While I was visiting the Microsoft campus a few weeks ago--in suburban Redmond, just across Lake Washington from my beloved Seattle--I kept thinking of the old Vulcan proverb: "Only Nixon can go to China."
If Microsoft is China, then that makes me Nixon in this story, I realize.
Prelude to war
Just as Nixon was an old Cold Warrior, I'm a veteran of the Apple/Microsoft war. My first computer was an Apple II Plus, bought way back in 1980.
The enemy in those days was Radio Shack (!) with its junky and clunky TRS-80. It was cheap, a ton of people bought it, and it wasn't as good as an Apple computer. (Sound familiar?)
Early Mac users did not lust after the original Windows release in the slightest.
Then IBM came out with the PC, and IBM was the new enemy. Apple released the Mac, which we Apple faithful knew was unequivocally the better choice. And then came the march of the PC clones--and the enemy slowly shifted from IBM to Microsoft, which made the operating system that ran those clones.
But PCs were cheaper, and they out-sold Macs.
At first it was a complex enmity: Microsoft made Word and Excel, which were very good Mac apps. But it also made that ugly Windows, so, you know--boo.
Then Windows 95 came out--and Windows was darn near as good as Mac OS, and it became non-complicated, all-out war.
Apple's fortunes weren't always so assured.
I was the last Mac user in the '90s, just about, or so it felt like. If the word "bealeagured" didn't exist, we'd have had to invent it, so that we'd have something sad--sad like sad trombones--to put next to Apple's name.
The triumph of the enemy looked near, and that triumph would have meant that computers would be joyless and unlovable things.
That fear was deep and real. I used to debate with myself: Would I become a high school teacher or a waiter? Because I knew I'd have to quit the software business if Apple disappeared.
I could work my way up to restaurant manager. After a while I'd forget about the dreams I had before Microsoft took them away with its Windows-driven ascendance.
Do Microsoft employees love their children too?
We got so used to hating Microsoft that we didn't notice when things changed. Some of us, didn't, anyway. Or, well, I didn't, at least.
Microsoft helped save Apple in 1997 by investing in the company and committing to future development of Microsoft Office for Mac, which was critical. Steve Jobs, freshly back at Apple, said, "We have to let go of the notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft needs to lose."
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