IDC figures released in summer 2015 showed Mac sales to have climbed by 16% over the previous quarter. At the same time, though, the overall PC market for machines running Windows had dipped by 11.8%. So, with ever more of Microsoft’s revenue coming from Office 365, it needs to push its subscription-based productivity service onto as many platforms as it can — including Android, iOS and, of course, the Mac.
Apple, on the other hand, needs Office. It has its own productivity apps in the shape of Pages, Numbers and Keynote, but Word, Excel and Powerpoint remain more or less industry standards, so if it’s going to be taken seriously in the business world, Apple needs Microsoft Office onboard.
So, a peace has broken out — and a long-lasting one at that, which despite some sniping from either side, stretches right back to Jobs’ return to Apple after his time at NeXT. We’ll come to that later, but suffice it to say at this point that it shouldn’t really surprise us: the rivalry between the two camps often seems overblown.
Microsoft developed many of the Office apps for the Mac before porting them to the PC and, in the early days at least, Bill Gates had good things to say about the company. “To create a new standard, it takes something that’s not just a little bit different,” he said in 1984, “it takes something that’s really new, and really captures people’s imagination. And the Macintosh — of all the machines I’ve seen — is the only one that meets that standard.”
That’s pretty flattering, but there’s a saying about flattery: imitation is its sincerest form. Apple apparently didn’t see it that way when Microsoft, in Apple’s eyes, went on to imitate its products a little too faithfully.
As we already know, Apple had been inspired by certain elements of an operating system it saw at Xerox PARC when it was developing the Macintosh and Lisa. Xerox’s implementation used the desktop metaphor now familiar to OS X, Windows and many Linux users, and when Microsoft was developing Windows 1.0, Apple licensed some of its fundamentals to the company that Jobs latterly took to calling “our friends up north”.
That was fine when Windows was just starting out, but when version 2 hit the shelves, with significant amendments, Apple was no longer so happy to share and share alike.
Microsoft Windows 1.0
Most significantly, Microsoft had implemented one of the features of which Apple was proudest: the ability to overlap live application windows. This is more complex as it sounds, as it requires some advanced calculations to determine which parts sit beneath others, not to mention how they should behave when repositioned.
However, Apple’s primary argument was that, taken as a whole, the generic look and feel of a graphical operating system — such as its resizable, movable windows, title bars and so on — should be subject to copyright protection, rather than each of the specific parts. Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see that this would be akin to Ford copyrighting the idea of a car, rather than a specific engine implementation or means of heating the windscreen, but back then, the GUI was such an innovation that you can understand why Apple would have wanted to protect it.
The court didn’t buy into the idea of look and feel, and asked Apple to come back with a more specific complaint, highlighting the parts of its own operating system that it believed Microsoft had stolen. So, Apple made a list of 189 points, of which all but 10 were thrown out by the court as having been covered by the licensing agreement drawn up between the two parties with respect to Windows 1.0. That left Apple with just 10 points on which to build its case.
Microsoft Windows 2.0
However, over at PARC, Xerox could see that if Apple won it might be able to claim the rights to those elements itself, even though they’d been dreamed up following on from Jobs et al’s tour of its labs. Xerox had no choice but to mount a claim itself, against Apple, stating that the operating environments on the Macintosh and Lisa infringed its own copyrights.
Ultimately, Xerox’s act of self-defence was unnecessary as the court ruled against Apple, deciding that while their specific implementation was important, the general idea of using office-like elements, such as folders and a desktop, was too generic to protect.
Apple appealed, but to no avail. However, it did at least avoid losing to Xerox, as the Palo Alto company’s claim was thrown out.
Of course, Apple and Microsoft patched things up eventually, and for that we should all be grateful. If they hadn’t, it’s possible there might be no Mac today. Why? Because when he came back to Apple and set about returning it to greatness, Jobs realised that he couldn’t do it alone. He might have a streamlined hardware line-up waiting in the wings, headlined by the groundbreaking iMac, but he knew that without the software to back them up they’d never attain their full potential.
Business users wouldn’t switch to a platform that didn’t support industry standard document formats, like those produced by Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and that remains true today. While home users and small teams will be happy to use Pages, Numbers and Keynote, IT departments — particularly those in mixed-platform offices — often still rely on Microsoft Office formats.
So, Steve Jobs put in a personal call to Bill Gates, who was then Microsoft’s CEO, and convinced him to keep developing Office for Mac for at least the next five years. Gates did just that, and at the same time Microsoft bought $150m worth of non-voting Apple stock, thereby securing its future.
In return, Apple unseated Netscape as the Mac’s default browser and installed Internet Explorer in its place, which was actively developed right up until 2003, when in the face rumours that Apple was working on its own browser in house — Safari — Microsoft scaled back its work on IE for Mac to the point where, today, it no longer runs on OS X.