Opinion: Apple -- Here to Stay

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Nearly a decade ago, just a few months after Microsoft shipped Windows 95, I asked Bill Gates if it was a conscious decision in the development of that product to give Windows more of a Mac look and feel. Of course I knew he'd say it wasn't, but I couldn't resist asking. "There was no goal even to compete with Macintosh," Gates proclaimed. "We don't even think of Macintosh as a competitor."

That was a crock, so I pressed the issue a little. I asked him how he accounted for the widespread perception that Windows 95 looked a lot like Mac 88, and whether the similarity was just a coincidence. I didn't expect a sobbing confession of mimicry, but I thought it would be cool to see how he'd respond. Surprisingly enough, Gates shifted gears and became more forthcoming.

"Some of the things in Windows 95 the Mac had earlier," he acknowledged, citing long file names, plug-and-play capabilities and built-in peer-to-peer networking. You know that had to be tough for him, so when he proclaimed that "there's a ton of things even in Windows 3.1 that the Mac doesn't have, that someday they'll probably add to their system, too," I didn't have the heart to call him on it when he didn't cite any examples.

That exchange with Gates came to mind after I read the "Giants in Jeopardy" story, part of Computerworld's special report on the future of IT. I found it striking that the IT visionaries who foresee a decline in Microsoft's dominance due to threats like Linux and Google never mentioned Apple Computer.

Long before Linux became a thorn in Microsoft's side, Apple was a full-fledged pain in the company's you-know-what. On the one hand, it was in Microsoft's best interest for Apple to be successful, since software for the Mac has long been a huge business for Microsoft. That, in fact, is why Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple two years after the launch of Windows 95.

On the other hand, Microsoft had to deal with the abhorrence of being perceived as a technology follower, playing catch-up to the operating-system strides that Apple was making. That the best technology doesn't always win is a truth of life to which Microsoft owes much of its success, and Apple's technology never really bruised much more than the egos of Microsoft's executives. Still, it's interesting that Apple has become so completely marginalized in some quarters that it's no longer even part of the discussion of a future world order in which Microsoft is seen as less dominant.

I'm no IT futurist, but trust me, you need to include Apple in the discussion. If you don't believe it, I urge you to read Mark Hall's story in last week's issue " In Business to Stay." It's a compelling account of how a growing number of your peers are using Apple's technology in corporate environments outside of traditional Mac strongholds like publishing. One of the key attractions, Hall notes, is that the Mac OS X operating system, with the exception of its user-interface and management tools code, is an open-source version of Unix that's tuned for open-source offerings like the Apache Web server, MySQL database and JBoss application server.

Combine that open-source carrot with near-bulletproof security, and you begin to understand that we're talking about more than being late to the game with long file names here. The best technology may not always win. But it's not going to go away, either.

For more enterprise computing news, visit Computerworld.com. Story copyright (c) 2005 Computerworld, Inc. All rights reserved.

This story, "Opinion: Apple -- Here to Stay" was originally published by PCWorld.

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