The relationship between Apple Computer and Microsoft reminds me of an anecdote about the Cold War alliance between Albania and the Peoples Republic of China: At a bipartisan conference, Albanian representatives bemused their Chinese hosts by insisting that their tiny country was the natural leader of a bloc comprising 802 million citizens—2 million of them Albanian.
Despite our wee market share, Mac users radiate similar confidence about Apples relationship with Microsoft. Redmond may have the numbers, but Apples technology and marketing keep a core of pro users in its camp. And the companies basic modus vivendi remains secure and mutually beneficial.
Microsofts Mac Business Unit recently complained about slow adoption of Mac OS X. Kevin Browne, its outgoing general manager, hinted that if Apples new operating system flopped, Microsoft might reconsider its commitment to Mac apps. But Microsofts Mac presence is healthy and lucrative, a fact the company drove home with recent ads emphasizing its Mac support and a rebate campaign that bundles Microsoft Office with Power Macs.
With the enhanced networking and protocol support in Mac OS X 10.2, Apple has taken new steps to make Macs work well in Windows offices. And Microsofts early commitment to developing Office applications exclusively for Mac OS X puts it at the forefront of Apples migration drive.
Theres healthy competition between the Windows juggernaut and the biggest vendor of a commercial desktop Unix system. The "Longhorn" Windows version will reportedly borrow from Mac OS X, and I hear Apple will aim new features at Windows XP in its next major operating system (aka Panther).
This David-and-Goliath rivalry is good business—and a powerful engine driving end-user benefits on both sides.
Matthew Rothenberg is online editor for Ziff Davis Medias Baseline and CIO Insight magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com.