On the eve of its biggest trade show, the last thing Apple probably wanted to read was critical comments from major Mac developers about its efforts to promote Mac OS X. And the last place it probably wanted to see those comments printed was the Wall Street Journal.
But Monday's edition of the national business newspaper carried a scathing article about software developers' concerns over the adoption rate of Apple's new operating system, with some of the most critical comments coming from Microsoft. Kevin Browne, the head of Microsoft's Mac Business Unit, told the Journal that there hasn't been a concerted effort by Apple to promote OS X and that sales of the OS X-only version of Office have fallen short of expectations.
"If things don't dramatically turn around, we'll be evaluating this business with Apple," Browne said.
Speaking to Macworld editors Tuesday, however, Microsoft officials downplayed any disagreements with Apple and stressed that it was in the Mac business to stay.
"We're very committed to the Mac platform," said Tim McDonough, director of marketing for Microsoft's Mac Business Unit. "We want the platform to succeed. That helps us to succeed."
To be sure, Microsoft wasn't the only Mac developer to criticize Apple in the Journal article; graphics software maker Corel also told the newspaper that Apple's response to its concerns about OS X adoption was "muted." But coming from one of the largest developers for the Mac platform -- and one that has a history of occasionally contentious relations with Apple -- Microsoft's comments are sure to fuel speculation among Mac users about the software giant's future plans.
As recently as April, Microsoft looked to quell such speculation. With Microsoft's five-year technology pact with Apple set to expire over the summer, Browne pledged that all future development of Microsoft products would be OS X-only.
"Microsoft is feeling like this is a good, promising business to pursue," Browne told Macworld . "And Apple appears to be doing everything that they need to do to assure that we continue to see it that way. So take comfort in the way that we've pursued this business over the last five years, not necessarily whether there's been a technology agreement."
Browne's published comments in the Wall Street Journal article aren't a departure from that position, Microsoft officials said Tuesday.
"We think OS X is a fabulous product," McDonough said. "We wish they'd sell it harder to customers. And we'd like to help them."
Microsoft has ample reason to want to see a higher percentage of Mac users making the jump to OS X. "We're selling more copies of [the OS 9-compatible] Office 2001 than Office X now, and we'd like to be selling more of X," McDonough said.
According to McDonough, Microsoft believes that for all the benefits of OS X -- stability, improved graphics technology, and Unix underpinnings, among others -- those are often lost on many Mac users who are reluctant to switch from the old Mac OS. What those users do understand is the costs of the making the switch -- buying OS X-savvy applications and learning the ins and outs of a new operating system.
Microsoft wants to "connect users to the benefits [of OS X] so that they outweigh the costs," McDonough said. "That's what we're trying to do with Office and what we'd like to be doing with Apple."
In the meantime, Microsoft's Mac Business Unit is pushing ahead with its development efforts for the platform, with employees involved in projects "that are going to take the next 18 to 24 months," McDonough said. Earlier this week, Microsoft released a long-awaited Entourage conduit for Palm that will allow users of Palm-OS based PDAs to exchange data with Entourage. The OS X-only conduit is available for download from Microsoft's Web site.