Web Informant #82, 3 September 1997 (Apple's OS Woes)


The papers today are full of the decision by Apple to pull back from licensing its latest operating system to its cloners. It seems that Apple can do nothing right these days. (Before you send me any hate mail, realize I still have a soft spot in my heart, and on my desktop, for my Mac. I ran a few businesses on Macs, and continue to use them.)

And while lots of people have commented on the various ins and outs of the Microsoft/Apple deal, I haven't seen the opinion that the browser is actually an essential bit of operating system that shouldn't be so lightly tossed towards Redmond. To provide some important commentary, let's hear from Richard Freedman (73650.53@compuserve.com), a former Microsoft program manager and columnist for PC World, now involved in the real estate business. Take it away, Richard.

When I read of Apple's recent license of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, I found the news, well, unsettling. Although Microsoft incorporates outside technology into its operating systems, in my experience it was for peripheral features, like quick-viewing or backup utilities. Core technology, like web browsing, was always developed in-house. After all, the browser is not only a basic component of the user interface, and therefore shapes the user's experience and product satisfaction, but it also defines a critically important development platform.

So Apple's subcontracting out development of an essential operating system component is not a good sign of things to come. Although the Next purchase was hardly a positive sign, at least it was a one-time shot. Presumably, Apple (or former Next people working at Apple) will shape the technology going forward. While I don't know the licensing terms for IE, this is and will be a Microsoft-designed product, and Apple will apparently just package it in, no doubt with a few tweaks.

However, I can't imagine key decisions being made anywhere but Redmond since Mac IE is based on a crown jewel, Windows IE.

Perhaps Apple is just being practical. It would be an expensive and pointless exercise for them to develop web browsing technology now; they had to choose between Microsoft or Netscape anyway. Besides, Apple not only gets cutting edge, continuously upgraded technology, but will actually get paid a licensing fee to take it.

So maybe it's not such a big deal. But it does bear out, again, what Microsoft folks have known for years, namely that Apple cannot afford to develop a world-class operating system while amortizing the cost over such a small profit stream. And think about the centrality of the web browser in the future of Windows, and then imagine the shock if you heard Microsoft was turning over its development to an outsider. It's ironic; a favorite Apple refrain has always been to label Microsoft as a mere repackager of other people's ideas!

Thanks, Richard.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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entire contents copyright 1997 by David Strom, Inc.