One Day, Apple Will Resume Its 'War' With Microsoft

Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,
And by the doom of death end woes and all.

Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, Act I, Scene 1

Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.

Oscar Wilde

Introduction: Donit go, Avie, donit go!

Scene: Steve Jobsi office…

Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, took the news as though the news bearer were speaking with the banality that one exhibits when reading a grocery list. In other words, he didnit lose his cool.

In front of his desk stood Dr. Avadis "Avie" Tevanian, Apple Vice President of Software Engineering. Dr. Tevanian has just tendered his resignation, effective December 31.

"Why would you want to do this, Avie?" Jobs asks, in genuine puzzlement.

"You know the deal we had, Steve," Tevanian replies, spreading his arms out in a gesture of helpless resignation. "Do I need to remind you? When we took over Apple in i97, I agreed Iid help architect the road to OS X. I threw in my lot with you to replace the Mac OS with NeXTSTEP. Iive done it. Iive fulfilled my end of the bargain. Now, fulfill yours: let me go, Steve. I miss the laboratory. I want to get back to take Mach to the next level."

Jobs, leans back in his chair, stares at the ceiling for few seconds then responds.

"Okay, Avie, so you want to quit." Jobs repeats what heis just heard. "But, I figured that youid stay on, once you saw the potential in this Macintosh thing. The world needs us to stay the course. Look at the crap that the world will turn to by default." He aims his arm towards a laptop at a table in the corner, running a demo of Windows XP. "Hell, even Bill admits that Windows is at the end of its rope. You were there! Thatis the main reason he helped us save Apple. He admitted that weire the only ones who can take the PC to its logical conclusion."

"Steve, you believe that? He tells you one thing, but bastardizes all of our good ideas? I mean, what is this Luna junk?"

"But thatis the way Bill plays. He knows that all his work nods to the Mac, but thatis the beauty of it all, because Bill doesnit know my master plan."

"What master plan?"

"Sit down, Avie."

Tevanian relents and plops back down into his chair. Jobs pauses a moment, then pulls a chair in alongside Tevanian. For the next few minutes, in the broadest rhetorical brush strokes, he paints a portrait of the next 10 years of his Macintosh dream for his software guru. As he talks, Tevanian nods, smiles and adds a comment here or there. Ultimately, he breaks into a broad grin and shakes his head in wonderment.

"And you really think you can pull it off?"

"Avie, we can pull this off. And if we can pull this off, Tzu Sun himself will be calling our plan "The Art of War," while his will be referred to as an "an okay strategem."

With a sense of déjà vu, he stands and puts his hands on the arms of Tevanianis chair, leaning in front of him face to face.

"Avie, do you want to work the rest of your life on the Mach kernel, a computing footnote -- a fine and watershed footnote, though it is -- or do you want to change the world? The. Mac. Is. Going. To. Change. The. World… again."

As he utters those words, Jobs feels suddenly as if heis said these words before. As he thinks back two decades, he realizes that he has…

Of course, this conversation didnit even occur in the inner sanctum of Appleis power seat, but the plan has probably been articulated, nevertheless.

Apple Computer currently enjoys between three and five percent of the computing market share, depending on whose numbers you are listening. This is a respectable number, translating into millions and millions of users worldwide. But this isnit enough. In order for Apple to remain viable now and in the future, the company has to experience greater year over year growth, much greater than has been the case heretofore.

There are only two places from which that growth can come: attracting new computer users whoive never owned a computer before or attracting "defectors" from competing platforms, namely Microsoft Windows users.

The latter group is the logical choice.

Between 90 and 95 percent of computer users worldwide use some flavor of Microsoftis Windows operating system. Ignoring how and why Microsoft has garnered a user base comprising nearly every computer user alive, the fact remains that a vocal portion of this user base is not satisfied with Microsoftis products, if the anecdotal evidence means and says anything.

This is the audience that Apple needs to target. Capitalism demands it, by definition. Apple doesnit really need much a plan. The company needs patience more than anything…

"Steve, you canit really mean it? Appleis going to compete directly with Microsoft? No bull? Ha!"

"Avie, can it be so hard to imagine?"

"Well, yeah. Look at us, man. We exist mainly because Microsoft doesnit see us as a threat any longer. And as soon as they buy their way out of this anti-trust joke, they will turn their itender merciesi back to us, and we will go the way of Netscape and Palm."

"Oh, ye of little faith! The planis success is guaranteed, because it is based upon one the oldest business tactics available to small companies competing with 800-pound gorillas: monopolistic hubris."

"Youive better have a plan with more substance than that."

"I do. I just told you my plan: we will continue to release products under Microsoftis radar. You just wait until we unveil iFax, iBrowser and AppleWorks Office -- not to mention iShop, iPhone and iTV. You should know by now that we have to keep the truly killer apps under wraps until the next phase occurs. First, we have to wait for Microsoft to hang itself. Microsoft is testing the tolerance of the buying public. You said yourself that .NET will be the final straw. People will buy it for a while, but will revolt when it reaches its final form: no one suffer long a insatiable Microsoft sitting astride every e-commerce activity under the sun."

"Mmmm-hmmm. But what do we do in the meanwhile, Steve?"

"We do what weire currently doing. We get our house in order. We keep evolving our desktops and laptops, making sure that we stay ahead of Wintelis beige behemoth."

"Thatis not hard."

"Ainit that the truth, brother. But thatis no excuse not to make the PC what it should be. And we need to keep pushing our R & D to take the GUI to the next level; thatis why we need you, Avie. Hell, we knew that Microsoft would ape OS X as much as legally possible, even with our détente. Especially with our détente. Which is why we saved the really killer features for future upgrades to OS X. By the way, you should see the latest prototypes of the WebPad. If we ever decide to ship it, we will shake the world the way Sculleyis Newton should have."

The revolution will be televised

Armageddon done been in effect! Go get a late pass.

Public Enemy

The end result and ultimate goal of any company is a monopoly, or so the saying goes. This applies to Apple Computer.

There is no way that anyone can say that Apple execs are sitting there, striving hard to be Number Two. There is no way that Steve Jobs is satisfied with Apple setting its goals on achieving a 10 percent market share.

Apple has an ulterior motive to stick it to Microsoft. There just isnit much satisfaction in merely having a cool OS and good-looking hardware.

This ulterior motive has been hinted at on several occasions. For example, in 1998, Fortune magazineis cover story on Appleis resurgence mentioned a comment that Tevanian made about OS Xis superiority to Windows (I am not making this part up):

Tevanian suggests it will completely outdo Windows. "The rate of innovation in the Wintel market is very stagnant, " he says. "Itis not that difficult to do things that are vastly better than what you see today. What Apple is doing is building better computers."

Which prompted the following:

Responds [Ben] Waldman of Microsoft, with a hint of dismay: "Steve said last August [remember when Bill Gates loomed 1984-like at that Macworld?] that the era of competition between Apple and Microsoft is over."

Shyeah, right. They donit even see it coming. Can Microsoft really be that dumb?

When a bully (or a murderer) has you on the ground with a shotgun at your head, you will agree with him more readily. You will let him have your wallet (money owed Apple from look-and-feel lawsuits). Hell, you may even promise to give him your lunch everyday (fill in the blank with your own conspiracy theory). But as soon as you get a chance, you may begin plotting your revenge. Or, you may plot the ultimate revenge: living well. I donit think Apple can and will plan "revenge" on Microsoft, but I do believe that Apple execs predict that Microsoft will mess up in the public eye one day -- big time -- and Apple will be given opportunity to step in and up. No one else is and will be positioned to challenge Microsoftis throne.

The Linux community is too disjointed by comparison. And OS X, compared to Linux, will be a powerhouse in the three-to-five years it will take for Microsoftis house of cards to unravel.

Apple should be working feverishly the next few years to put into place and infrastructure for making major inroads in terms of market share, mind share and consumer awareness: beef up its server solutions (server hardware present and future, OS X Server, AirPort), its hardware (desktops, laptops and future offerings) and its software offerings, evolving and tweaking them to the point that stability and user experience are second to none.

Meanwhile, Microsoft will play the poster child of insolent corporate pride, running roughshod over competitors and consumers. If the present proves anything, Microsoftis arrogance coupled with its penchant to avoid improving products beyond "just good enough" will push the buying public enough so that the average users will seriously seek and switch to alternatives, chief of which will be a come-of-age Apple Center Every company has its sights on its leading competitor, in hopes of overtaking and even supplanting the competition. Apple should be no different.

This is a bigger task than I make it out to be. Microsoft has a far bigger product portfolio than Apple can ever dream. The key is to compete with Microsoft and yet not compete with Microsoft. Can Apple create software that can successfully challenge Microsoftis stable of products, or should that battlefield be avoided, turning the fight to merely being a struggle for supremacy between OS X and whatever Microsoft will be calling its OS at the time?

And letis not forget that even before Apple gets to the point of having to answer that question, fate may have other things in store for Microsoft. The shifting winds of the legal landscape could very well blow Microsoft apart (donit scoff; the EU appears to be sticking to principle far better than George W. Bushis Washington has). Remember that IBM used to the center of the computing universe, too. IBMis still big, but IBM doesnit shape things as it once did.

If Apple ever does get its act together vis-à-vis hardware and software offerings, and Microsoft does continue on its headstrong path to self-immolation, we may very well see Apple or some other company trying its hand at being the worldis computing leader.

Hey, I can dream. Iim sure Steve and Avie do.

Rodney O. Lain is an incurable Pollyanna, on his good days. On his bad days, he fears that Apple will find a way to "eff up all of this good stuff." When he isnit dreaming of a Mac OS-dominated world, he is a regular contributor to The Mac Observer with his "iBrotha" column, as well as the occasional editorial. He lives in Minnesota, the home of Best Buy and other freaks of nature.