Opinion: Apple/Microsoft will shut out Netscape and Sun

Though many Apple faithful may recoil at the thought of Microsoft helping out their favorite computer company, the real losers in the Apple/Microsoft deal are Netscape and Sun. Both companies tout their product's cross-platform compatibilities as a major benefit but as Steve Jobs mentioned yesterday, Apple and Microsoft equal 100% of the desktop computer market. An Apple/Microsoft alliance means only one thing to Netscape and Sun: We have no need for you.

"Yesterday was one of the darkest days in Apple's history," said Leland Raymond of MacSurfer, an Apple advocacy Web site. "Mr. Jobs dealt out potentially fatal blows to Netscape and Sun. So much for the spirit for choice and freedom I thought Apple stood for."

Raymond's opinion is typical of many Apple users, but I think he's missing the point. The Microsoft deal basically assures that the Macintosh will continue as a viable platform for at least the next five years, and it's almost impossible to put a price on such a promise. If Microsoft stopped making Office for the Macintosh, the platform would die quickly, plain and simple. No, the only downside from the deal is directed squarely at Sun and Netscape.

The alliance has several ramifications:

  • 100% Pure Java is now a non-event. Though this movement had already lost steam quickly, this week's announcement is the final nail in the coffin. With Macintosh and Windows compatibility assured, it is Microsoft's Java VM that wins out, not Sun's. More importantly, compatibility with the various flavors of UNIX is not exactly compelling to mainstream programmers and Web developers.
  • The NC movement is dead. The future of the NC will be comprised of Windows Terminals running Windows CE (for Windows users) and an expected low-end Mac running a ROM-based Mac OS for Macintosh users. Why bother with slow Java OS machines, when you can leverage the richness of existing APIs and platforms?
  • Netscape will lose more marketshare and mindshare. With Internet Explorer firmly in place as the default browser on 100% of all new personal computers, it is suddenly the de-facto standard for browsing the Web. Netscape did everything they could to allow this to happen when they walked away from the browser market with Communicator, but again, this is the final nail in that coffin. In the past, Netscape could set standards on the Web by simply adding new features. This is no longer the case and recent attempts, such as the reviled Layer tag, suggest the end was already near at hand.
  • Programmers target Microsoft, not Java or Netscape: with the browser in place on all systems and Windows as the overwhelming market leader, Microsoft has ensured that programmers will follow them around for at least the next decade. In the sidelines: Windows CE 2.0 will use the Windows NT kernel, making the two OSes even more compatible in the future. If you're a developer, Microsoft's Win32 API is where the action is. If you're a Web developer, you'll be targeting Internet Explorer first.
Netscape counters that most of their sales are in the server arena where Apple has no real presence. And while there are rumors that Apple will license NT, this is only a rumor at this point. Unfortunately, Netscape is betting the farm on a whimsical notion: people hate Microsoft, so they will flock to Netscape. If I'm not mistaken, it was this attitude that put Apple in their current situation.

"There are certainly a great many people out there who are anti-Microsoft," said Netscape director of client product marketing Dave Rothschild. "This will probably drive them to Netscape in even greater numbers."

You better hope so, Dave. In the meantime, you can access Microsoft's job listings on the Web. I think the writing is on the wall for you and anyone else with the tunnel vision you so aptly demonstrate

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