Apple's Microsoft deal wins mostly thumbs-ups with users

Not every Macintosh die-hard is crying foul over Microsoft's US$150 million investment in Apple Computer. Many corporate users have been quick to see a silver lining in the suprise deal with Apple's longtime nemesis - protection for their investment. It could mean big Macintosh sites such as Lockheed-Martin and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be under less pressure to fall into line and ditch the Mac platform.

Not every Macintosh die-hard is crying foul over Microsoft's US$150 million investment in Apple Computer. Many corporate users have been quick to see a silver lining in the suprise deal with Apple's longtime nemesis - protection for their investment.

In an era when many companies are considering standardising on one platform - a move often detrimental to Apple - many corporate Macintosh users are hopeful that plans to exchange technology between Apple and Microsoft will make it easier to retain a foothold in an otherwise overwhelmingly Wintel landscape.

"I hate Microsoft software, but if it's the largest seller, you need to embrace it," says Julius Wilpon, publishing technology specialist at Simon & Schuster in New York.

An exclusive Computerworld survey of 104 corporate information systems Macintosh users and interviews with attendees at last week's Macworld Expo/Boston indicate support for the alliance, under which Microsoft has promised to ship Macintosh versions of key business applications alongside Windows versions. For its part, Apple will bundle Microsoft's Internet Explorer with the Mac OS.

Users characterised the deal as a second chance and an opportunity for the Macintosh.

"It's a stab at survival," says Nellis Freeman, MIS director at Fenwick & West LLP. "Getting a key player like Microsoft to buy into their survival will give Apple breathing room to regroup."

"This improves Apple's viability, but it's going to make [the Macintosh] a Microsoft machine," says Doug Biddle, senior project engineer at TRW Inc. in Cleveland. "It's sad, but I think it's better than seeing Apple fold up and steal away."

Microsoft will invest US$150 million in Apple and make a commitment to develop and ship future versions of the best-selling Microsoft Office suite of products for the next five years - the best part of the deal for users, according to one analyst.

"Before, it was really unclear whether Microsoft would continue to support [Office for the Macintosh]," says Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Inc., a consultancy in San Jose, California.

"We're very big on platform compatibility," says Myron Krawczuk, a senior support analyst at Bristol Myers-Squibb Co. in Princeton, New Jersey. Still, he questions whether Microsoft will keep its promise to deliver comparable software for the Macintosh, citing Microsoft's troubled history in that area.

In recent months, some users have expressed uncertainty over whether their companies will continue to support the Macintosh given the ongoing turmoil at Apple, including the ouster of CEO Gilbert Amelio, dwindling profits and computer availability problems.

Large corporations such as Lockheed Martin Corp. have suffered ongoing internal disputes over whether to dump the Macintosh. According to the Computerworld survey, 45% of the respondents said they were under pressure to abandon the Macintosh platform.

"[The Microsoft deal] will reassure a lot of people, including the financial people who had been hedging on our Mac investment," says Corcoran Leary, vice president of IS at Hal Riney and Partners in San Francisco, an advertising firm with 200 Macintoshes.

Brent McWatters, core products manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which uses 4,000 to 5,000 Macintosh computers, says he hopes Apple will embed Microsoft's foundation classes for Java in its virtual machine. That would let him use Microsoft's Java technology for both Windows and Macintosh. Apple now uses Sun's Java Foundation Classes, which are the industry standard.

"With this agreement, it looks like we could have a fantastic intranet solution that will work for PCs and the Mac," McWatters says.

The deal will also have a longer-term impact on the industry. The agreement means an end to bickering over system copyrights and cross-licensing that could give Microsoft better access to the Macintosh graphical user interface.

"This means in the long term that the underlying Mac operating system will become much more like Windows," says James Staten, an analyst at Dataquest in San Jose. He said he wouldn't be surprised to someday find Windows NT running the Macintosh platform.

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