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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Do We Really Hate Microsoft?
November 9th, 1999

Last Friday Judge Penfield Jackson whacked Microsoft by stating it held a monopoly in the computing industry. If there is one company out there generates as much emotion as Apple, it is Microsoft. This hated company is known for its operating system monopoly, security problems in its software, problems with the US Department of Justice, etc.

On the other side of the coin, we have a new Microsoft. A Microsoft for the Mac (better known as Macintosh Business Unit) that delivers better Mac software than ever before to its core Mac followers. In addition, a lot of ordinary users compute with Office 98, Internet Explorer or Outlook Express with satisfaction.

You can see the disparity. Two worlds... or two Microsofts. Everybody hates Microsoft, but a part of the Mac community cannot help but to love it and its products. Is this just a duality inside us?

No matter what your opinion is like, you have to admit that Microsoft has made an honest effort to serve us better. Yes, it is Microsoft, owned by Bill Gates, but I think - and I will take the heat for saying this - that I grew some respect for that hack of a company over the last couple of years. Now that is a shocker if you have read my comments about the company from that time.

Unfortunately for the MS haters, Gates saved Apple from sinking when he announced a 150 million dollars investment in Apple stock and support for Mac Office for the next 5 years. This media coup created a wave of optimism around Apple and helped to give the Mac a serious image again. Then came units such as the iMac, and you know the rest of the story. Admit it. We owe a part of the Mac's current success to Microsoft. Yes, MS made a lot on that stock as AAPL has risen to better heights, but without this announcement, I wonder what Apple's image would have been in the media.

Then, there is Mac software. MS has improved its Mac product line a whole lot. Office 98 is not perfect, but it contributed to the Mac's comeback in the market place and it holds its own on people's hard drives. It certainly works better than Office 4.2.1, though many power users have found out that the improvements were not as huge as it was stated in reviews such as Macworld magazine's at the time. Still, this office suite helps the Mac to live on and it is safe to say that there are users out there who like it.

I should also refer to Internet Explorer and Outlook Express. With both two titles (and Office), Microsoft did what several companies like to do. I would call it implementing new features in the Mac version before the Windows version. Isn't that great? I remember reading an e-mail from my buddy Samuel Sharp who writes for MacSoldiers. In short, he said that companies like to introduce new features in their Mac versions first because they can test the waters to see how appreciated their functions will be. If it scores, we have a winner and it should be a part of the next version for Windows. If Mac users complain about it, then maybe the feature is not great after all.

This makes sense to me since the Mac crowd is much tougher to please than the Windows crowd. After all, we chose the Macintosh despite the fact that conventional thinking and conformity would require us to own a Windows box because everybody does, right? It leads me to think that if you introduce something new to the Mac and it enjoys tremendous success, porting the feature to your Windows version is a safe way to improve the latter.

You are not sure about what MS introduced first to the Mac? Look at the install process and self-repairing applications. When you install Internet Explorer, you just have to drag the folder to your desktop to copy the IE folder, and when you launch the browser for the first time, the "first run" module will install the required extensions, control panels and libraries in order for Explorer to run. If you remove any of them later, Explorer will notice the problem and get rescue from the "first run" module to install a new copy of the missing file. That was brought to the Mac versions of IE, Outlook Express and Office before they saw the light of day on an Inetl machine. It is more than useful. No need to do a complete or even custom install just to get that darn file again).

Even though I still have doubts about MS' honesty with its users, it is nice to see that new features were implemented for the Mac before Windows. I remember Ben Waldman, participating in a keynote with Steve Jobs, proudly saying "you don't see that feature for Windows!"

The Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft is quite big. The staff counts almost 225 people who work (programming, marketing, etc) on Mac software. MS claims that this is the biggest Mac team outside Apple. If it is true, then it is a nice surprise. A company that used to ignore the platform and deliver "PC-like" software (remember Word 6.0's interface?) now has a big team dedicated entirely to the Mac. Not just porting software. Writing it from the ground up. Moreover, the improving quality of the products keeps surprising users.

Take Outlook Express. The 4.5 and 5.0 versions brought vast improvements and surprised us, especially Claris Emailer users who switched to OE because it included some of Emailer's more appreciated behavior. Internet Explorer itself gives Netscape a run for its money. It converted a lot of users since version 4. These two are the proof that MS has made efforts to develop better software for the Mac than before.

Yes, Microsoft is the big bad meanie that everybody loves to hate, but we should remember to put some perspective in this sentiment. Every individual or company out there has good sides and bad sides. It is never black or white, but it has 256 shades of gray :-) Even Microsoft.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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