Microsoft's rocky road to Mac Office 97

According to court documents, the founder of Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit fought a hard battle to keep Mac Office 97 alive.

In 1997, Apple wasn't the only place to house Mac evangelists--try Microsoft.

Ben Waldman, a then-Microsoft executive who founded the company's Macintosh Business Unit, fought a hard battle to keep Mac Office 97 a viable project, according to court documents in the recently settled Iowa class action antitrust suit against Microsoft.

In an e-mail to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Waldman makes a passionate case for finishing Mac Office 97 and ramping up marketing and sales support for Microsoft's Mac products, according to a copy of the e-mail submitted in the antitrust case.

Waldman's pleas came just six months after Microsoft touted its plans to launch a business unit devoted to Mac, as well as release new versions of its FrontPage and Office software for the Mac.

His e-mail called for finishing Mac Office 97, despite difficulties and frustrations between the software giant and Apple in negotiations over a broader issue that included a patent cross-license agreement.

Negotiations had been difficult under Apple's former chief executive, Gil Amelio, but a breakthrough in talks emerged upon Steve Jobs' return as Apple CEO in July of that year.

Approximately six weeks after Waldman sent his e-mail, Microsoft announced a $150 million investment in Apple that called for developing and shipping future versions of Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer and development tools for the Macintosh.

Prior to that investment, however, Mac Office 97 was in a tenuous position.

"The threat to cancel Mac Office 97 is certainly the strongest bargaining point we have, as doing so will do a great deal of harm to Apple immediately," Waldman noted. "Regardless of the outcome of these discussions, though, I believe we should ship Mac Office 97."

He added: "Furthermore, I believe we need to decide this immediately--our indecision so far has caused quite a bit of harm, and this will become far worse very shortly, as we are not only close to shipping code externally, but need to finally start press and customer communications, especially with Macworld a month away."

In laying out his arguments, Waldman cited the high motivation of his team and the effect on their morale if Microsoft were to pull out, a desire to keep the software giant's integrity intact after promising new versions of Office to users and Wall Street, the proximity to an external beta ship date of August 27, as well as the quality of the product.

"We are creating a good product, perhaps the last one. I really believe that we are creating the right product, a product that we can feel good about, and that will be well-received by customers, press and analysts," Waldman said. "Our focus has been to build on the base of Win Office 97 and create a great Macintosh product for Macintosh users, which is 100 percent interoperable with the Windows product."

He also cited the ability to use Mac Office 97 as a means to test products and marketing concepts before rolling them out in Windows Office.

"Because Mac Office is so much less critical to our business than Windows, we have the flexibility to test out new things in the product and in its marketing before we try them on Windows," Waldman said, adding, "I've personally also found the Mac market interesting because I've seen so many trends appear there first, and eventually become important on Windows."

Concerns over hard disk size, memory utilization and too many unnecessary features, or "bloatware," became a real issue in Office 97--complaints that were similar to ones heard years earlier when Mac Office 4 hit the market, Waldman noted.

"We heard exactly the same thing for Mac Office 4 three years ago, when we weren't really hearing it on Windows," he noted.

Waldman also lamented the lack of marketing and sales support for the company's Mac products. He cited cases where Microsoft sales representatives would try to sell its Mac customers on the notion of switching products, rather than addressing their interest in Microsoft's Mac software.

He also pointed to the effect that marketing had on Microsoft's Mac sales, especially in markets where Apple had seen a decline.

"Despite Apple's 20 percent drop in units in France, Mac Office sales were up 7 percent...How did we do so well? We actually did some marketing!" Waldman said.

Gates, in response to Waldman's e-mail, replied: "I appreciate your mail. It shows the kind of passion about great products that has made Microsoft successful. I admit we have neglected the Mac business."

Microsoft eventually shipped the product as Office 98, as part of a strategy to alternate releases of Office for Mac and Windows. A decision was made to develop specifically for each platform rather than port a subset of Office for Windows to the Mac.

Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the company has been developing native Mac software for more than 22 years and those products include compatibility with Office for Windows.

"We're committed to the ongoing development of our products, and are excited to deliver the first Universal version of Office--Office 2008 for Mac--in the second half of this year," Microsoft said. "Apple recognizes our commitment and contributions to the Mac market, and supports our efforts."

Microsoft noted that at Macworld 2006, the software giant announced .

"We are proud of our longstanding history of developing first-class productivity software on the Mac platform and will continue to do so," Microsoft said.

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