Microsoft Caught with a Bad Case of Mac OS Envy

There is a new blog on WordPress called Graceful Flavor, and they tend to focus on Apple news. They had a post yesterday that immediately caught my eye, entitled:

New Microsoft Email Shows Panic Over OS X Tiger Features

Now, everyone these days expects Microsoft to have iPod-envy, iTunes-envy, even iPhone-envy. But given that the OS wars were largely fought and won in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, it’s a bit surprising to see a dominant giant like Microsoft caught with not only acknowledging the strengths of Mac OS X, but almost despairing at them.

A snippet here, from an email from Lenn Pryor, the former Director of Platform Evangelism:

Tonight I got on corpnet, hooked up to my Exchange server and then downloaded all of my mail into the local file store. I did system wide queries against docs, contacts, apps, photos, music, and … my Microsoft email on a Mac. It was fucking amazing. It is like I just got a free pass to Longhorn land today.

What about this one?

Here’s my take on this:

  1. Big suprise, Mac OS X is a strong product.  Let’s face it – the dominance of Windows over Mac OS had everything to do with x86 and DOS compatibility, and very little to do with the overall design of the 100s of features that make up modern operating systems.    At minimum, it’s fair to say that Mac OS X is an extremely strong product in many areas, and it’s not surprising to see Microsoft clearly interested in learning from its competition.  I know that within Apple, we spent plenty of time discussing new and planned Microsoft features.
  2. Microsoft is a huge company, these quotes didn’t come from Bill Gates.  Is it really so shocking that there are Apple fans within Microsoft?  Come on.  It’s a huge company, and it’s not surprising that several people in middle management are Apple fans.  Sometimes your best people are the ones who can look outside your four walls and see the world differently.  I don’t know if these people are considered thought leaders or pariahs within Microsoft, but either way, these emails aren’t really surprising.
  3. The grass is always greener…  When I was at Apple, while most people were convinced of Apple’s superiority in design, innovation and approach, there was always an inherent sense of insecurity and envy of Microsoft’s ability to reach the broadest audience.  There was envy of their resources, their ability to fund money-losers for years on end in long term markets.  But this wasn’t unique to Apple.  Or Microsoft.  All companies who compete ferociously in technology develop an appreciation, which can quickly turn to envy, for the unique advantages of their competition.  The trick is to remember that strategy is about unique differentiation – what makes your company, your products, your services and your brand unique in the market.  Trying to match your competitors feature-for-feature is a death spiral towards commoditization and lack of identity.

No matter the bravado, I guarantee you that there are people at Apple writing memos about the inspiration they have gotten from Vista.  Sure, they’ll say, there’s a “better way” to do some of these things.  But they’ll have a note of envy for DirectX 10.  They’ll be jealous of how quickly third parties come in to fix holes in the Vista feature set.  And Mac OS 10.6 will likely end up stronger for it.

Microsoft’s Jim Allchin: ‘I would buy a Mac if I didn’t work for Microsoft’

Sorry, but I found two Apple/Microsoft snippets worth posting today.

This ComputerWorld article is amazing.

Jim Allchin is the long-time development chief for Windows at Microsoft. ComputerWorld is reporting that a 2004 e-mail from Allchin chastizes Microsoft for having lost focus on the user, and says that he would buy a Mac if he didn’t work for Microsoft.

“In my view, we lost our way,” Allchin, the co-president of Microsoft’s platform and services division, wrote in an e-mail dated Jan. 7, 2004. The e-mail was presented as evidence late last week in the Iowa antitrust trial, Comes v. Microsoft Corp.

“I think our teams lost sight of what bug-free means, what resilience means, what full scenarios mean, what security means, what performance means, how important current applications are, and really understanding what the most important problems our customers face are. I see lots of random features and some great vision, but that does not translate into great products.”

I haven’t read the email in detail, but as much of an Apple fan as I am, I think his tone represents more of your typical “wake-up call” email that gets sent from time-to-time as a senior executive in software.

Even great software teams and companies can easily get caught up in their own internal analysis, politics, and design cul-de-sacs.  Great UI designers can get caught up in their “frameworks”.  Great product managers can get caught up in their “strategies”.  Sometimes, the needs of the end user can get lost in the passion of pursuing the perfect model for your software application.

As a result, it’s hard as a leader as a software company to not be forced to remind your team periodically that it is the customer that matters.  Listen to them, focus on them, respect them, and delight them.  Not your competitors, not your frameworks, and not your strategies.  Sometimes, to be emphatic, you try to evoke a passionate response by invoking taboos.  I have to imagine that the head of Windows saying that he would buy a Mac is as taboo as it gets.

I don’t fault Allchin here, although these days you pretty much have to assume that any executive email at a large company can get circulated publicly.

Microsoft Copies Apple Icons…

Found this funny snippet today online. Looks like Microsoft was caught with an Apple icon on one of its properties.

Here is the image from Microsoft’s website for Vista Business Edition:


Here is the original version from Apple’s Workgroup Server:


Funny snarky comment from the blog where I got this:

Think of a snarky comment making fun of the fact that Microsoft can’t even copy an icon without screwing it up by resizing it. Bonus points if you can work in a crack about the misspelling (“Busines”) in Microsoft’s web page title.

The full play-by-play is here, along with some amusing follow up screenshots of Microsoft’s hasty efforts to replace the icon.

I don’t really fault Microsoft here – quite a few web and graphic designers have been known to grab artwork from time to time as temporary placeholders.  Sometimes, they sneak through as people forget that they aren’t the final artwork, or forget they were “borrowed” by someone else.  It’s possible on big teams.  Maybe there was a Mac-fan on the Vista team here who thought this was a funny inside joke.

Still, given all the history of Microsoft and Apple, and the obvious comparisons of Vista’s new look and feel to Mac OS X’s old look and feel, you’d think there would be a special memo out about not borrowing icons from the Mac.

Gotta imagine someone is getting fired over this.  You just can’t steal intellectual property as part of a commercial product.