Apple shows us how to compete with Microsoft

The Mac maker has never pulled any punches in competing against Microsoft, even when it was dependent on the Windows giant.

I suggested on Monday that Dell should acquire Red Hat to build its software business with open source. While there is a range of valid concerns about such a move, perhaps the biggest complaint was, "What if Microsoft doesn't like it?"

This concern seems to be all-conclusive for some, but I'm not sure why. In case no one has noticed, the days of kowtowing to Microsoft's desktop dominance are, or should be, over. Apple is the best example as to why.

The media is fond of calling out the Mac's rising fortunes against Windows, but many apparently forget that a little more than 11 years ago, Apple was on the ropes and had to humbly accept a $150 million investment from Microsoft. Microsoft, largely playing to the U.S. antitrust authorities, made a big deal of porting Office, Internet Explorer, and other applications to the Mac platform. This move would pave the way for Apple's resurgence just a few short years later.

Surely, if anyone was in a position to cater to Microsoft's whims, it would have been Apple, whose very existence largely depended on the good graces of Microsoft. How many of us would have been able to switch to the Mac, had Office not run natively on it?

And yet Apple fought. Slowly but surely, Apple began to make announcements that must have irked Microsoft, like the Safari browser in 2003, eventually taking its applications like iTunes and Safari to Microsoft's door by porting them to Windows in a bid to make Windows users comfortable with a Mac experience.

Today, Microsoft continues to improve its applications for the Mac platform, announcing this week, for example, the Microsoft Document Collaboration Companion for Mac to improve the SharePoint experience for Mac users. Apple? Well, let's just say that it continues to stick its finger in Microsoft's eye.

Apple did what few besides Google have dared to do: defy Microsoft. Apple, more than most, was dependent on Microsoft, and yet it still refused to pull any punches against its benefactor. Judging from the company's market share gains, I'd call its strategy an unqualified success.

For those who insist that Dell and others set themselves up with an umbilical existence to Microsoft's whims, I suggest that you take a close look at Apple. Companies that try to placate Microsoft and avoid ruffling its feathers often find that Microsoft has no such compunctions about avoiding stepping on their toes.

Microsoft is a big company, one that must grow by expanding into new markets, thereby competing with its one-time partners. Today, Dell serves a complementary market to Microsoft. Tomorrow? Well, everything is on the table for tomorrow's competition.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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