BusinessWeek: Is Office for the Mac in danger?

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Microsoft's decision to end development of new Mac versions of Internet Explorer for the Mac isn't a big deal, Alex Salkever writes in his latest Byte of the Apple column for Business Week Online. However, it will be a really big deal if the company stops developing Office versions for the Mac.

Apple's Safari Web browser works just fine for many Mac users (including himself) so the IE development isn't earthshaking, Salkever writes. But "far more daunting" is the thought of Microsoft abandoning the Mac version of Office software because Apple has yet to show that it can replace Office for most of its users.

Without Office, Apple's Switchers campaign could come to a halt, Salkever opines. Though Microsoft's Mac Business Unit says it's working on the next version of Office for the Mac and that the Apple-Microsoft relationship is as strong as ever, the columnist is skeptical.

"... I'm having trouble seeing why Microsoft would continue throwing a significant amount of resources -- the Mac BU has 150 coders -- at a computing platform with a market share of only 5 percent of the installed PC base, according to Apple itself," Salkever says. "Software works as a business when it scales to larger numbers of buyers. That's because once a program is developed, the cost of selling an extra unit is virtually nil."

If Office for the Mac was discontinued, could an open source alternative fill the void? Maybe, though all have compatibility problems and Apple CEO Steve Jobs seems bent on ensuring that the final software layer between Apple and its users remains proprietary, Salkever writes.

"That layer, the vaunted Mac user interface, is Apple's key selling point. Surely Apple would want to continue that ease of use into the most popular applications for its platform -- the Office-like programs," he elaborates. "So if Apple chooses to replace Microsoft Office with an open-source version, Jobs would have to make a hard choice. Should he let the open-source community peek at his proprietary code to build Office clones that work more effectively on Macs and have the same smooth feel that Mac users expect?"

Salkever admits that he could be wrong about the Microsoft-Apple relationship entering increasingly rocky territory. He also concedes that Apple could decide to more fully embrace open source. And there's continuing rumors of Apple evolving AppleWorks into a higher-end software package.

"Losing Microsoft Office, however, would create far thornier problems for Jobs," Salkever says. "That possibility looks increasingly likely if Office for Mac can't clear whatever profitability hurdle Redmond has set for it. And with the Apple-Microsoft marriage having one less thing in common now, a final split may be the only move left."

This story, "BusinessWeek: Is Office for the Mac in danger?" was originally published by PCWorld.

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