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Apple fans: Microsoft is no longer the enemy

Brent Simmons | March 28, 2013
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."

I didn't listen. I just noticed Bill Gates's giant head on screen, which echoed that famous 1984 commercial. And I seethed.

But fast-forward to 2013, when I found myself on Microsoft's campus recording some videos.

It's just this software company, you know?

They will sing songs in the great halls about Apple's turn-around. It's one of the great achievements of our time.

And Microsoft--Microsoft is a company that makes hardware and software. Some is good, some is less-than-good. Like Apple.

Most importantly, Windows is no longer a threat to the computers we love. Not the teeniest, tiniest bit.

The Internet, standard file formats, and smartphones changed all this.

It used to be that you could live in an all-Microsoft world--and this was staggeringly common in the corporate world. You'd use Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Exchange, and Sharepoint, and your in-house developers would use SQL Server and Visual Studio. All Microsoft all the time.

But you don't need Internet Explorer to waste time on Facebook or YouTube. You don't need Windows to watch animated GIFs or a Zune to play MP3s. You don't need Sharepoint to share files.

Most recently, IT departments started adopting a Bring Your Own Device policy for smartphones. Those smartphones are rarely Microsoft smartphones--they're iOS and Android devices. And this means that services that would have been Microsoft-only are now designed to run on everything.

The threat to Macintosh was not that Windows machines were cheaper, or that people had bad taste--the biggest reason was that they worked with everything. That was why Apple asked Microsoft in 1997 to continue developing Office for Macs, so we could at least say you could run Word and Excel on Macs.

But, these days, everything works with everything. (Well, except for Flash, but who cares.)

Give Microsoft a chance

But I'll go further: There are reasons to like Microsoft:

Just about every geek I know--no matter how die-hard a Mac user they are--has an Xbox.

The company is no longer a copy machine. I expected their new user interface would be a lame copy of iOS. But it's not. If anything, Apple's designs will steer toward Microsoft's flatter aesthetic.

They have a great history of excellent developer relations. (Unless you're Netscape.) We can laugh at Steve Ballmer--but he was willing to get weird on stage for the sake of developers. Respect.

And Microsoft is learning how to fit into that diverse ecosystem that ended their monopolistic grip of the computing world. That's where I'm most proud of them.

When I went to China

I have an example of the last two points. I'm a developer, and it's developer stuff, but you'll get the gist even if you're a normal person instead.


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