Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/06/25_years_of_microsoft_and_the_mac/

Microsoft and Apple: 25 years of couples therapy

Saved by a giant head

By Rik Myslewski

Posted in Hardware, 6th January 2009 01:38 GMT

Macworld Expo Microsoft wants you to know that it's not just the Mac that's holding a 25th birthday party: 2009 marks the 25th year that Redmond has developed software for Apple's quarter-centarian computer.

The Apple/Microsoft relationship has had its rocky moments, to say the least. But the fact remains that Microsoft has consistently been at the top of the heap among Mac-productivity software publishers since the company released Word 1.0 for Mac in 1984.

In the Beginning, There Was Word

Although it was Microsoft's first productivity app for the Mac, Word didn't originate at Microsoft. It's earliest ancestor was Bravo, arguably the first WYSI(sorta)WYG word processor, developed at Xerox PARC in 1974.

Seven years later, Microsoft hired Charles Simonyi, one of Bravo's lead developers, to head-up work on Word's most-direct progenitor, Multi-Tool Word, which was released in the spring of 1983 for Xenix, Microsoft's sole foray into the world of Unix.

In 1984, Multi-Tool Word was ported to the Apple's new Mac, and Microsoft has been publishing productivity software for the Mac ever since.

For its next trick, Microsoft released Excel 1.0 in 1985. Then it shipped PowerPoint 1.0 in 1987, which remained a Mac-only app until 1990.

Although obviously influenced by previous spreadsheets such as VisiCalc, Lotus 1-2-3, and Microsoft's own MultiPlan, Excel was developed inside Microsoft. After a brief vaporware scare from Lotus Jazz, Excel settled into its role as the Mac's go-to spreadsheet.

PowerPoint was developed by Forethought of Sunnyvale, California, just up the road from Apple's Cupertino home. Originally called Presenter, that name was changed by Forethought to PowerPoint when trademark problems surfaced.

Forethought and PowerPoint were bought by Microsoft in 1987, and in 1989 Microsoft bundled its three Mac apps together in the first version of Office for Mac: Word 4.0, Excel 2.20, and PowerPoint 2.01.

Bumps in the Road

Before the bundling of Office, however, Microsoft hit a major pothole with Word 3.0, which, upon its release in 1987, was notoriously buggy. After a few months, however, Microsoft mailed bug-squashing version 3.0.1 to all users who had registered Word 3.0.

Word, 5.0 was released in 1991, and its next iteration, 5.1, is still remembered fondly by many long-term Mac fans as the nimblest, most stable Mac version - especially when compared with the wretched Word 6.0 of 1993, for which Microsoft apologized to reviewers and journalists the following year.

Word 6.0 was not only a turgidly performing bug-fest, but also - even worse for Mac partisans during those Microsoft-bashing days - it was built from the Word for Windows code base, and carried with it telltale traces of that lineage.

Mac boosters viscerally rebelled from Word 6.0's Windows smell - and the stench they raised was thick, indeed. Long-time Mac watchers will remember that although Mac and PC fanbois continue to snipe at one another seemingly every chance they get, the Apple vs. Microsoft wars of today are tame compared with what they were like in the days of Word 6.0.

Much of the animosity that led to the entrenched position of the Apple side was the belief - bolstered by a lawsuit filed in March 1988 by Apple - that Microsoft had stolen the windows-based graphical user interface (GUI) concept from Apple. The intricacies of the arguments for and against Apple's position, and the legal wranglings of the case are topics for a different article, but suffice it to say that bad blood has boiled between Mac and PC devotees for many a year.

And during all those years Microsoft has continued to release productivity software for the Mac. And Mac users have continued to buy it.

In 1991, Microsoft released Office 1.5 for Mac, notable for Excel 3.0, which played nicely with Apple's new - and highly improved - System 7 operating system. Office 2.0 came along in 1992, with 4.0 appearing in 1993. (And, no, we're not forgetting Office 3.0 for Mac - there never was one.)

In 1997, Microsoft formed the still-extant Macintosh Business Unit, or MacBU, a small (today containing 200 "full-time Mac product experts," according to Microsoft) but Mac-loyal group that took over Microsoft's Mac-oriented software development and marketing.

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. ®