans that go awry early on. Both have principal characters (Tom Cruise, the powerbook) that are noted for their good looks but not necessarily brains. Both had earlier versions (the TV show, Apple's original products) that came about from great teamwork and collaboration but don't seem so today. Both require skilled managers to execute plans with split-second timing. Both focus more on technology than they have to, and depend on the Internet to solve their problems. And both have their problems in understanding how to fix the current mess they are in.

I've always been a big fan of Mission:Impossible, lusting after Barbara Bain and wanting to grow up to be just like Greg Morris and Martin Landau. My favorite episode was when they had to extract information from some bad guy and managed to transport everyone to a sound stage. The stage had a real train car on hydraulic jacks and was used to fake a wreck, so that the villain would wake up in a fake hospital room and confess. Indeed, the Tom Cruise movie uses something similar in their opening scene.

Unfortunately for Apple, the moment when the bad guy sings and they strike the set is all too near. Apple is in trouble. Ironically, it may be Microsoft that is once again best positioned to bail them out.

I've been interviewing candidates for our local school district technology coordinator this past week. Almost everyone we have spoken to has volunteered that we shouldn't buy any more Macs if we want to take the prudent course of action. This scared me, because as a long-time Apple supporter, I thought the last place to fall into enemy hands would be the k12 territory. And indeed, even our school superintendent decided to go Wintel earlier this year: with all of Apple's troubles, the normally last-to-act folks in the schools are leading the charge for a change. In our case here in Port Washington, Apple lost out on about 400 machines.

If Apple can't hold on to k12, it has no chance of making a comeback in the business community. So why is Microsoft going to save them from this impossible mission? Being able to integrate their web browsers into the Mac OS.

I spent some with Microsoft this week, and while I haven't touched anything other than a beta of NT, the demos look good. Microsoft plans on taking its browser and turning it into various components that will be absorbed into the Windows operating system. And Metrowerks and Adobe plan on taking this technology and making it Mac-compatible. If things go according to the mission profile, you'll have a new Internet-aware operating system, with minimal help from Apple at all.

Taking their browsers apart into components isn't anything new: Borland was doing this for years with Quattro Pro and Lotus has recently gotten on the Active X bandwagon with pieces of their office suite. But assuming that Microsoft can pull this off, it gives them a reason to keep Macintoshes around a bit longer.

To get an idea of what I am talking about, pick up a copy of the first issue of Microsoft Interactive Developer magazine and read an article by Steve Jackson called The Internet Control Pack. He shows a code sample that creates a simple web browser -- with just a single line calling the HTML OLE control routine. This means that I can mix and match other features (add a news reader, add a ftp widget, etc.) with very little programming -- hopefully.

Microsoft still has some challenges: I got the feeling that the NT group and the Win95 group are headed towards each other but still aren't completely aligned. I thought of how they built the channel tunnel (getting back to Mission:Impossible, where a chase takes place in one scene) -- you have a very long project where two groups start digging at opposite ends. Hopefully, they meet in the middle.

Awards, promotions, and sitekeeping dep't

I've had two articles published in the last week. One for Forbes ASAP on using on-line support called Help on the Web: The Quick Fix for Sick PCs. The other for Infoworld entitled Vista affords users a narrow view of network backup, a review of Palindrome's network backup management software

On to this week's award. A very innovative use of the web is at VirtuMedia's site. They have developed a new scripting language called VirtuFlex that is very simple to implement, yet very powerful. While I am not sure about where they will end up with the product, I did like the fact that they used the web to demonstrate how to write the code in some rather innovative examples. For that reason, they get this week's Big Duck award.

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David Strom
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