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Microsoft and Apple: 25 years of couples therapy

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The Giant Head-o-Gates

As important as the new-found independence of the MacBU was to the ongoing development of Microsoft software for the Mac, another 1997 event overshadowed it in importance to the history of the Microsoft/Apple relationship: the appearance of a twenty-foot projection of Bill Gates's head conversing with Steve Jobs during that year's Boston Macworld Expo keynote.

Bill joined Steve to announce that Microsoft was investing $150m in Apple, and to pledge that Microsoft would continue to develop its Office suite and Internet Explorer for a minimum of the next five years.

The Mac fans in the crowd were stunned. Boos were heard, prompting Jobs to admonish the restless masses, "We have to let go of a few things here. We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose."

Gates's appearance couldn't have come at a more opportune time - Apple was in deep fiscal and product-line excrement at that point in its history. While the $150m investment was a token gesture, the promise that Microsoft would continue to support the then-reeling Mac platform was what really mattered.

Microsoft was signaling to the rest of the industry that the Mac was still a viable platform - and, at the same time, helping to fend off the roiling anti-trust charges that were threatening its own PC hegemony.

And Microsoft did, indeed, continue to develop Mac software. Office 98 for Mac followed in - you guessed it - 1998. Then IE 4.5 appeared in 1999 with Mac-first features such as Print Preview and Forms Auto-Fill. IE 5.0 followed in 2000, as did Office 2001 for Mac.

In 2001, Microsoft released Office v. X for Mac, which took advantage of the Aqua interface and Quartz drawing engine of the then-fledgling Mac OS X, the desktop version of which, 10.0 aka Cheetah, had been released in March of that year.

IE died a relatively unlamented death at version version 5.2.3 when in June 2003 the MacBU announced that "Internet Explorer for Mac would undergo no further development, and support would cease in 2005."

Office updates, however, continued, with Office 2004 for Mac and Office 2008 for Mac both appearing in their eponymous years.

And here we are in 2009 at year 25.

Although there are plenty of Microsoft Office competitors available, Microsoft continues to make a decent chunk of change from those 200-plus MacBUers, and millions of Mac users still rely on Microsoft software to take care of business.

And the platform bickering continues, of course, with those in the Mac camp continuing to deride "peecees" that run on "Windoze" and those in the Windows camp continuing to rail against "Mactards" and "iDiots."

But the Microsoft/Apple relationship continues.

And maybe, just maybe - should Google's dreams come true - some day a 20-foot head of Steve Jobs will appear at a Steve Ballmer keynote, promising that Apple will continue to support Microsoft. ®

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