Mac Scope

Fear and Loathing in Redmond

Stephen Van Esch - 2002.07.31

The rift between Microsoft and Apple seems to be growing wider. Barely two weeks after Microsoft spread a little FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) regarding the Mac version of Office and threw a bit of mud at Apple regarding the number of users upgrading to OS X, the announcement came that Apple and Sun would work together on the development of the OS X version of StarOffice. In a nutshell, a Mac version of OpenOffice will be available by the end of the year. A commercial version of StarOffice would likely be released soon after.

Seems it wasn't exactly true, though.

Still, the story introduces some intriguing possibilities.

A commercial version of StarOffice for OS X might shake the Redmond giant just a little bit. Why a commercial version? The main reasons is that many large companies have a very large mental block regarding software that is free or doesn't have the stamp of approval from a major corporation. Call it brand slavery if you want. Similar to most consumers, powerful brands are more trusted than the no-name or small name brands. OpenOffice? Might be here today, gone tomorrow. StarOffice? Oh, that's Sun, a perfectly reputable and stable company.

But that's beside the point. This collaboration could have specific benefits for both Sun and Apple. StarOffice has been on the market for some time now, and for the majority of its life it has been a free application. Even after all this time, it has had little impact in the corporate environment that pretty much standardized on MS Office years ago.

Even the ability to seamlessly open MS Office documents didn't seem to make a whit of difference to the IT department heads. As they always say, no one gets fired for buying Microsoft.

With this collaboration, Sun gets a bit of marketing strength behind StarOffice. While StarOffice might be a visible alternative to the tech groups, the average Joe has no idea that there's an alternative of MS Office. Sound familiar? Sounds like Apple about five years ago?

The last five years prove that Apple can take a moribund brand and spin it into something new and exciting. Imagine if the Apple magic was applied to StarOffice. With StarOffice front and center at a Macworld keynote, the corporate world might start getting the message that MS Office isn't the end all and be all office suite.

From this collaboration, Sun gets an excellent marketing vehicle that will raise the profile of StarOffice.

The realization that there are alternatives is what should really worry Microsoft. Five years ago, Microsoft was considered the only game in town. Now, Apple, Linux, and open source software are getting into the minds of the consumer and the IT directors.

While the excitement originally focused on operating systems, it's now moving to the applications market. Consumers and businesses are realizing that they may not have to pay the Microsoft tax after all.

Of course, Apple would also gain from this partnership. By promoting StarOffice, Apple would be able to move away from Microsoft. By using an Office alternative, Apple would no longer be subjected to the kind of ridiculous whining that occurred just before Macworld - the FUD regarding MS pulling Office for Mac could easily be ignored. Microsoft might pull Office support? Yawn. One less overpriced app to worry about.

From this collaboration, Apple gets out from under the thumb of Microsoft.

From the looks of things, everybody would gain in this arrangement. Well, everybody but Microsoft.

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Stephen Van Esch is the founder and president of the E-learning Foundry, an online training resource for Mac users. Steve loves the Mac and is doubly bilingual, since he's also fluent in Windows and French.

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