Apple passes Microsoft in valuation

The Mac maker is now worth more than that software maker in Redmond. CNET's Ina Fried takes a look at this historic moment in computing.

Apple has long been the little guy in the Mac vs. PC debate, but that's no longer the case.

As of trading near the end of the day on Wednesday, Apple has passed Microsoft in terms of market capitalization, with a value of roughly $222 billion--about $3 billion ahead of Microsoft. Apple had been flirting with the milestone for days and had already passed Microsoft by another measure--a valuation known as enterprise value, which adds in debt and other factors.

The fact that Apple, not Microsoft, is the more valuable franchise represents a remarkable turn of events in the history of computing.

Consider this: In 1997, Michael Dell suggested that Apple should just close up shop and return the money to shareholders. Today, Dell is worth barely a tenth as much as the Mac maker.

That same year, Apple had to accept a $150 million investment from Microsoft. Bill Gates famously appeared at Macworld via satellite, dwarfing the on-stage Steve Jobs as he announced the company's commitment to the Mac.

Of course, all that was before Mac OS X, the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad. The Cube and Apple TV aside, Apple has had an incredible run of products over the last decade.

Macs still account for fewer than one in 10 computers sold, but its market share has increased significantly in recent years and the company has built a consumer juggernaut that extends well beyond the computer.

As for Microsoft, the company remains highly profitable, but investors and analysts alike are concerned that Microsoft remains dependent on its Office and Windows franchises for the lion's share of its profits. The company has poured billions into its cell phone, online advertising and other new businesses that have yet to really help the company's balance sheet.

Even its desktop franchises are seen as vulnerable in the longer term, particularly as Google aims to deliver many of the same capabilities through the browser.

So where will things go from here? Will Microsoft be able to transform itself into a company whose cloud computing and search efforts someday produce returns on the scale of Windows and Office? Will Apple's remarkable run continue? Sound off below.

Updated 1:10 p.m. to reflect the fact that Apple had passed up Microsoft as regular trading drew to a close.